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Medicine Science

Daydreaming Is Really Complex Problem-Solving 138

Posted by timothy
from the how-about-daydreaming-about-girls dept.
beefsprocket writes "ScienceDaily reports that 'A new University of British Columbia study finds that our brains are much more active when we daydream than previously thought. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (abstract), finds that activity in numerous brain regions increases when our minds wander. It also finds that brain areas associated with complex problem-solving — previously thought to go dormant when we daydream — are in fact highly active during these episodes. "Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness," says lead author, Prof. Kalina Christoff, UBC Dept. of Psychology. "But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream — much more active than when we focus on routine tasks."'"
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Daydreaming Is Really Complex Problem-Solving

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  • Huh? What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:35PM (#27957585)

    Did you say something?

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by coryboehne (244614) *

      Did you say something?

      About right..

      However, I wonder if the author has looked into writing books for academic purposes...

      Anyone who has a degree knows just how much money is made on textbooks, and the frequency with which they are replaced and updated.

      If I was a writer looking to make a living at it, especially in a vertical field, I would seriously consider writing university level textbooks.

      • Talk about sleeping on the job... I didn't even post this in the right story...

        Did you say something?

        About right..

        However, I wonder if the author has looked into writing books for academic purposes...

        Anyone who has a degree knows just how much money is made on textbooks, and the frequency with which they are replaced and updated.

        If I was a writer looking to make a living at it, especially in a vertical field, I would seriously consider writing university level textbooks.

        • by Zordak (123132)
          You should have left it alone. I probably would have modded you funny if I had points.
    • At Work (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I spend half my time daydreaming and half my time doodling. [slashdot.org]

      I do great work.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:43PM (#27960955) Journal
      My computer isn't wasting time, it's running System Idle Process at 99%!!!
  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:37PM (#27957635) Homepage Journal
    Boss: "Stop daydreaming, be productive."
    Me: "But I am! By daydreaming I'm even more productive than I would be if I were strictly working on the task assigned to me! Slashdot told me so!"
    Boss: "Fantastic, go be productive at another company."
    • by Niris (1443675) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:45PM (#27957821)
      When comparing two jobs I've had, one with the government where people pretty much do their job and screw around a bit at random times, and another for a bank where everyone took their 15 minute break at the exact same time and everything was scheduled and systematic, I think the job where people just kinda daydream and do whatever every so often gets more done on accident than the corporate job ever did. Plus it's a lot more of a happy environment. I'd rather "go be productive at another company" :D
      • by CorSci81 (1007499) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:01PM (#27958105) Journal
        I find this to be true for myself a lot. I generally find solutions to hard problems I'm working on at completely random times like zoning out on my commute home or out walking around. I get more of the hard/creative part of my job done outside of work hours when I'm not trapped in a boring office and then spend my working hours writing and coding whatever my brain came up with when I get there.
        • by unlametheweak (1102159) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @06:32PM (#27959279)

          Daydreaming, and taking cat-naps at work are also helpful for productivity. Unfortunately Managers don't read science articles, and when they do they dismiss the results as a joke because they think they are smarter than scientists.

          • by Z00L00K (682162) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:17AM (#27962347) Homepage

            Using daydreaming and alternate tasks sometimes frees the mind from a locked circle and can give you a new perspective of a problem.

          • by mpe (36238)
            Daydreaming, and taking cat-naps at work are also helpful for productivity. Unfortunately Managers don't read science articles, and when they do they dismiss the results as a joke because they think they are smarter than scientists.

            Even if this is the way said managers themselves work...
          • by Chatsubo (807023) on Friday May 15, 2009 @04:38AM (#27963431)

            Once or twice I've taken a 20-30min nap in my car during lunch. I found I was very alert and productive in the afternoon on those occasions. Our company was getting a new office building and was fielding suggestions for conveniences we'd like as developers. I had two suggestions: Tiny, private offices for developers, as suggested by Joel Spolsky (even cited the article). And a bed.

            Both suggestions had the managers in stitches, and that was that.

