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The Power of Daydreaming

Posted June. 30, 2010 13:08,   


Harvard University psychology professor Ellen Langer left a short note to 40 secretaries working at a university: "Return this paper to Room 238 through messenger mail immediately." There was no signature or explanation on the note. Thinking about the note a little makes it seem weird, but 90 percent of the secretaries did what they were told without objection. This famous experiment shows that human nature can lead one to automatically act without thinking.

How is creative thinking and action possible amid the trap of mechanization in the era of creativity? The New York Times introduced Monday the results of a study calling daydreaming the source of imagination. People spend 30 percent of their time daydreaming. Thinking of Korea winning the World Cup or dreaming of winning a lottery is daydreaming. Scientists say daydreaming includes any wandering of the mind, such as thinking of things other than the given task and fantasies.

Jonathan Schooler of the University of California-Santa Barbara and Erik D. Reichle and Andrew Reineberg at the University of Pittsburgh used a machine that tracked the movements of people’s eyes while reading Jane Austen`s novel “Sense and Sensibility” on a computer screen. When eye movement slowed or eyes skimmed sentences, this constituted daydreaming. When brains were scanned, both the executive and default networks fired simultaneously. People whose minds are prone to wandering were found to be better at solving complex word puzzles.

The results of the study indicates that when stuck trying to solve a problem, listening to music, going for a walk, or knitting is recommended rather than sticking to the problem. When a problem confounded French mathematician Henri Poincaré, he pushed it away and eventually found a solution later. Bestselling author Stephen King writes a draft and puts it in a drawer for more than a month. He says he later finds weird descriptions and the conflict in the plot. While he seemed to forget about it, he was subconsciously revising it. When thoughts are freely let out, productive wandering is the result.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)