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Allowing the Mind To Wander Aids Creative Problem Solving

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the daydream-a-better-tomorrow dept.

Idle 185

ananyo writes "From the Nature story: 'Scientists from Archimedes to Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are said to have had flashes of inspiration while thinking about other things. But the mechanisms behind this psychological phenomenon have remained unclear. A study now suggests that simply taking a break does not bring on inspiration — rather, creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander.' The researchers gave 145 students 2 minutes to list as many possible uses for an everyday object (the creative thinking task). Participants then either rested, undertook a demanding memory activity that required their full attention or engaged in an undemanding reaction-time activity known to elicit mind-wandering. A fourth group of students had no break. The researchers then set the students a second set of unusual-uses tasks and found those that had, in the interim, been set the undemanding task that encouraged mind-wandering performed an average of around 40% better than they did before. The students in the other three groups showed no improvement."

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185 comments

Creativity (5, Insightful)

The God of Code (2641925) | about 2 years ago | (#40067321)

rather, creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander.

And this is why mild drugs should be legal. The effects greatly increase mind wandering and in right amounts, lead to highly increased creativity. I don't support highly abusive drugs as they have risky side effects, but for example marijuana should be legal.

It is actually even more healthy and good for the society than alcohol. For most people alcohol drinking tends to bring out their bad sides like aggressiveness, health problems and uncontrolled thinking. Pot on the other hand increases creativity, brings relaxation and has no negative effects on your health (especially if you don't smoke it but eat with browns or pizza [tastes like oregano actually, but better]).

Re:Creativity (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067631)

In AA I was introduced to the M.M.P., Marijuana Maintenance Plan.

Basically for an Alcoholic that is drinking enough to eventually kill them it provides them a very effective way to quit drinking. And eventually they "should" quit smoking pot after they have gotten over the worst parts of early sobriety. And quitting pot is so so so much easier than quit drinking.

This has saved hundreds of lives, but it's illegal.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067883)

That's funny (well, for me). I had to go to AA for my pot bust. Addiction isn't the funny part. So don't think I find that part funny.

Re:Creativity (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#40068155)

I'm sorry. I was busy being creative on your time... What was your question again? Surely, you don't mind repeating, if only to allow more opportunity for me to develop my brilliance! :-)

Re:Creativity (4, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#40067813)

And this is why mild drugs should be legal.

No, mind-altering drugs should be legal because there should be no law against harming yourself. Marijuana should be legal because there's no reason whatever (besides right-wing lies) why it should be illegal. And yes, it does help creativity. Often some of my best stories come from a pot haze. Unfortunately half the time I forget what I was going to write before I get it written down.

As to the study, once again science has proven that which most of us have noticed. But proving it scientifically is a GOOD thing. Without testing one can never be sure.

Re:Creativity (4, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 2 years ago | (#40067881)

No, mind-altering drugs should be legal because there should be no law against harming yourself

The self-harm argument falls to pieces when you consider that people are not islands unto themselves, and that the actions of one person often have detrimental effects on others. Pot should be legal because its social benefits outweigh the risks. Meth should be illegal because 99.9% of meth users eventually start stealing or killing to support their habit. I wouldn't mind if meth users simply killed their brain cells and then left the rest of us alone, but that's simply not the case.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068113)

100% of criminals consume oxygen we should make that illegal too.

Re:Creativity (5, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#40068359)

Meth should be illegal because 99.9% of meth users eventually start stealing or killing to support their habit

As an ex totally legit chemist not involved even remotely in the amateur pharm trade, I none the less know that the cost of precursor chemicals would make legal meth roughly (very roughly) as expensive as your average OTC generic pharmaceutical. There's nothing in that chemical structure that should cost much more than psuedoephedrine cold medicine and its biologically active "around" that level. A couple days worth of the stuff, if legalized, would cost about as much as a weeks worth of cold medicine, in other words pretty damn cheap compared to the cost of food, etc.

When you have to steal copper cable every day to get one day's illegal supply society has a big problem. When the cost of a 6-pack of beer is more than the cost of a months supply then society has no real problem. It is true that scum occasionally kill for the cost of a soda, but its rare enough to be an outlier, thankfully.

It would be cheap enough that junkyards could give it away in order to improve their public image (hey general public, we don't accept stolen goods anymore because we give the addicts stuff for free, so stop blaming us for your stolen catalytic converters, mkay?)

Its much harder on the body than alcohol, so unlike drinking where you have senior citizen bums, meth heads, especially if given all-you-can-smoke-for-free would not live long, leading to a ridiculously lower total lifetime cost and a much smaller population.

Re:Creativity (4, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 2 years ago | (#40068459)

Fair enough on the cost of the product itself.. And I think your argument would actually go a long way in regards to something like heroin. I was wrong to state that the meth addicts steal or kill to support their habit.. They steal and kill because meth eats away everything but the base animal instincts, and they essentially steal and kill for fun at that point. Also, unlike heroin addicts, meth users tend to have lots of children to whom they do irreparable harm. If we had a program of "all you can smoke, provided you are permanently sterilized and live in this fenced off area away from people who actually contribute to society", I'll be all for it.

