Mind Wandering

Mind Wandering

I was writing in my last post about my theory on Why Random Words Pop Up in Your Head. My theory is that the brain fires up random neural networks as a way to keep them 'fit'. If a neural network is not used then, given the brain's neuroplasticity, its components are redirected to other neural networks. For example, if a neural network corresponding to a skill is not exercised and fit then it starts decaying resulting in the loss of ability in that skill.

Mind Wandering Source: Pixabay

I searched on Quora for an answer to this random firing of words and thoughts but couldn't find any satisfactory answer. However, I did came upon an interesting Wikipedia article on Mind Wandering. It seems that mind wandering is very common, no surprise here, it tends to appear when reading, driving or doing some low vigilance activity, it can be linked to car accidents, it's more common in people with low or depressed moods. It also occurs when the person consumes alcohol. When I read this, my mind immediately wandered to James Joyce and his Ulysses, because frankly speaking the book looks like it's written by someone with a short attention span and a "wandering mind". James Joyce was a heavy drinker and eventually died because of his drinking, I'm pretty sure that his literary creativeness owes much to it. Ulysses is creative work but quite random, random like a ephemeral thought. Let's return to neuroscience before going too deep into bacchanal artistic license.

It also says in the article that mental time travel is common during mind wandering, bringing up events from the past or anticipating  future events. As mentioned before, in my last post, this process can be useful when it comes to preserve memories and knowledge. The ability to project events in the future is another advantageous evolutionary trait; when you live in an environment with four seasons, planning in advance can be the difference between life and death.

Happiness: according to research, it seems that mind wandering is an unpleasant activity because during this time people tend to think of unhappy topics more than happy topics.  There is no surprise here and it makes sense when adding the limbic system into the picture.

Decision-making. This is quite interesting. When it comes to decision making it seems that people are as happy when they make decisions by the way of mind wandering as they are when they make decisions by the way of careful deliberation. This means that people are satisfied with mind wandering to give them solutions to their problems.

Neuroscience is advancing very rapidly and hopefully will offer better answers in the future on the intricacies of the brain and mind.