President’s Update February 2019

In defence of daydreaming

Often the work of a science communicator is focused on the ‘doing’ of the work.  There’s always deadlines for delivery of some tangible activity- writing an article, running an event, delivering a workshop, designing a program.  It’s all too easy to get stuck in the process of doing the work, or thinking about doing the work, or planning to do the work.

Making space in your day to daydream and let your mind wander is not a priority for most of us.  Yet it’s the time when our most creative ideas might occur. Shelly Gable, Elizabeth Hopper and Jonathan Schooler report in the latest issue of Psychological Science that the ideas that occur when our minds wander are the ones in which we’re most likely to experience the precious ‘Aha!’ moments, ideas that are the ones most likely to help us solve a particularly sticky problem.  

The research team from University of California Santa Barbara found that ‘spontaneous task-independent mind wandering’ where you daydream off on a tangent totally unrelated to what you’re currently doing, can result in the most inventive thoughts.  The team looked at two highly creative professions – theoretical phycisists and screenwriters.

In both professions, most creative ideas were generated while people worked on task, but one in five occurred during mind wandering.  These ideas were the ones most likely to help people overcome an impasse. There are myths of the ‘Aha!’ moments throughout the history of science, Archimedes in the bath, Newton and the apple falling on his head, Einstein glancing at a clock tower from a streetcar and being struck by a thought experiment that led him to write a paper on the Special theory of Relativity six weeks later.  

Is it really daydreaming if you are setting aside time to do it especially?  Maybe we just need to make space for those fortunate connections to happen – give your brain a break, during your commute, or walking the dog, or washing the dishes.  Let your mind wander free and hopefully reap the creative benefits.