Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Wandering Mind

Although he published 300 scientific papers, Einstein couldn't easily describe the way his mind worked. "A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way," he once said. His thoughts moved "in a wildly speculative way." As a theorist, he sometimes solved physics problems by imagining himself riding alongside a light beam or falling in an elevator. "I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes and I may try to express it in words afterwards ...I have no doubt that our thinking goes on for the most part without the use of signs and, furthermore, largely unconsciously."

When reading this quote, I was struck by the non verbal creative process of Einstein and how it relates to Duke Ellington's notion of thinking in colors while composing. In Arthur Koestler's seminal work, The Act of Creation, Koestler often talks of ineffable flashes and how they can never be forced but rather come forth only when the mind is receptive to new ideas. "The three panels of the rounded triptych shown on the frontispiece indicate three domains of creativity which shade into each other without sharp boundaries: Humour, Discovery, and Art."

To that end, the WS Journal article titled A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight confirms that day dreaming & play linked to postivie thoughts rule.

To be sure, we've all had our "Aha" moments. They materialize without warning, often through an unconscious shift in mental perspective that can abruptly alter how we perceive a problem. "An 'aha' moment is any sudden comprehension that allows you to see something in a different light," says psychologist John Kounios at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "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."

These sudden insights, they found, are the culmination of an intense and complex series of brain states that require more neural resources than methodical reasoning. People who solve problems through insight generate different patterns of brain waves than those who solve problems analytically. "Your brain is really working quite hard before this moment of insight," says psychologist Mark Wheeler at the University of Pittsburgh. "There is a lot going on behind the scenes."

A positive mood makes an insight more likely, Northwestern University researchers reported in "A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect" in the March edition of Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience."

They're not particular about whether you're playing a flatted fifth or a ruptured 129th as long as they can dance to it. - Dizzy Gillispie
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