Ever wonder why Archimedes got his “a-ha” moment while lounging in his bathtub? Or why Newton unraveled the secrets of gravity while daydreaming under an apple tree? If recent research is to be believed, it may well be because the wandering mind is fertile ground for creative problem solving!
The findings of a couple of separate studies (finally) legitimize the preoccupation of choice for most of the human race – good old fashioned daydreaming. These studies focus on the type of activity that goes on in the brain during mental drift – a cognitive state that can occupy as much as one third of our waking lives.
One study reveals that when the mind drifts, the temporal lobes — which are associated with processing long-term memories — become busier. So when one floats off into a reverie, there’s some important data-storage work going on. Another study has reached an even more interesting conclusion – that the idling mind is likely doing deeply creative work, tackling hairiest long-term problems. This theory is supported by scans that have found that the wandering mind utilizes the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s involved in problem-solving.
So the next time you’re struggling to solve a complicated problem, you might be better off switching to a simpler task and letting your mind wander. And if you find your child indulging in some unfettered mind wandering, refrain from the usual “don’t just sit there daydreaming, DO something!” Who knows, that brain might just be addressing some knotty big-ticket issues.
[See the referenced articles at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090511180702.htm and http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/st_thompson]