Mind wandering

Stop Paying Attention: Zoning Out Is a Crucial Mental State

“(…) mind wandering is not useless mental static. Instead, Schooler proposes, mind wandering allows us to work through some important thinking. Our brains process information to reach goals, but some of those goals are immediate while others are distant. Somehow we have evolved a way to switch between handling the here and now and contemplating long-term objectives. It may be no coincidence that most of the thoughts that people have during mind wandering have to do with the future.

Even more telling is the discovery that zoning out may be the most fruitful type of mind wandering. In their fMRI study, Schooler and his colleagues found that the default network and executive control systems are even more active during zoning out than they are during the less extreme mind wandering with awareness. When we are no longer even aware that our minds are wandering, we may be able to think most deeply about the big picture.

Because a fair amount of mind wandering happens without our ever noticing, the solutions it lets us reach may come as a surprise. There are many stories in the history of science of great discoveries occurring to people out of the blue.”