        • by 4D6963 (933028) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @08:10PM (#27960195)

          Me too, I find most of my ideas while either having a shower or doing number 2. Unfortunately I'm French so I don't shower that often, and I don't eat a lot of vegetables so I don't do number 2 often either.

          This being said I also found the whole idea for my commercial program while daydreaming at a lecture in college after waking up from a nap on my table.

        • by zaydana (729943)

          I find this true as well, especially when I'm working on things that require a bit of creativity.

          I spend a lot of time making up mnemonics for memorizing Japanese characters - the only way I've found to really remember them is making up little stories for each. But, if I decide to just sit down and try to make stories for hours, it doesn't usually work. I can be stuck on a character for 10 minutes, then get up to go to the toilet, and figure out a story straight away when I wasn't even trying.

          I've found the

        • by mspohr (589790)
          I've found that I have the best ideas and the best solutions to problems when I go for a long walk in the woods. It seems that every time I am stumped by a problem, all I need to do is take 30 minutes for a long walk and the solution will appear. I don't even try to think about the problem on the walk... I just let my mind wander.
    • by Twyst3d (1359973)
      I daydream while driving. At first when I realized this it scared the living bajeebus out of me. Eventually I got over it. So this really is not surprising in the least.
      • by Chabo (880571)

        I once drove home from work, a 40 minute drive, taking lots of stop signs and lots of turns, without being able to remember anything about the journey when I got home.

        That was on a quiet, rural road in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, this could never happen here in California, since the other drivers do stupid, unpredictable things so often that if you're not "actively driving" 100% of the time, you'll be killed to death.

        • I beg to differ: the reason the roads are so bad here in LA is BECAUSE all the drivers are daydreaming. I know I am--what else am I going to do for those 4 hours a day?
          • by Lunzo (1065904)
            With a username like MaskedSlacker I'd expect not daydreaming now that daydreaming is considered productive.
        • by madsenj37 (612413) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:25PM (#27958471)
          Killed to death? As opposed to killed to mostly dead?
          • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

            by Chabo (880571)

            Exactly.

          • by fractoid (1076465)

            Killed to death? As opposed to killed to mostly dead?

            We went on a family holiday to India when I was 14, and one of the places we visited was Ootacamund, which we reached by taking the Toy Train [wikipedia.org]. The travel agent we bought the tickets off told us about an incident a few years previous when one of the bridges had been washed out and the train had fallen into a ravine, leading to, in his words, "Two hundred and sixteen peoples, completely dead."

          • by Aceticon (140883)

            The OP was considering the special case of zombies.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by fractoid (1076465)

          That was on a quiet, rural road in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, this could never happen here in California, since the other drivers do stupid, unpredictable things so often that if you're not "actively driving" 100% of the time, you'll be killed to death.

          I'm not so sure it couldn't. I often don't remember exact details of my journey home, and it's 45kms sharing roads with Perth drivers, but multiple times I've been tootling along with my brain switched off and snapped out of it to find the car already braking at the limit, or having swerved into another lane (after checking blind spots, even) to avoid some retard who's pulled out in front of me. My guess is that the bits that do the driving are all working perfectly and my brain just doesn't bother recordin

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        I daydream while driving. At first when I realized this it scared the living bajeebus out of me. Eventually I got over it. So this really is not surprising in the least.

        What you are experiencing when you drive is probably highway hypnosis [wikipedia.org] which is very common for people to experience and quite normal. It's also one of the reasons that planners and engineers put bumps and gravel on the edges of highways; to "wake" people up if they drift off too much. It's also one of the reasons why seemingly straight roads have slight curves designed into them; so as too not make the driving experience too repetitive. Doing repetitive tasks puts part of your brain in "automatic", which ps

        • I don't know about anyone else, but curves completely fail to keep me from zoning out. Only a major slow down or stop brings me out of it (i.e. something unexpected).

        • by shaitand (626655)

          I don't know why. I zone out pretty much all the time when driving and daydream to my destination. I obey the traffic laws perfectly and never get in collisions.

          On the other hand, my auto pilot does sometimes deliver me to a destination on the route other than one I meant to go to, especially if I go that route regularly to another destination.