Re:Creativity (0)

shiftless (410350) | about 2 years ago | (#40071269)

I was wrong to state that the meth addicts steal or kill to support their habit.. They steal and kill because meth eats away everything but the base animal instincts, and they essentially steal and kill for fun at that point.

Right! And "Reefer" causes "Madness."

Re:Creativity (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#40068625)

The equivalent of "Drunk for a penny Dead drunk for twopence" is not a solution to the Meth issue.

There is no solution except at the level of the individual.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068413)

Meth should be illegal because 99.9% of meth users eventually start stealing or killing to support their habit. I wouldn't mind if meth users simply killed their brain cells and then left the rest of us alone, but that's simply not the case.

First, I'm suspicious of that statistic in particular, and generally in the accuracy of statistics (including real, as opposed to made-up, ones) about illegal activities like speed use.

Second, even allowing, for the purpose of argument, that statistic to be true as stated, it's true under a regime where meth is highly illegal, thus carries an artificially high black-market price to cover the risk of being caught (so it takes serious cash flow to support a habit), and thus meaning, by definition, only criminals use it (and this cuts both ways -- maybe some people with better impulse control who avoid it because they just don't care to mess with Johnny Law would, if legalized, take it recreationally, and never resort to crime to support a habit, and maybe some people who do take it now think "oh, what the hell, the sentence for stealing car stereos is less than I'm risking for the speed -- in for a penny, in for a pound!", and might reconsider the crimes if the meth was perfectly legal. It's quite obvious a lower percentage of meth users would resort to crime if it were legal and cheap; it may not be obvious how much lower percentage, or whether that would also represent a lower total incidence of crime (or if crime would rise because of a slightly lower percentage, times a greatly increased population of users), but since you're the one advocating wholesale deprivation of people's natural rights, the burden is on you to prove that it would still be a significant problem. (Historical data, before the Harrison Act, suggests it would not be a bigger problem than it is now, as there was no such violence pandemic associated with then-legal narcotics and stimulants.)

Re:Creativity (2)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 2 years ago | (#40068551)

Protip: 99.9% of the time, when someone says "99.9% of x", they're saying it to illustrate a point, and not to cite an actual statistic.

Re:Creativity (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40071411)

This argument again. It's filled with made-up figures and subjective reasoning. I can just as easily argue that the social benefits of Alcohol (practically 0) are insignificant to the risks (drunk driving for one). Is there any social benefit to smoking at all? If not then just a 1:1'000'000'000 shot of a person getting cancer through second-hand smoke would be enough to get it made illegal by your argument.

Perhaps a licence to buy and use meth would be more appropriate than outright banning it. Why do responsible users have to suffer just because idiots can't be trusted.

Re:Creativity (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068305)

No, nothing has been "proven" here. Please look into how science works and stop using that word.

Re:Creativity (4, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#40068389)

No, mind-altering drugs should be legal because there should be no law against harming yourself.

Well, yes and no. While I agree that mind-altering drugs should be legal, there are behaviors that are self-destructive that end up costing society a whole lot, say, motorcyclists not wearing a helmet or at least goggles. When I first started riding in my late teens, I never wanted to put anything on my head and goggles interfered with my then-long hair flowing in the wind making me look just a little less cool. I was on 94 headed out toward the Western Suburbs when a small stone got kicked up and sent right into my eye. The weather was perfect, but it sent me into a long slide that could have easily ended up with a lot more people hurt or dead besides just me. After that, I always wore goggles, and after a close friend who was doing an emergency room rotation back then told me she wouldn't be my friend any more unless I started wearing a helmet, I actually managed to live long enough to see the wisdom in these simple requirement. About the same time, I realized that no, I did not in fact drive better after getting a few ounces of ethanol behind my belt. Funny, I was absolutely sure about that one, but no. Also, that the fragrant and sticky red bud did not actually improve my musical ability.

Nobody's behavior is unconnected to other peoples' lives. Nobody makes it all on their own and nothing a person do "has no effect on anyone else. The "this is a free country and if I want to kill myself I will" argument makes a lot more sense before you grow up than after.

But certainly there is no good reason to make the growing or use or purchase of marijuana illegal. And sale and distribution should be regulated, if only to make sure one doesn't end up being sold an ounce of rosemary for $120 by those high school juniors over on Jackson Blvd. The little shits.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069637)

I blogged about your comment on angrylibertarian.tumblr.com if you care (I did it even if you don't care too).

Re:Creativity (0)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#40070757)

I blogged about your comment on angrylibertarian.tumblr.com if you care (I did it even if you don't care too).

This is from your blog:

Iâ(TM)m pretty sure that nobody in their right mind is claiming that âoeWhat I do doesnâ(TM)t affect youâ but rather the claim is âoeNot everything that affects you allows you to legitimately respond with violenceâ.

