Categories
Creativity Science

The benefits of spacing out

Our mind never turns off. Even when we’re doing nothing, the brain is always active, processing, remixing, and imagining in what neuroscientist Marcus Raichle calls a ‘default mode network.’

Writes Manoush Zomorodi in “What Boredom Does to You:”

The default mode, a term also coined by Raichle, is used to describe the brain “at rest”; that is, when we’re not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. So, contrary to the popular view, when we space out, our minds aren’t switched off.

Boredom prompts daydreaming. When we let our mind wander, we’re giving it permission to chew on past, present, and future events; all real, imaginary, or blended.

It turns out that in the default mode, we’re still tapping about 95 percent of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in hardcore, focused thinking. Despite being in an inattentive state, our brains are still doing a remarkable amount of work.

Mulling over possibilities makes ‘boredom an incubator lab for brilliance.’ There is no reason to rush to a stimulation of dopamine when creativity begs us to take our time and let the hard egg boil into ‘the winning equation or formula.’

We suffer from closeupness which is often disguised as mindlessness. Some of our best thinking happens when we think we’re not thinking at all, instead of disconnecting to the spontaneity of mind-wandering.

Categories
Culture Life & Philosophy Psychology

We forget the mundane and remember the weird

We tend to forget the mundane and remain loyal to the weird. What’s uninteresting remains unremembered. What peers into the mind eye’s with a little humor and exaggeration is the stuff that sticks.

Too ordinary becomes unextraordinary, not silly enough to make a significant dent.

Try not thinking about a purple cow, rainbow-striped zebra, the pink bird (a rosefinch) or a dog driving a pick-up truck. Now try to forget it 😉

 rosefinch, a pink bird in snow

You have to fake sleep to get to sleep. See! It’s the weird that binds.

Categories
Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Procrastinators can be finishers

We are told to ship it; release it before it’s finished, get it out of our hands so we can get the feedback we need to iterate and perfect our product. It’s a grueling process that fires up the anxiety. Is this thing going to work or go out to the void?

In his latest op-ed Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination Humanities professor and author Costica Bradatan writes:

Procrastination and mourning are tied tightly together: for to procrastinate is to mourn the precariousness of your creation even before you bring it into the world.

We are stuck between thinking and action, for which we have no choice but to finish what we started:

The procrastinator is both contemplator and man of action, which is the worst thing to be, and which is tearing him apart.

A cartoon of procrastination

Procrastination is the purest form of idleness. And it is brain’s neurons that dictate what we decide to do. “Who you are depends on what your neurons are up to, moment by moment,” says David Eagleman in his book The Brain: The Story of You.

So if neurons predict our fate but the mind is plastic, we should be setting up the entire system to prepare for better decision-making. For starters, we can make a list of the things we can control. But there will never be any guarantees that it’ll work. That’s where the habits and enthusiasm come in to help us overcome the fear.

gif via MIT

Categories
Productivity & Work Psychology

Mental retirement 


Wouldn’t it be great to retire by thirty or forty years old? What sounds good in theory though has negative consequences for the brain. 

Indeed, a lot of work is repetitive and unnecessarily political, as we jump through hoops to make it up the ladder. And while our work may not be the most stimulating thing to do, it keeps our brain active. 

Studies show a correlation between retirement and memory loss.

The researchers find a straight-line relationship between the percentage of people in a country who are working at age 60 to 64 and their performance on memory tests. The longer people in a country keep working, the better, as a group, they do on the tests when they are in their early 60s.

We need challenges. We need some type of mind games to keep our brains fresh as we age. If we can’t recall how to act like inquisitive children who willfully fail, we need something more than physical exercise to hold up neurological plasticity. 

While work can be depressing, it’s keeps the brain cells running. Excess relaxation is what dulls the mind. Use it or lose it. 

Categories
Life & Philosophy Science

Hardware of the head


The phone is negentropic; it gets better through software. Similarly, the human head carries a brain that improves over time.

Scientists have shown again and again that the mind, like a piece of software, is elastic. We are the sum of a hundred billion neurons that strengthen through knowledge and experience. Our skull evolves within a gooey flesh.

But there has to be a cap on human acuity, surely. At some point, exponents can’t go any further. We can’t get any smarter, nor pinpoint the largest number which is infinity and beyond. Even “Moore’s Law peters out, “as microchip components reach the atomic scale and conventional lithography falters,” says computer scientist Scott Aaronson.

The chances of maxing out our neurons or counting to the last number are just as slim as downloading the entire internet; it’s an impossibility, no matter how much time, cloud space or algorithms try to lead us there.

So we remain, fulfilled but never finished, searching beyond the robot and frazzled by immensity.

Categories
Psychology

Call to mind

photo by Wells Baum

When an image comes to mind, it goes from dreamy obscurity to reality.

Images don’t exist until our eyes give them an interpretation. They wait for the brain’s chaotic cellular information to connect. Our visions act like an aperture on the iPhone, rendering the highest pixel resolution.

What brings life into existence is the stimulus of biology. Otherwise, images, thoughts, and things are loose pieces of triviality. We make objects important.