          For instance, I've been working a weekend job to supplement my income in the slow economy at the mall. There are many things near there (like other things in the mall

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      It might work out a wee bit better if you give him a copy of PNAS instead of saying "Slashdot told me so."

  • Mutually exclusive? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Leibel (768832) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:37PM (#27957637) Homepage

    "Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness..." and "our brains are very active when we daydream"

    These aren't mutually exclusive. It just means our brains are very active on other topics

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Why does it have to be another topic? I could be daydreaming about what I am at that moment. Just so much so that my ability to function with the surrounding environment has gone down a noticeable level.
      • by cowscows (103644)

        I'm assuming you meant to say "daydreaming about what I am working on at that moment", and if that's the case, I'd argue that that's not daydreaming, it's thinking about your task.

        Whether or not you're daydreaming has less to do with how much brain activity you've got going on, and more to do with whatever it is that that activity is revolving around.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by FooBarWidget (556006)

        That's called concentrating, not daydreaming.

        • Is there truly a difference? I would say daydreaming IS just concentrating... just on something considered "imaginary". At least that is the association everyone makes.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      very active on other topics

      Boobies?

  • Always felt like I was more alive in a daydream then I was doing grunt work.

    I like my mind active or I grow bored. i'm sure much of slashdot is like this. Found that I daydreamed a lot and had a hard time focusing on grunt work

    • by mevets (322601)

      | I like my mind active or I grow bored. i'm sure much of slashdot is like this.

      you must be new here.

  • So if I am really active while sitting inattentive, basically ignoring my surroundings and seemingly "brain-dead", then surely we can't claim video games are fattening. Right?
  • by cowscows (103644) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:43PM (#27957767) Journal

    Daydreaming is basically shutting off (or at least ignoring) the bulk of the sensory inputs into your brain, and letting your imagination run the show for a period of time. Is it really surprising that having to create an ongoing reality that replaces a bunch of those ignored sensory inputs requires the brain to do some serious work? Especially when compared to performing a routine task that you've already done hundreds of times?

    Laziness isn't really connected in any meaningful way to how hard your brain is working. I could give my brain a pretty serious workout by staying home, sitting on the couch, and doing crossword puzzles until next thursday, but that's still a pretty lazy way to spend a week.

    Unfortunately, my boss isn't impressed by general problem solving as much as he's impressed by the solving of the specific problems that he's paying me to figure out.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by StikyPad (445176)

      Daydreaming is basically shutting off (or at least ignoring) the bulk of the sensory inputs into your brain

      Many people do the same thing when they're focusing on a particular task. While I'm personally very bad at this (which is perhaps why I'm so easily distracted), several people I know become hyperfocused to the point that they actually don't hear their name being called, or the phone ringing. I don't see how that's any less work for the brain than your definition of daydreaming.

      One time I threw a bric

      • by cowscows (103644)

        I'd say it depends on the task. If it's an interesting task that requires some serious thought, sure you can "get in the zone" and shut out the world and concentrate on what you're doing. But that's a different case than some menial task that you've done a million times, where you're basically on autopilot, working almost on muscle memory.

        But being "in the zone" is different from "zoning out" and letting your mind wander. They both share a symptom (shutting out your surroundings), but they're entirely diffe

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by value_added (719364)

          I'd say it depends on the task.

          Don't think so. Maybe it's mentioned in the article (which I haven't yet read), but whatever focus you think you have expires every 20-25 minutes, if not sooner. That "shutting off", to use the OP's words, is what's key here, not what follows.

          Ask yourself how often you've been at work and simply interrupted things to refresh your coffee, or watched something interesting on television and welcomed the commercial break. In movie theatres, who doesn't get up to go for popcorn?

        • I seem to daydream and experience flow (being in the zone) at the same time. Which I can't seem to understand. Shouldn't these be mutually exclusive?

          Any psychologists out there have an answer for this?

          • by cowscows (103644)

            I think the obvious conclusion is that you have a second brain, most likely hidden amongst the tangle of intestines down in your gut. Not really a big deal, except that when you ride a bike, you should wear at least two helmets.

    • by DriedClexler (814907) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:35PM (#27958621)

      Daydreaming is basically shutting off (or at least ignoring) the bulk of the sensory inputs into your brain, and letting your imagination run the show for a period of time.

      I accidentally discovered an interesting trick. I don't know if it's related to your point here, but if you get that "daydreaming" look in your eyes, you can stop (or rather, significantly alter) your eyes' saccadal movement (the way that they dart around to get a better model of your environment).

      This illusion [ritsumei.ac.jp] exploits your saccades to make it look like the snakes are rotating. However, if you start staring at it and get that "glazed" look that will tip people off you're not listening, the snakes stop rotating.

      • by fractoid (1076465)
        This [michaelbach.de] and this [michaelbach.de] are more interesting to me - the after-image of the animated pattern distorts anything you look at for a few second after you stop looking. The rotating snakes one is cool too though. :)
      • I dunno... Stopping the snakes takes a bit more effort than daydreaming.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wytcld (179112)

      Daydreaming is basically shutting off (or at least ignoring) the bulk of the sensory inputs into your brain, and letting your imagination run the show for a period of time.

      Is that how it is for you? For me, daydreaming happens most strongly when I open my sensory inputs, as on the fine spring days we've been having here this past week. It's when the inspiration of the world joins with the directions of my thought, rather than the two pulling in different directions. More often most of the sensory input gets

  • by stevied (169) * on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:44PM (#27957785)

    Please tag "noshitsherlock" ..

    • stopdiggingwatson

  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:44PM (#27957793) Homepage Journal
    that if he wants productivity to soar he has to hire more hot co-workers for me to daydream about.

    ...annndddd if you guys need me I'll be in my mandatory sensitivity training.
    • From TFA:
      "Although it may undermine our immediate goals, mind wandering may enable the parallel operation of diverse brain areas in the service of distal goals that extend beyond the current task."

      'Distal goals', eh?

    • ...more hot co-workers for me to daydream about.

      Now's an appropriate time for a Kids In The Hall reference:

      Dear Sirs--uh, Sir,

      In reference to your tomatoes--uh, question, I would like to fondle--uh, respond by copping a feel--uh, admitting it was our fault that the shipment was tits--uh, late.

      For your viewing pleasure, YouTube link right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lc0O198zmUc [youtube.com]

  • It's true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sayfawa (1099071) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:46PM (#27957831)
    Dreaming up scenarios where my coding skills and knowledge of cutting-edge physics theories gets me women and fame is a really complex thought process. Takes a lot of brain power.
  • Figuring out the sequence of events by which Natalie Portman suddenly acquires an acute allergy to clothes and is driven into my house where we discover that the only cure is hours and hours of passionate woopie and hot grits is a lot more complicated than it sounds!

  • Vindicated at last!
  • ....I'd have solved all the problems of the world by now.

    I'm sorry but while I accept that getting your mind off the problem and "zoning out" can be good to get you focused when you do return to work, I do not accept that somehow my subconscious magically solves problems while I dream of warm days and blue seas.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Perhaps yours doesn't. Or perhaps you just need to daydream about the right things.

      Watson says he figured out the shape of DNA in a dream. When I'm stuck on a hard problem I take a little spell in my hammock and it usually helps.

      • by syousef (465911)

        Perhaps yours doesn't. Or perhaps you just need to daydream about the right things.

        I can just picture the boss yelling "I hope you're daydreaming about company business!"

        Watson says he figured out the shape of DNA in a dream. When I'm stuck on a hard problem I take a little spell in my hammock and it usually helps.

        As someone that has a sleep disorder, I don't doubt it helps. Sleep helps me too. Getting AWAY from the problem and getting a rest are VERY useful. It doesn't mean you're solving problems in your

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          I didn't say sleep. Just a swinging, eyes closed, relaxed, free association, mind wandering thinking session. I definitely agree people work better when well rested, relaxed and happy, but your brain often also works better when you let the reigns go a little loose. I don't mean you get the ideas and the answer when you come back to work, I mean they come before you go back to work.

          I imagine it depends on what you're doing. I do research so it's my job to dream up stuff that nobody has tried yet. I sup

          • by syousef (465911)

            I didn't say sleep. Just a swinging, eyes closed, relaxed, free association, mind wandering thinking session. I definitely agree people work better when well rested, relaxed and happy, but your brain often also works better when you let the reigns go a little loose. I don't mean you get the ideas and the answer when you come back to work, I mean they come before you go back to work.

            Nothing wrong with what you're describing, but it's not daydreaming. Free association, mind wandering, thinking sessions are a

            • by ceoyoyo (59147)

              From dictionary.com:

              Daydream [reference.com]
              1. a reverie indulged in while awake.

              Reverie [reference.com]
              1. a state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing: lost in reverie.

              Sure, some of the other definitions include phrases like "especially of the fulfillment of wishes or hopes," but not all. And if you like what you do your wishes and hopes may well be related to solving a work problem. Daydreming does not necessarily refer to thinking about completely unrelated things.

              • by syousef (465911)

                Dictionary definitions don't help your argument here. When you see a sensationalised article about daydreaming being good for work, people don't start thinking about free thinking sessions. Are you disputing that?

                What you're describing simply is not daydreaming as known in the common idiom.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:55PM (#27957999) Homepage
    I certainly come up with some of my best thoughts when daydreaming. I'm tempted to make a joke about how the only better thinking time is when I'm on the toilet. But I'm worried that I'll get modded as a troll.
  • and I think that...

    hmm

    mmm

    hmmmm

    mmm

    oh!

    anyway, what did you ask?

  • I gotta rewrite my evaluation...
  • I'm not daydreaming... I'm solving world peace... promise.
  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:09PM (#27958229)

    I wonder how common daydreaming is in introverts vs extroverts and those with a large associative horizon.

    I'd imagine having a good imagination and constantly working it can lead to impressive creativity and novel ways of viewing problems... but it could also lead to not accomplishing a lot at all because it is just so enamoring.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So when I made a joke once about a day dream being like when the screensaver kicks on... I was scientifically or technically correct? Stuff is still happening in there, you just cant tell based on whats being displayed?

  • You never need to daydream now

    With instant entertainment available through your iPhone, iPod or cell phone in your pocket.

    I wonder what effect lack of daydreams have on kids growing up now?

    Bookwormhole.net [bookwormhole.net] -- over 11,000 published book reviews.

    • Honestly, I think it would be detrimental. I get twitchy and irritated if I don't spend a few minutes every day spinning elaborate day dreams. The topic isn't terribly important, but the break from my routine thoughts is quite important. It gives me breathing room.
  • So the more you daydream the more you need to be highly concentrated for something and are thus compensating for your inability to do it "live" ? :P

    nothing new here, move along ;-)

  • ... one of the most complex ongoing problems is finding a way to get out of doing work.

  • With all the complex problem solving I work on you would've thought that I'd have solved a few more problems by now.
  • Problem solving. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated&ema,il> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @07:27PM (#27959819) Journal
    I thought that daydreaming, or dreaming in general, was the period where problems that occurred during the day re-manifested themselves...

    When I daydream, I usually think of solutions to problems that go on throughout the day.
  • My mind doesn't work in a linear fashion most of the time. Trying to get a line of reasoning from Point A to Point Z in a straight line works sometimes, but not usually. I always have many tangential threads in progress, and they proceed at their own pace. Forcing them rarely results in anything good, while letting them resolve themselves naturally almost always produces a positive result.

    That is why I'm typically working on at least three or four simultaneous projects at work. While I'm working on one

  • This is a good example of fMRI based brain research reaching an erroneous conclusion due to lack of understanding of what the data represents. The "activation" is increased O2/CO2 transfer, assumed to be increased metabolism due to the cells working harder. That's quite right. However, this is taken to mean those cells are processing information in that region -- that the work known to be done by that region is being done. That's definitely not necessarily true. Within any region there's both excitatory act

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