Now since you were responding to me, and I was talking about helmet laws, how do you get "respond with violence" from "require motorcycle riders to wear helmets or goggles"?

I think this is how libertarians get their reputation as being a little bit goofy.

Re:Creativity (3, Funny)

SomeJoel (1061138) | about 2 years ago | (#40071341)

I blogged about your comment on angrylibertarian.tumblr.com if you care (I did it even if you don't care too).

This is from your blog:

Iâ(TM)m pretty sure that nobody in their right mind is claiming that âoeWhat I do doesnâ(TM)t affect youâ but rather the claim is âoeNot everything that affects you allows you to legitimately respond with violenceâ.

Now since you were responding to me, and I was talking about helmet laws, how do you get "respond with violence" from "require motorcycle riders to wear helmets or goggles"?

I think this is how libertarians get their reputation as being a little bit goofy.

Hey man, calm down, there's no reason to get all violent!

Re:Creativity (1)

shiftless (410350) | about 2 years ago | (#40071293)

Also, that the fragrant and sticky red bud did not actually improve my musical ability.

Maybe you should have tried a different strain.

Or maybe you just aren't cut out for music.

The "this is a free country and if I want to kill myself I will" argument makes a lot more sense before you grow up than after.

Only if you define "growing up" as "bowing down and kissing the King's hand."

Re:Creativity (1)

travbrad (622986) | about 2 years ago | (#40070267)

Do you really think it's illegal because of "right-wing lies"? Why did Obama recently refuse to even entertain the idea of decriminalizing marijuana, despite most of Latin America being in favor of it? Meanwhile Ron Paul wants to decriminalize ALL drugs, so the idea of it being "right-wing lies" is silly. It's POLITICIAN LIES, it has nothing to do with right vs left, Republican vs Democrat.

Don't you think it's more likely that there is a lot of profit to be made from privatizing the prison-industrial-complex and using the cheap prison (slave) labor? Or the CIA getting their cut by facilitating trade from Latin America, Afghanistan, etc?

Re:Creativity (1)

SomeJoel (1061138) | about 2 years ago | (#40071371)

Do you really think it's illegal because of "right-wing lies"? Why did Obama recently refuse to even entertain the idea of decriminalizing marijuana, despite most of Latin America being in favor of it?

I can answer this one at least. It turns out politicians don't really care much about "winning votes". They are far more concerned about not losing votes. If you embrace a change which is unpopular with a significant subset of your voter base, then you are going to lose.
That's why it's mildly surprising that Obama came out pro-gay marriage. Although, I guess the subset of his voter base that is against it is pretty small.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067857)

rather, creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander.

And this is why mild drugs should be legal. The effects greatly increase mind wandering and in right amounts, lead to highly increased creativity. I don't support highly abusive drugs as they have risky side effects, but for example marijuana should be legal.

No, the reason mild drugs should be legal is because nobody has any moral justification to make them illegal. By accepting their right to forbid you to consume a substance unless you can prove it beneficial, you've already acceded to tyranny, and are reduced to pleading with your masters to temper their whims with common sense. (SPOILER: not gonna happen)

Oh, and the same goes for "highly abusive drugs", wtfever that phrase even means.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068403)

I don't support highly abusive drugs as they have risky side effects

I'm glad you've decided what I should be allowed to put into my own body on my own time in the privacy of my own home.

Re:Creativity (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#40069475)

So by your logic steroids should be legal since they have a positive side effects?
And since Speed (I think that is the name) makes you stronger and able to work faster it should be as well?
I don't think there exists an illegal act/substance in existence that does not have some benefit.

Re:Creativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40070115)

yes.
yes.
All drugs should be legal, because humans should be free.

In the Shower (4, Insightful)

InfiniteZero (587028) | about 2 years ago | (#40067387)

Some of the best ideas I've come up with happened in the shower, usually after a long day of working on a project.

Re: Or dreams (4, Interesting)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | about 2 years ago | (#40067465)

When it's something I work really intensely, I often come up with the best solutions indirectly in a dream. That is, I'll dream of a solution - usually it's not directly helpful, but upon waking it's easy to follow the impractical dream solution to its roots and find the real answer. Usually in a "oh that's so obvious, why didn't I see it sooner?!" kind of way.

Walking is another good time for me - unless I"m listening to an audiobook, which seems to suppress the necessary 'mind wandering'.

Re: Or dreams (1)

The God of Code (2641925) | about 2 years ago | (#40067507)

The dreaming way can go bad quite quickly. Nowadays, due to too much internet use, I keep seeing dreams of internet articles, forum posts, slashdot posts.. All written by different persons with different styles, and actually quite interesting and technical posts. But all generated in my head. Hilarity ensues later when you try to figure out what information has been real and what has been dreaming.

Re: Or dreams (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067849)

At one job I had where we were working 10+ hour days, continuously for over a month I would occasionally have wet dreams about inanimate objects at work.

Deeply Disturbing.

