Letting Your Mind Wander
Friday, February 18, 2011 9:34 AM
Until quite recently, neuroscientists believed that our brains function on a very low level when we are daydreaming or sleeping. A number of new studies show just the opposite.
When we daydream or sleep, special parts of our brain are working intensely on a number of thoughts, and it may be that our most creative period is during sleep or when our minds wander.
You would think that the brain is most active when engaged in conscious thought or struggling with some task. Actually, the brain burns the most energy when we are starting to doze or letting our minds wander. Neuroscientists call this the default mode of the brain.
Interviews with some of the world’s most creative thinkers found that most of their best creative ideas came unconsciously.
One physicist stated that the solution to a problem that had baffled generations of physicists came to him as he stepped off a bus, not even thinking about the riddle. Others report that such baffling creative thoughts came upon waking up from a night’s sleep or even in a dream. See my report “Good Sleep: Stop Insomnia, Reduce Stress, Boost Your Total Health” for more information.
Most creative people stated that they had no idea where their ideas came from; they seemed to come unconsciously. It is as if there is a separate mind in our brains that works silently to solve problems, yet it never openly speaks to us.
This may say something about modern society in which people rarely have time to let their minds wander. It also gives great credence for claims of meditation, and may be one of the side benefits God gives us during prayer.
Studies have shown if you lie quietly in the bed in the morning, allowing your mind to wander, you will be more rested during the day with greater mental clarity.
Dr. Marcus Raichle, a neurologist who discovered this meaningful activity when resting, stated that until his breakthrough, neuroscientists considered the slow, low-level electrical activity of the brain during these periods as just brain noise, and it was ignored.
Now we know that the brain’s most complex and intricately organized areas, called association cortices, are silently communicating with each other. One of these zones, the precuneus, seems to play a major role in organizing information the brain accumulates throughout the day and translating it into complex thoughts that we can understand. In short, it gives birth to our creativity. Einstein would spend hours with his eyes closed and allow his thoughts to wander until answers to questions he had would suddenly appear.
There is growing evidence that many neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders are related to problems with the default network of the brain. In order for this complex system to work properly, all areas of the association cortex have to communicate with each other.
New studies have shown that in all of these diseases, there is a problem with brain communication — that is, connectivity. The complex precuneus has the highest rate of metabolism, and is the last part of the brain to fully mature — around the age of 30. Find more ways to keep your brain sharp by reading my report “Save Your Brain.”