The WSJ has a good article about research linking daydreaming and “Eureka” moments. One interesting thing I noticed is that the brain works harder during daydreaming than working on complicated problems. Another is the fact that there is a brief period of calming activity just before an insight is made – almost as if the brain is trying to clear out the competing ideas and focus in on the right one.
I think that there is an explanation for this finding in a 1977 study (warning: PDF link) by Nisbett and Wilson where people were asked to tie two ropes together that were hanging from the ceiling. The ropes were just far enough apart so that if you grabbed one you couldn’t reach the other. In the control group very few people got the answer. But in the experimental group an experimenter accidentally nudged one of the ropes, turning it into a pendulum. In this group, within seconds most of the people immediately solved the problem by doing the same thing. When asked how they came to the right answer, nearly none of them could say where the idea came from.
So my theory is that in our daydream we see something that points us toward a solution to a problem that we’re concentrating on. It’s kind of like in a movie or TV show where the character will be listening to a story or will see something and then get a blank look on their face and then get a spontaneous new idea that solves the problem. The movie The Hangover has one of those moments in it and is very funny, in case you are looking for something to do. Maybe that’s where my stroke of insight came from and I just don’t remember it.
I stumbled across this nugget of news and I had to pass it along. According to the majority of Americans, Heaven is not just reserved for Christians. That is according to a couple of studies done by the Pew Research Center. In other words, for our European friends, most Americans are not fanatical evangelical Christians. That is something that many Europeans have asked me when I’ve been traveling. I guess that’s how we’re portrayed in the media over there, as backward barbarians – probably just before discussing the body count of the latest “football” stampedes.
I’m not saying that Americans have no problems or that Europeans aren’t also good people. But this is something that’s always bothered me about what Europeans think of Americans. Everyone on each side of the Atlantic (and across the globe really) should remember that what they see on TV and in the papers isn’t always necessarily reality. Everybody has a perspective and those often make their way into an article or report.