Re: Or dreams (2)

s.petry (762400) | about 2 years ago | (#40067635)

I have had these also, usually very early REM sleep I wake up and say "Wholly crap that is the Fix!". I found at least for myself that I don't even have to keep a pencil and paper near the bed. These ideas are remembered in the morning, and usually refined while getting ready for work.

For TFA, I wonder what they did for "mind wandering" activities? They don't mention their specific method, and most that I know of like meditation require training.

Re:In the Shower (1)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about 2 years ago | (#40067619)

+1 for the shower. I've had many problem breakthroughs in the shower. It's a good reason to refrain from washing your *ahem* bits and pieces any more than is necessary during shower time.

Re:In the Shower (0)

The God of Code (2641925) | about 2 years ago | (#40067685)

Pff, shower. It's funny for those of us in countries that have saunas [wikipedia.org].And yes, it is absolutely fantastic place to think about things and get new ideas. I used to enjoy that as teen and get lots of fantastic game development ideas. I still do when I have some problem to think about, or when I want inspiration. Compared to saunas, shower just seems stupid.

Re:In the Shower (4, Interesting)

mindwhip (894744) | about 2 years ago | (#40067957)

For me its not dreams, rather its lying in bed late at night or on lazy Sunday mornings daydreaming for an hour or two. I'll just let my mind run 'in neutral' not thinking about anything in particular. Sometimes I'll end up thinking about what I did today or will be doing tomorrow. Sometimes its more abstract stuff like what does the square root of -1 actually mean. Sometimes its about the people around me, either friend or foe. Sometimes just about one pointless thing like a slashdot post I made, over and over again but considering it from every angle.

Every so often these random 'wanderings' result in me linking two previously unrelated facts together to get a better understanding or in me having an idea to solve some problem or issue.

Either way without letting my mind wander I wouldn't have anywhere near as many 'eureka' moments and would probably have missed out on promotions etc as a result.

Re:In the Shower (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 2 years ago | (#40068025)

I regularly have ideas on my research while I'm trying to fall asleep. I have my ipad on the nightstand so that I can send myself an e-mail explaining it.

Re:In the Shower (1)

elucido (870205) | about 2 years ago | (#40068215)

I regularly have ideas on my research while I'm trying to fall asleep. I have my ipad on the nightstand so that I can send myself an e-mail explaining it.

I have ideas while I'm in my sleep. I dream about my research. I don't see why others don't also.

ADHD is good for creativity. (1)

elucido (870205) | about 2 years ago | (#40068177)

If your mind wanders a lot and you know how to make good use of it it's a bonus feature but if your mind wanders a lot and you don't know how to make good use of it them it's a mental disorder.

Re:In the Shower (0)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 years ago | (#40068319)

Some of the best ideas I've come up with happened in the shower, usually after a long day of working on a project.

Stop "working on your project" in the shower, you'll go blind.

Re:In the Shower (1)

Cro Magnon (467622) | about 2 years ago | (#40068345)

I still remember one of the first programs I did in college. There was a bug, and I'd been trying to find it until I went cross-eyed. Finally, I took a break, went to the bathroom, and while crapping I came up with the answer.

Re:In the Shower (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069207)

Yup, that's the best time to come to grips with yourself.

Re:In the Shower (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069329)

I fully agree - I think it must be the combination of:

- Not being able to bring the laptop into the shower (disconnect)
- Carrying out an activity (washing) that your brain can do on auto-pilot

A great place to get insight!

Re:In the Shower (1)

eulernet (1132389) | about 2 years ago | (#40071433)

My recipe for creativity:

Step 1: Search for a solution as if my life depends on it. In general, I find bad solutions at this stage. This is called "bad spontaneous solutions", I tend to defend them, even though they don't solve the problem.
Step 2: Stop searching for a solution. It's difficult to stop searching, but there are several ways to do that, like sleeping or concentrating on something else but not using logical reasoning. It's important to forget about the problem.
Step 3: The solution appears !

It's a mysterious process, but I applied this technique to most parts of my life and it works, for example, I found my wife this way.

Well Doh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067395)

Another words a whole pile on money has been spent/wasted to prove that

  - When you are stuck on a problem, take a break, do something different and then come back to it refreshed and you are more than lilely to solve it.

Pah.

Re:Well Doh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067517)

Another words a whole pile on money has been spent/wasted to prove that

"In other words" Read a little. Spelling and grammar are not places for creative problem solving unless you're playing Planetfall.

Camping (5, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#40067423)

This is why I like camping. Nothing like being stuck outside, hopefully far away from any sort of electrical devices, alone with nothing but your mind and dappled sunlight through the trees to keep you company. I'm never more productive than the week after I spent a weekend sleeping under the stars.

Stuck at home, my hobbies use a lot of the same parts of the brain my work does. But I enjoy them more, so I work harder at them. That often leaves me wearier on Monday than I was on Friday.

Re:Camping (1)

sohmc (595388) | about 2 years ago | (#40067581)

While I love the great outdoors, my back has precluded this activity for me. So now, I "don't do computers" at home. DVR and phone is the maximum of what I'll do.

