A Wandering Mind is a Busy Mind

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about taking contemplative time to find innovative solutions. Along the same theme, I wanted to visit another interesting behavior: the wandering mind.

A friend shared a Wall Street Journal article that explores how a wandering mind can lead to creative insights. Today, more than ever, innovators are eager to advance creative thinking and find those Eureka moments faster. However, it wasn’t until recently that researchers were able to record and study the complex brain activity during a moment of insight.

“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.”

Using brain scanners and EFG sensors, Dr. John Kounios (Drexel University) and his collaborator Mark Jung-Beeman (Northwestern University) recorded brain activity from study volunteers working with word puzzles. They recorded a variety of results, but some of the subjects had sudden (and confident) solutions from seemingly out of nowhere. During these moments the scanners and sensors showed  “a distinctive flash of gamma waves emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere”.

These intriguing studies suggest that we need to give our brain’s credit for working hard when we think they are taking it easy.  And, that hard work can result in an “Aha” moment.  Maybe we need to give our brains more time-off so that they can do more hard work.

All this breakthrough thinking and brain research is literally mind-boggling …