Thinking out-of-the-skull

bustLast year after the relaxation of our annual vacation, I wrote about the benefits of ‘Mind wandering‘ [see my post on September 3rd, 2014].  Our brains work in two modes known as central executive mode, for those tasks requiring focussed attention, and mind-wandering mode that involves day-dreaming and surfing from one idea to another leading to the emergence of new ideas.  We tend to feel tired and stressed when we try to switch between the two modes repeatedly.  At the moment, I struggle to set aside time for mind-wandering and indeed writing a weekly blog can induce a headache!

Perhaps this is because our brains are of finite size; and sometimes it feels as if we have reached their limitations.  I wrote about our attention capacity in my post entitled ‘Silence is golden‘ on January 14th, 2014.  More recently, Antonio Macaro and Julian Baggini have written that ‘savants who remember everything often understand very little’.  Probably this is because if you fill your brain with information there is less capacity for processing ideas to create understanding.  I would like to think that maintaining space for understanding is why I can’t remember anything whereas in fact it is probably just the impact of growing old!  However, Macaro and Baggini also suggest that we should use our smart phones and tablet computers as mental prosthetics to extend the capacity of our brains.  In other words, we should let these mental prostheses handle all of the routine processing of information associated with central executive mode tasks and keep the mental processes in our skulls for the creative thinking associated with mind-wandering.

Traditionally, engineers have followed Leonardo di Vinci‘s example by writing and drawing in a series of notebooks;  perhaps in the hope of emulating his creativity but also to extend the capacity of our minds by recording and ordering thoughts.  However, the processing capacity of modern devices creates the opportunity to go even further.  So that thinking out-of-the-skull could lead to more thinking out-of-the-box!

Source: Macaro, A. & Baggini, J., ‘Do we need props?’ in Financial Times magazine, January 10/11, 2015.

Photo credit: Tom

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