It usually while I'm mopping the floor or washing the dishes that I'll think of a solution to a problem I'm having. Maybe not so much of a solution as a different way to approach the problem. (e.g. iterating through a users list to find which of them belong to a group because I can't query the group.)

Re:Camping (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068887)

Your *aha* moments consist of things like implementing a linear search? Yikes.

Re:Camping (2)

strength_of_10_men (967050) | about 2 years ago | (#40067689)

Nothing like being stuck outside, hopefully far away from any sort of electrical devices, alone with nothing but your mind and dappled sunlight through the trees to keep you company.

I guess along the same line, if I'm ever stuck on a hard problem, I either go for a long bike ride or a long steady run; something that's not so hard that I have to focus on form. Some of my best problem solving has been done while on a contemplative ride or run, by myself, in the middle of nowhere.

I don't know if it's the release of endorphins or the tranquility that the setting provides, or the isolation from distractions such as phones and email (and yes, people) that does the trick but if I'm struggling on something, I grad the bike or running shoes and head out the door.

Plus it allows me to eat a little more for dinner. :)

Re:Camping (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068695)

Yeah, I think it's a combination of effects, but I'm lucky enough to live on the outskirts of a small town, so 5 minutes gets me onto low-traffic roads in farm country; a 15-mile cruise is just the thing for letting all sorts of problems sort themselves out in my head.

(Not much for running, personally, for any reason at all, but if that's your bag, I can see how it'd work the same way. For me, it's just a good way to get tired and angry at my belly for flapping up and down and reminding me how fat I am.)

It's the step back effect (5, Funny)

jholyhead (2505574) | about 2 years ago | (#40067439)

I expect those of us in intellectually demanding jobs have encountered the step back effect.

You'll spend three hours banging your head against your desk trying to find a solution to a tricky problem. Eventually, the caffeinated beverages you've been throwing back conspire against you and you have to make a trip to the bathroom. I solve more tricky problems during those 2 minute bathroom breaks than at any other point in the day.

Incidentally I find I can use this effect to justify all kinds of frowned upon office behaviour. I'm not watching cat videos on Youtube, I'm stepping away from the problem. I'm not browsing the Dilbert archives, I'm putting some distance between myself and the dilemma. I'm not facebook stalking the temp on reception, I'm seeking an alternative perspective on the issue du jour.

Re:It's the step back effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068131)

Back in ye college days, I found that attempting to explain the problem to an uninvolved bystander (one who could understand the problem, not just some random art history major) was often enough to realize the solution. I wasn't alone in seeing this method of debugging, and it has happened a fair number of times in paying work as well.

I suppose it's a hybrid of stepping back and looking from a different perspective at the same time, and sometimes all it takes is the other person asking "is that a semicolon or a regular colon?" (memories of Perl)

Re:It's the step back effect (1)

jholyhead (2505574) | about 2 years ago | (#40068307)

Totally, just saying the problem out loud leads you to view the problem from a different perspective. 50% of the time you've got the answer before you're halfway through explaining the problem.

Re:It's the step back effect (1)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | about 2 years ago | (#40069519)

Totally, just saying the problem out loud leads you to view the problem from a different perspective. 50% of the time you've got the answer before you're halfway through explaining the problem.

I definitely agree with you, but I don't think that's the same phenomenon that is described in the article.

Usually when I find the answer in the process of explaining to somebody else, it's because I already have the answer, but can't see that I've misapplied it. When looking at my work, my brain sees what should be on the screen, not what actually is on the screen. I skip steps because I've done them so often that I already know what the result should be. Then I try to explain it to somebody else, and the mind is forced to pull away from the tunnel vision. You stop thinking about what you have or haven't done, and start thinking about, "given this guy's knowledge, how do I explain the steps I should take in order to solve it?" At which point, once you get to the step you weren't paying much attention to, you immediately realize that you missed it.

Same reason pilots have actual checklists they're supposed to go through for the pre-flight check, before takeoff, etc. You do it enough times, you end up skipping a step. You have it written there in front of you, and you avoid that problem.

The situation described in the article is a little different. You're not thinking about the original problem at all anymore, but the solution just pops in your mind. Just the other day I was in a car with a friend, and couldn't think of the name of an actor. I spent maybe 5 minutes trying to remember, and then gave up, and changed the subject. 20 minutes later, after I hadn't given the thing any thought whatsoever, we arrived where we were going, and the name just popped in my head.

There's a weird background processing thing that goes on when you stop thinking about stuff.

Re:It's the step back effect (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#40069735)

There's a weird background processing thing that goes on when you stop thinking about stuff.

I love taking advantage of this by looking at a problem, identifying the issue, then I go to browse the web, like /., techdirt, ars, etc. Then I come back after 5-10 minutes and attempt to create a solution. I find this process tends to help me best when solving new problems. Really tough problems(starting a new project) can take a few days of this back-and-forth, which also includes researching the subject, identifying possible issues, and going home to "sleep on it".

