“The human mind is a wanderer by nature. The daydream is the mind’s default state.”― Author Jonathan Gottschall
I often daydream.
Because, daydreaming gets a bad wrap in our culture as it is deemed unproductive, my ego likes to call it visualization: daydreaming with a purpose. The creation happens in my mind before it gets down in paper. It is an arduous process of engaging the sub-conscious with the varied research and ideas both of the possibilities and that what is impossible and somewhere in between. It is a constant communication of "what ifs" and "maybe(s)". At the end, somehow, some way the sub-conscious takes the myriad transmission of thoughts and comes up with a solution. It works like a charm without fail. Perhaps writers appreciate its importance better than most of us because a "fair amount of what they call work consists of little more than daydreaming edited."
Always fascinated by the workings of the brain, today I get to explore the necessity of daydreaming in all our creative pursuits.
This is how it goes.
We all had our personal "Aha" moments. Suddenly you have an answer to a problem that you were long working on. It creeps onto you, apparently appearing from nowhere and creates a shift in your mental perspective that instantly transforms the way you perceive a problem. "It could be the solution to a problem; it could be getting a joke; or suddenly recognizing a face. It could be realizing that a friend of yours is not really a friend." says psychologist John Kounios at Drexel University in Philadelphia. These sudden insights as proclaimed by neuroscience requires some complex neural connectivity. By monitoring brain waves, psychologist Joydeep Bhattacharya at the University of London's Goldsmith College, saw a pattern of high frequency neural activity in the right frontal cortex that identified in advance who would solve a puzzle through insight and who would not. "It's unsettling," says Dr. Bhattacharya. "The brain knows but we don't."
Neuroscientists has come long ways but they cannot determine as to what makes us more inclined to the Eureka experience only at some moments. However, they all agree that these Insights does favor a prepared mind. You are more likely to have more insightful moments if you are in a relaxed and contemplative mood. While in the public baths, Archimedes observed that the level of water rose in the tub when he entered the bath. This observation is known as the Archimedes Principle: "An object partially or wholly immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object." Based, on this principle big sea faring vessels are built. He was not the first person in history to get a sudden flash of inspiration, but Archimedes is the man who made eureka famous. "Eureka! I have found it!" The moral of the story: when you are stuck while working on a problem, walk away and do something completely different and that will help your mind wander away from the problem at hand. Perhaps, that is why Einstein played the violin and spent a huge chunk of contemplative time in nature.“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
"People assumed that when your mind wandered it was empty," says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. 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." Daydreaming or mind wandering as some researchers call it is an essential part the creative process. It drives Insight. When you are driven by insight you create transformational changes. Here are some examples that have changed course of civilization because the masters involved in it were guided by insight.
When you are driven by insight you do not make transitional change. You are the harbinger of transformational changes.
"For years Einstein had been trying to reconcile - or prove one of - two seemingly contradictory theories about space and time. One day while riding a street car home one day, he was struck by the sight of Bern's famous clock tower. The answer was simple and elegant: time can beat at different rates throughout the universe, depending on how fast you moved."
Nikola Tesla knew in his guts there had to be a better way than the direct current that was designed by Thomas Edison. It somehow eluded him. "One day he was out for a walk (quoting Faust, according to legend) when it just came to him. He used his walking stick to draw a picture explaining how alternating current would work to his walking partner."
Chemical Composition of Neurotransmitters
In the 1900's scientist hypothesized that nerve impulses were transmitted chemically. It was the dream of Otto Loewi that gave the direction to conduct an experiment to prove so. The story goes that just before Easter Sunday in 1920 "Loewi dreamed of an experiment he could do that would prove once and for all how nerve impulses were transmitted. He woke up in the middle of the night, excited and happy, scribbled the experiment down and went back to sleep.
When he woke up, he couldn't read his notes. Luckily, he had the same dream the next night. The experiment and his later work earned him the title, the "Father of Neuroscience."
Legend has it that the back-and-forth motion of the till, while plowing the potato field inspired Philo Farnsworth to lay down the ground work of electrical television. "Farnsworth realized that an electron beam could scan images line by line - simply put, that was the basis for almost all TVs until LCD and plasma screens came along. He went on to demonstrate the first operational, all-electronic television system in 1927."
Polymerase Chain Reaction Process
The 3 hour drive from his office at Berkley to Mendocino helped Kary Mullis was an important factor in formulating PCR, a process by which tiny bit of DNA can be exponentially amplified. "That amplification allows for all kinds of applications - everything from the diagnosis of hereditary diseases to catching criminals and paternity testing."
René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy - "I think there for I am." ( I would love to counter that: I am there for I think) was in the habit of staying in bed till noon. "One day, while watching a fly flit around above his head, Descartes realized he could describe the fly's position by saying how far it was from the walls and ceiling." The Cartesian coordinate system — allowing reference to a point in space as a set of numbers, and allowing algebraic equations to be expressed as geometric shapes in a two-dimensional coordinate system (and conversely, shapes to be described as equations) — was named after him.
Legend has it that Percy Spencer had his dose of inspiration when a candy bar he had in his pocket melted near the radar set that he was working on. A quick flash of insight revealed microwaves being emitted by his "magnetron could penetrate the exterior of a food and cook it from the inside - unlike using plain old heat from an oven, or fire which cooks food from the outside in."
One day George de Mestral took his dog for a walk in the woods. When he and Fido got back, Mestral noticed burrs all over his pants. The tricky little devils would not come off. "Chance favors the prepared mind," and boy was Mestral prepared. Looking at the burrs under a microscope, he saw that they had tiny hooks that had attached themselves to the loops of thread in his pants. Rest is history.
The triumph of human civilization rests on many such stories.
Spend a portion of your day in silence. “Letting silence into your day gives the daemon [muse] a chance to be heard from.” Contemplate silly far fetched ideas. Wear the cloak of contemplation as your daily companion. It will serve you very well.
"Pay attention the next time you’re not paying attention. A well-timed daydream may be the most productive thing you do today." Brian Clark
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Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Franz Kafka