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article imageOp-Ed: Well, gosh! Daydreaming is good for you!

By Paul Wallis     Oct 3, 2013 in Health
Sydney - Apparently being a vegetative, micro-managing, comatose moron isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. New studies indicate that using the space between your ears for something other than mundane tasks can actually improve your intelligence.
Huffington Post has found a study by a psychologist called Kaufman, which attacks at long last the mythology of “daydreaming.” Kaufman, unlike some of his contemporaries, isn’t prepared to pass off “wandering thought,” sometimes known as “higher brain functions” as mere neuroses or proof of inferior mentality.
(It’d be nice to know who decided that using your brain for something other than shopping and making squeaking noises in business meetings was abnormal, too.)
Huff Post relates:
Though we all spend close to 50 percent of our waking lives in a state of mind-wandering, according to one estimate, some research casts daydreaming in a negative light. A 2010 Harvard study linked spacing out with unhappiness, concluding that "a wandering mind is an unhappy mind." But could these unconscious thinking processes actually play a pivotal role in the achievement of personal goals?
In a radical new theory of human intelligence, one cognitive psychologist argues that having your head in the clouds might actually help people to better engage with the pursuits that are most personally meaningful to them. According to Scott Barry Kaufman, NYU psychology professor and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, we need a new definition of intelligence -- one that factors in our deepest dreams and desires.
Have to say I’m more than a bit surprised that Harvard, of all places, would describe extrapolative thought, which is another definition of “daydreaming”, as a negative.
The pomposity of the Harvard study is encapsulated in a couple of pars:
The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.
If situational awareness is any sort of definition of intelligence, the entire human race can be described as failing miserably in the macro sense on a routine basis. Ignorance is also a measure of low intelligence, and if it’s relative to the current state of the world, we have 7 billion aspiring ultra-idiots on hand when we need them.
By the same measure, thinking of “what is not” could also be described as thinking of “what might be.” On that basis, nobody would ever invent anything, and be considered particularly intelligent for doing nothing but mentally recite their own immediate situation.
This study was based on reports from subjects using an iPhone app, and found that the subjects were “unhappy” when their minds wandered.
Try a little logic:
1. People may have a reason to be unhappy.
2. Wandering minds often focus on things they’re worrying about.
3. Worry does not equate to happiness.
4. Worry does equate to situational awareness.
5. 74 percent of the subjects were apparently Americans. Americans have nothing to worry about, so the environment in which the subjects were living was not a factor?
In short- a self-fulfilling prophecy, with stats, well positioned to provide an instant contradiction to the findings.
Kaufman has put a bomb under this smug little treatise for justifying a truly banal form of applied imbecility.
From the Amazon blurb on Kaufman’s book Ungifted:
In Ungifted, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—who was relegated to special education as a child—sets out to show that the way we interpret traditional metrics of intelligence is misguided. Kaufman explores the latest research in genetics and neuroscience, as well as evolutionary, developmental, social, positive, and cognitive psychology, to challenge the conventional wisdom about the childhood predictors of adult success.
Let’s try a single well-known example of intelligence which is universally acknowledged:
Leonardo Da Vinci: Here was a purposeful wandering mind. Multiple subjects. Multiple needs for use of mental powers to not only learn, but develop those subjects. Could a non-wandering, (perhaps the definition is “static”?) mind have even begun to accomplish what Leonardo did? I doubt the average accountant, the epitome of modern “realism,” could have.
OK, now let's look at the mental processes of people who are considered intelligent:
What is the basis of talent? An obsession with the mundane, or a mind able to find and grasp new ideas?
What is the basis of new ideas? Repeating previous ideas? Not really, is it?
Can the intellect access even basic logic, without extrapolation from known facts and combinations of thoughts?
Are problems solved simply by using the LEGO bricks of a contemporary situation and no management of “non-existent” future applications? No, they’re damn well not.
The Harvard study again, after saying that wandering minds are great predictors of unhappiness:
“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
Really? Which religions? Buddhism doesn’t. Hinduism doesn’t. Taoism doesn’t. Quite the opposite, they advocate removal from the mundane. The monotheistic religions relate to after lives, not current lives.
If you define intelligence as the ability to simply look at things and regurgitate whatever facts you may happen to have about those things at that moment, everyone’s a genius.
Psychology has a bad habit of defining all unexplained higher brain functions as neuroses or bad. That’s when this insipid science condescends to acknowledge higher brain functions at all, and when it doesn’t treat the subjects like exercises in animal behaviourism.
What’s the object of this staggeringly superficial finding? Given that nobody could possibly have any basis for being unhappy other than a wandering mind, the rest of it is self-congratulation. Kaufman’s perspective is at least more open-minded to reasons for the mind wandering, which some might say was more relevant to actual study than a mere pronouncement of good or bad.
In short, the authors of the Harvard study haven’t even proven that they can do any actual thinking themselves. They didn’t even bother to come up with a basis for the process of wandering minds, a root cause. Minds must wander for some reason, not simply “defocus” for no reason or be naturally defocused for an undefined reason.
So they’re saying there’s an effect without a cause?
Maybe not?
How superficial can you get?
Let’s hope Kaufman gets some traction with the non-plodders in the psych sector.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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