Re:It's the step back effect (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#40069677)

I find when I talk to other people, I try to mirror what they're thinking about what I'm saying. By having someone to listen, just me talking at them allows me to activate this part of my brain and help me criticize my own logic as I attempt to explain it. Thinking or talking to myself does not activate this brain pathway for me.

One of my favorite things to do is analyze what I think and why I thought it.

Re:It's the step back effect (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#40068395)

Incidentally I find I can use this effect to justify all kinds of frowned upon office behaviour.

You forgot posting on /.

Crazy as it sounds I've solved more problems while on /. than while doing any other activity.

Re:It's the step back effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069591)

I used to call these "train platform revelations" because that's where they happened for me: while waiting for a train at the end of the day. Being in the city and taking walks around the block helps too. Don't sit still for more than 2 hours. Even if you are in a stupid office park in the middle of suburbia where you have to drive to get anywhere, you should still walk around the building every once in a while.

Mind to wander - mindulfness. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067445)

For those of you who are practicing mindfulness - you know:when you're washing the dishes; wash the dishes - being in the present and concentrating on what you're doing, On the other hand, it seams that Mindfulness practice would negate creative thinking. Granted, there are plenty of times where I've come up with some creative ideas during meditation only to have to put them aside and go back to the breath - and then struggle to remember WTF I thought of.

I don't know ... maybe it's my own dichotomy that I've created in my own mind .....

Re:Mind to wander - mindulfness. (1)

jholyhead (2505574) | about 2 years ago | (#40067501)

Mindfulness doesn't mean you can never let your mind wander so long as letting your mind wander is what you are trying to do.

Re:Mind to wander - mindulfness. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069357)

Having watched someone (a daydreamer) succumb to Alzheimer's recently, I have begun to wonder if people who are prone to bouts of free-association are more susceptible to brain maladies like dementia & Alzheimer's. I often employ the thousand yard stare when I'm problem solving/ daydreaming, and it doesn't feel like the same type of "thinking" that, say, posting on Slashdot or riding a bike, feels like; it lacks the immediacy of a focused effort. When I see elderly people engaged in things like crossword puzzles or active debate, it seems to me they are exercising a neural "muscle" that an intellectual wanderer forgoes for generality.
Like anything, I'm guessing too much disembodied time is probably as unwise as none.

Yes yes yes! (4, Funny)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | about 2 years ago | (#40067463)

When I am working on a particularly difficult problem, I read Slashdot for a bit. After drinking down an article about the TSA or censorship, boom! The solution just pops into my head and away I go. That's the Slashdot Advantage(tm)!

Re:Yes yes yes! (3, Funny)

PRMan (959735) | about 2 years ago | (#40067515)

I'm not sure if you are joking, but this totally happens to me all the time.

This is news? (1)

Loughla (2531696) | about 2 years ago | (#40067479)

It's not news, it's a euphemism that's been around for years: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

In other news, water - wet, air - dry, penguins - little Hitlers in tuxedos.

Sleep eurekas (1)

fleeped (1945926) | about 2 years ago | (#40067493)

I usually have my algorithmic eurekas when I sleep, but I never seem to recall the solution when I wake up. Damn.

Re:Sleep eurekas (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067755)

Solution, don't move when you wake up. Literally, don't move a muscle. Instead, when you realize you're waking up, or have awoken, stay as still as possible and reflect on your dream.

This is a trick used for lucid dreaming, and when I was a kid worked rather well. Not so much as an adult. But regardless if you want to remember what you were dreaming about, moving your muscles somehow hastens the retreat from memory of your dream. It has something to do with the different parts of your brain taking over.

Psychology is ( Score: +5, Obvious ) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40067513)

DEAD given the lameness of this "study". More drivel from academics who have nothing better to do than rehash prior crap
in their "discipline".

Yours In Industry,
Kilgore Trout, C.I.O. [youtube.com]

Re:Psychology is ( Score: +5, Obvious ) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40068545)

Correction: (Score: -100, Stupid Bullshit; die in a fire)

So I shouldn't take my ADD meds? (1)

Danathar (267989) | about 2 years ago | (#40067593)

And I thought "focus" was what I needed! Thanks! I'm pouring the methylphenidate down the toilet. Wandering mind here I come! No effort needed.

Try not taking them unless you really need them. (1)

elucido (870205) | about 2 years ago | (#40068193)

And I thought "focus" was what I needed! Thanks! I'm pouring the methylphenidate down the toilet. Wandering mind here I come! No effort needed.

If you're an artist or in a creative profession you wont need them. Also if you can figure out how to have ADHD and make it work for you rather than against you then you don't need them.

Re:So I shouldn't take my ADD meds? (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#40068271)

It can be beneficial to go without every once in a while, but usually best to do it on a day you don't have to work.

I'm taking the time for a number of things (1)

wooferhound (546132) | about 2 years ago | (#40067669)

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where will it go

I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where will it go

I'm painting the room in a colorful way
And when my mind is wandering
There I will go . . .

