Be Careful What You Daydream; Big Brother May Be Watching

Despite the fact that I’ve thought the rash of new research into daydreaming and imagination over the past several years is really cool, this newest article definitely triggers my Creep Out/Dystopian Warning meter:

Time out boosts brains
The Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2010

New research shows some types of optimistic daydreaming are productive, improve IQ and inspire resolve, writes Ainslie MacGibbon.

What’s creepy isn’t the scientifically backed findings about the value of daydreaming to mental health and well-being. I mean, who could hate things like this:

The young Albert Einstein was more likely to have been the child staring out of the window in class than the one bent over his books. Einstein, like many great scientists, thinkers and intellectuals, was also a documented daydreamer in the classroom. But what if he had gone to school today? Would he have had the chance to muse on the big scientific questions, or would he have been put on a drug such as Ritalin to aid his concentration?

Today, children’s days tend to be highly structured and daydreaming in school is seen as time wasting and indicative of poor self-control. It is a problem which needs to be labelled and ”fixed”, sometimes medically.

Although this approach is enabling many students to focus, there are fears we may also be dulling creativity — even greatness — in the process. There is mounting research that shows the idle, ‘”resting” mind is doing everything but resting, perhaps even making us smarter.

Yay, wonderful, and bravo, I say. The article goes on to discuss the findings of various psychologists and scientists who have done research into daydreaming, and have found that it’s not just idle “wasted time.”  There’s Dr. Jerome Singer, for instance, “an emeritus professor of Psychology at Yale University [who] pioneered research into daydreaming during the 1960s,” who “believes schools could benefit by allowing brief periods where children can relax into their own thoughts or draw, or write things down in a free and imaginative way. ‘Daydreaming is important because it is a critical way in which human beings move beyond their immediate environment to create vicarious virtual realities that allow them to try out alternative personalities and interests.'”

No, it’s not this great insight that bothers me, nor is the observation by the first Australian-born female Nobel laureate, molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, who is a self-admitted daydreamer, and who told an audience of children last year, “I think you need time to daydream, to let your imagination take you where it can….Just do that some of the time, because I’ve noticed [that] among the creative, successful scientists who’ve really advanced things, that was a part of their life.”

What triggers my inner alarm is stuff like this, from Dr Tim Hawkes, the headmaster of The Kings School, Parramatta:

[Hawkes] recognises what he describes as “good daydreaming” and “bad daydreaming” in students. “Good daydreaming is when the mind is working on information, and for that information to lead students on journeys of imagination, unlocking creativity. Bad daydreaming is when students are thinking about an insult directed at them on Facebook. If a student was consistently daydreaming I would want to find out which type of daydreaming it is.”

Of course one understands his motivation. If we know all of this useful info about daydreaming and its value, then why not take the logical step of actually getting inside young people’s heads to help maximize their time spent doing it?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who senses the contradiction contained in this. We recognize that relaxing the mind and engaging in fantasy and imagination is good — and so we try to make sure the time spent doing so is productive? This is just the inexorable tyranny of the modern industrial-technological obsession with efficiency coming in through the back door and gutting the whole thing. It’s like recognizing that there’s too much stagnant bureaucracy in modern politics, and therefore ordering the formation of a new subcommittee to formulate solutions.

The best defense is a good offense. My innate affection for Discordianism and Merry Pranksterism is inexorably coming to the fore. To misquote Homer Simpson, “Urge to blow minds…rising.”

– –

Image credit: “George Orwell: 1984” used under Creative Commons from surfstyle

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on August 4, 2010, in Psychology & Consciousness and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I see no a priori reason that daydreaming about Facebook insults is any less valuable a starting point than any other subject. The point, as I understand it, is to let the mind wander where it will, and this could be the first step to some valuable insight – maybe about the value of vengeance, maybe about how people reveal their insecurities, maybe about better means for interpersonal communication, maybe about any damn thing after a few more steps.

    Letting my mind wander, I’m envisioning software that will cut in while you are writing a story or essay and say “Sorry, this file is being terminated. Based on current content, we calculate less than a 1% chance that the end product will benefit society. Please begin again on some other subject.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *