A wandering mind can be a creative mind. "The Importance of Mind Wandering," from Jonah Lehrer:
In recent years... neuroscience has dramatically revised our views of mind-wandering. For one thing, it turns out that the mind wanders a ridiculous amount. Last year, the Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth published a fascinating paper in Science documenting our penchant for disappearing down the rabbit hole of our own mind. The scientists developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals, asking them about their current activity and levels of happiness. It turns out that people were engaged in mind-wandering 46.9 percent of the time. In fact, the only activity in which their minds were not constantly wandering was love making. They were able to focus for that.
Very nice, Jonah. Let me take that thought in a different direction.
I'm reminded of web posts and online articles that regularly ask where the serendipity has gone, and I wonder whether day-dreaming is a reaction to an information-soaked environment. An acquaintance of mine, Rob May, a successful entrepreneur who happens to share the same introverted and creative nature that I do, wrote yesterday that to really gain a new perspective on things in our wired, wired world - unplug, because the web "just encourages consolidation around the same pieces of information." Even scholarship, he points out, has narrowed. Having showed up on the scene over the past decade or so, the same old media actors have reestablished the same old rules. Power laws push serendipity into the long tail.
I'm also reminded of the perceptive William Deresiewicz, who wrote a timely address on solitude and leadership, beseeching the West Point Plebes in his presence to find time as future participants in the military's vast bureaucracy to be alone with their thoughts. How, otherwise, would they know what they really think? In the absence of original thinking, could they expect others to follow? In a related and earlier essay, "The End of Solitude," he writes, "Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely. Now, it is impossible to be alone."
To the extent that alternate reality games blend the virtual and physical, or that web sites like Longform and a new one, Findings, encourage the swapping and digestion of complete sentences and, heaven forbid, whole paragraphs, or that the making movement finds satisfaction in real world objects not Google results, I think there's an emerging understanding that information is good, but it can't be ripping entirely from context without losing meaning. We know more than we can tell, and conditioned as we have been by an ancient history of connecting information - sound, sight, the scent of baked goods - to something, we've grown up with a sense that meaning has a subject and predicate. Without a there, there, we just think we know more, which given the information ghettos to which everyone seems to have retreated, has lost entirely what little charm it may have once held.
Of course the mind will wander. It's looking for a wall to scale.
And yes, of course I get the irony of writing this for a web log. Yes, I still hope that it will make you think. But more than that, I hope you'll spend some time - more than you usual - away from bright and glowing screens. Go outside and spend some time on a park bench people-watching during lunch today. This evening, cancel the reservations. Cook. Try that new recipe you've been meaning to try without worry about how it might turn out. The importance of mind wandering to creativity, according to Lehrer, is the ability to maintain a bit of "meta-awareness" in the process. I might suggest that happens more meaningfully in the presence of the world. The focus, the attention, the love making? That's just the gift.