What they aren't saying: (4, Funny)

Poltron Inconnu (985067) | about 2 years ago | (#40067699)

An undemanding task that lets the mind wander... I think they're not wanting to come right out and admit that most people do their best thinking on the toilet.

Re:What they aren't saying: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069163)

An undemanding task that lets the mind wander... I think they're not wanting to come right out and admit that most people do their best thinking on the toilet.

It becomes a whole lot more demanding when the grapes are down, I can tell you. FWIW, they're usually brought on by stress...

Nice to have scientific proof ... (0)

Aviation Pete (252403) | about 2 years ago | (#40067717)

... but this is nothing new. Guess why Steve Jobs made long walks when he had difficult problems to solve. Not being locked into the same room, but with new impressions all the time, the mind receives new inspirations, instead of following the same path of thoughts over and over.

Receiving an extra dose of oxygen comes as a bonus on top. Many original thinkers have used techniques like this over the years.

Sorry, you [citation needed] nazis. Look up the references yourselves. Ideally while being on a long walk, not sitting at the same desk the whole day.

Re:Nice to have scientific proof ... (1)

elucido (870205) | about 2 years ago | (#40068235)

... but this is nothing new.

Guess why Steve Jobs made long walks when he had difficult problems to solve. Not being locked into the same room, but with new impressions all the time, the mind receives new inspirations, instead of following the same path of thoughts over and over.

Receiving an extra dose of oxygen comes as a bonus on top. Many original thinkers have used techniques like this over the years.

Sorry, you [citation needed] nazis. Look up the references yourselves. Ideally while being on a long walk, not sitting at the same desk the whole day.

... but this is nothing new.

Guess why Steve Jobs made long walks when he had difficult problems to solve. Not being locked into the same room, but with new impressions all the time, the mind receives new inspirations, instead of following the same path of thoughts over and over.

Receiving an extra dose of oxygen comes as a bonus on top. Many original thinkers have used techniques like this over the years.

Sorry, you [citation needed] nazis. Look up the references yourselves. Ideally while being on a long walk, not sitting at the same desk the whole day.

Tell that to the parents and teachers who are over medicating students who have ADHD.

Re:Nice to have scientific proof ... (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#40068737)

Are you one of those idiots who think that somehow we are turning kids into mindless zombies because they are prescribed an amphetamine?

If an amphetamine is allowing them the ability to sit still and study then they had a serious issue.

If you give an amphetamine to a kid who does not have a serious issue they are not going to be sitting still and studying.

Re:Nice to have scientific proof ... (1)

jpapon (1877296) | about 2 years ago | (#40068995)

That's not true at all. For instance, I've seen Ritalin cause people who definitely don't have ADHD to become focused on studying for hours on end.

Re:Nice to have scientific proof ... (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#40070107)

Since I'll be leaving work soon and won't look for a response until tomorrow.

In my post I said "kids" ie, children. People who are under 13 years of age I would consider kids.

Yes, if you give an adolescent or above Ritalin for the purpose of focusing on school work in a school setting it will most probably work for that use, same as caffeine. It will also though give them a "high" off of it which is quite distracting that ADD people do not get. A child with that "high" will bounce off the walls, not study. The only reason an adolescent or above isn't bouncing off the walls on the medication is self discipline which children lack.

Re:Nice to have scientific proof ... (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#40069817)

"If you give an amphetamine to a kid who does not have a serious issue they are not going to be sitting still and studying.

My doctor said the same thing. He said the amount of amphetamine I was taking would normally make a person very hyper, but it settled me down. He even recommended small dosages of caffeine, which also settled me. Not so much large dosages.

Vacation (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about 2 years ago | (#40068087)

I get my best ideas while on vacation. Unfortunately, my employer fails to realize that, so I'm stuck being unproductive in an office 40 hours a week.

Huh? (2)

kbob88 (951258) | about 2 years ago | (#40068315)

I'm sorry, what were you saying? I was, uh, solving problems...

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40069839)

I'm sorry, what were you saying? I was, uh, solving problems...

I'm sorry, I missed what you were saying. I guess my mind was wandering.

In Your Face Dad! (2, Insightful)

noc007 (633443) | about 2 years ago | (#40068745)

When I was in elementary school and day dream, my dad would tell me that I needed to "stop going to 'la la land'".He would even mockingly imitate me in "la la land" in the most obnoxious manner possible. This is one of the many BS things my parents did to me and my dad really doesn't get why our relationship is always on pins and needles. My mom OTOH doesn't realize our relationship is on pins and needles and copes with her own undiagnosed ADHD with a 2 liter diet soda everyday. My dad going diagnosed with ADD a few years ago and is completely ashamed of it; he doesn't want to talk about it, thinks everyone else must accommodate his BS because he has it, and refuses to accept that it's a reason for the behavior now but not an excuse now that he's diagnosed.

