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eworks's picture

"Paying attention to paying attention"

So it may not be the New York Times, but sometimes I find that Yahoo's "Featured News" box on its main page to have some great articles to read when I'm procrastinating. Its articles are simple and to the point with all the basic information that you need, and are all so conveniently located right there when the page pops up.

My favorite article of the night, so far, is "Researchers studying phenomenon of mind-wandering." Now, the concept of mind-wandering is nothing new to me, or to anyone really, and it wasn't surprising to hear that interest in the topic has waxed and waned over the years, just like our minds do when we're going through a typical day. One of the interesting points the article made was "More generally, scientists say, mind-wandering is worth studying because it's just too common to ignore." Very true, I thought to myself when I read that line. When something is staring you in the face like that, why not study it? There has to be something interesting to discover there. Hopefully.

So, where does evolution come in here? I asked myself. While the article doesn't ever expressly mention the impact of evolution on mind-wandering, I can't help but think that the researchers studying this phenomenon have definitely thought about it. As the article says, "A lot of human daily life is auto-pilot," meaning that we have time to let our mind wander without an enormous negative impact. Of course there are exceptions to this, and the article references them. But if mind-wandering almost constantly detracts us from what we're supposed to be doing or thinking about, why do we do it? There doesn't seem to be any clear cut answer for why we do, or what it accomplishes. I can't think of any mind-blowing realizations that I've come to while day-dreaming or spacing out, but my mind wanders anyway. So why do it do it?

Aside from trying to find the answer for why it happns, what I love the most about mind-wandering is that we're capable of it. If there's anything to be said about the topic, that's one of the important things to say I think. Our brains aren't wired to constantly be focused on one task and one task only. Yes, sometimes it would be great if I could turn off this "capability" that my brain has, but I can't. One of my favorite things to do sometimes, when I have nothing better to do, is to try and trace back through the topics of my mind-wanderings to try and figure out what started it all. It's a fun brain exercise to do, and surprisingly difficult. And there's really no end to it, well that is, until you absolutely cannot remember why you were thinking about your first pet goldfish... But I'm wandering, of course.

 

Here's the web address for the article, if you're interested: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070319/ap_on_sc/the_wandering_mind

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