Recent studies in neuroscience are supporting chilling out, day dreaming and a don’t worry, be happy attitude in order to be more productive and creative…something regular meditators experience as a by product of their practice along with health benefits and a less stressful life!
A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight
Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain’s Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff
“In fact, our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests. “Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically,” Dr. Kounios says. “There really are different brain mechanisms involved.”
By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.
“People assumed that when your mind wandered it was empty,” says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who reported the findings last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As measured by brain activity, however, “mind wandering is a much more active state than we ever imagined, much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem.”
She suspects that the flypaper of an unfocused mind may trap new ideas and unexpected associations more effectively than methodical reasoning. That may create the mental framework for new ideas. “You can see regions of these networks becoming active just prior to people arriving at an insight,” she says.
In a series of experiments over the past five years, Dr. Kounios and his collaborator Mark Jung-Beeman at Northwestern University used brain scanners and EEG sensors to study insights taking form below the surface of self-awareness. They recorded the neural activity of volunteers wrestling with word puzzles and scanned their brains as they sought solutions.
Some volunteers found answers by methodically working through the possibilities. Some were stumped. For others, even though the solution seemed to come out of nowhere, they had no doubt it was correct.
In those cases, the EEG recordings revealed a distinctive flash of gamma waves emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere, which is involved in handling associations and assembling elements of a problem. The brain broadcast that signal one-third of a second before a volunteer experienced their conscious moment of insight — an eternity at the speed of thought.
The scientists may have recorded the first snapshots of a Eureka moment. “It almost certainly reflects the popping into awareness of a solution,” says Dr. Kounios.
In addition, they found that tell-tale burst of gamma waves was almost always preceded by a change in alpha brain-wave intensity in the visual cortex, which controls what we see. They took it as evidence that the brain was dampening the neurons there similar to the way we consciously close our eyes to concentrate.
“You want to quiet the noise in your head to solidify that fragile germ of an idea,” says Dr. Jung-Beeman at Northwestern.”
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