Seriously didn't find out that I was ADD until my ADHD wife told me I'm probably ADD, would benefit by getting tested, and then working with professionals on finding the best solutions to my problems. Found out a couple of years later from my mom that they knew I probably had ADD, but didn't want to get me any help (drugs or otherwise). Instead yelling at me about was their accepted solution.

My future daughter and potential children, I hope, will benefit from our experience as there's a good chance they'll have ADD. Pediatrician has already forbade computers and TVs being viewable by the munchkin; noise from the TV is discouraged as well, but classical music is encouraged. /Yeah I mommy and daddy issues. Hopefully my children won't.

Re:In Your Face Dad! (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#40069071)

I finally got diagnosed at 29 after having a DWI and going to out patient rehab. The rehab people told me I should get checked out since drugs and alcohol were not the extent of my problems.

I recently found out my mom wanted me to see a psychiatrist when I was in high school, but my step-dad (who was literally on crack) didn't think I needed it.

Re:In Your Face Dad! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40070395)

Letting one's mind wander is not necessarily the same thing as ADD. Not to detract from your sense of vindication, but I experience this fluid problem-solving by the unconscious mind all the time as well, but I don't suffer from symptoms of ADD/ADHD. The point is to not "over-concentrate" or enforce arbitrary boundaries within your thought processes -- don't censor yourself by trying to stay "on-topic." I will often solve problems during lunch without thinking about them consciously. I am actually surprised that this is considered noteworthy.

Mind Wandering...Sorry what were we discussing (1)

gpronger (1142181) | about 2 years ago | (#40069029)

My problem has never been allowing the mind to wander, it's always been chasing the damn thing down and getting to to do something constructive. Think outside the box they say, but what if you were born without one?

Re:Mind Wandering...Sorry what were we discussing (1)

turgid (580780) | about 2 years ago | (#40069335)

My problem has never been allowing the mind to wander, it's always been chasing the damn thing down and getting to to do something constructive. Think outside the box they say, but what if you were born without one?

There's a certain knack to it, but it's taken me well into my late 30s to be able to do it "on demand" and even then it's difficult sometimes.

When I was younger, I used to try to force myself to concentrate but it was always counterproductive. At best I used to get bad butterflies in the stomach, and at worst migraines and aching muscles.

With the experience of age, I've learned not to be so strict with myself, and kind of potter around the periphery of what I intend to do, maybe just reading and analysing very superficially. When I get it right, and if I am not interrupted too much (that's something other people are responsible for but you can hide away from them or make yourself unavailable), I drift as if by magic into "the zone." Very often I find that an hour and a half have gone by without noticing it, and I get much more done that I thought possible.

The trick is to start off with something very easy, something that doesn't even feel like work, or like it requires any effort. If you can start with something very untaxing, the mind kind of wanders in to the main task...

Oh, and the doctor has been giving me all sorts of pills for many years now, too. :-)

There's a good one for anxiety-type disorders called Hydroxyzine [wikipedia.org]. It's actually an antihistamine. I don't have to take it very often.

Re:Mind Wandering...Sorry what were we discussing (1)

gpronger (1142181) | about 2 years ago | (#40070539)

Sure, but if you're 57, how do you differentiate between my current and traditional thought process and the onset of senility???

Re:Mind Wandering...Sorry what were we discussing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40071263)

I'm in my early 30s but I can definitely relate. Sometimes the ease in works best for me, sometimes it's just go do whatever is distracting me (visit the bank, hit the grocery store) then jump in. It's kinda like getting into a cold lake, sometimes easing in works sometimes you have walk around and get up the nerve to jump in. Once I'm in the zone watch out. I'll work 12 hours no problem and do it again the next day. The thing is I work for myself, so I can work whatever hours I want. I need the flexibility to start when I want and take breaks whenever I want. If I can only concentrate 6 hours one day, so be it. I get paid hourly, so clients love it if I can get more done in less hours total (depending on deadlines). I give my contractor the same flexibility. In 15hrs he gets more done than most office workers I've seen do in 40. We work independently (just msg online) and meet up for coffee or beer if we need to discuss something. It's the best, most relaxed and yet most productive I've ever been and as I hire more resources I hope to keep it that way.

As others have mentioned, when I'm stuck showers help. Showers are therapeutic. I also like to get out to the beach (secluded, west coast Canada) or camping (as secluded and quiet as possible (which luckily is close).

Didn't benefit me. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40070347)

When I was in college during exams, I sometimes encountered an "unsolvable" problem. There was tremendous emotional pressure as the time slowly ran out. I would try to overpower my way to a solution by forcing my brain to hammer at the problem. Usually this was to no avail.

Then after handing in the exam and walking back to my dorm the pressure was off, and suddenly the solution would come to me in a flash. Either I knew the solution or I knew how to solve the problem.

If only there was a way to get into this psychological state under pressure. That is what elite athletes mean when they say they are in the "zone".

I can vouch for that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40071321)

I solve most of my problems by shitting, sleeping, or day dreaming about the hot chick who sits next to me in Engineering Physics.

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