Mind-wandering, or daydreaming, is a spontaneous and seemingly unavoidable aspect of our mind’s life. As first-time meditators, subway riders, and students revising for exams can all testify, human minds tend to wander, and sometimes they do so despite our best efforts to stay on task. Old memories and new realizations often come together in our daydreams, and the results are sometimes startling, even poignant. It is perhaps for this reason that mind-wandering has fascinated writers and artists for centuries, inspiring countless iconic scenes in literature and captivating works of art. Yet, in a society increasingly committed to improving focus and optimizing productivity, mind-wandering runs the risk of being characterized as mere time-wasting and, at worst, pathologized.
However, scholars across the disciplines would argue that mind-wandering is an important feature, rather than a bug, of the healthy mind. Over the last two decades, neuroscience has turned its attention to the conscious and unconscious phenomena that animate the mind and brain at rest, with studies exploring the function and importance of spontaneous neural activity. Psychoanalysis has long seen dreams and daydreams as a window into the unconscious mind, but contemporary analysts also emphasize the therapeutic value of mind-wandering. This seminar will bring together the latest brain imaging research with insights from clinical and theoretical psychoanalysis, behavioral and systems neuroscience, and psychology to discuss the complex relationships between mind-wandering, memory, and creativity, and the potential role(s) for mind-wandering in the brain, and for our psyche.
Lawrence Brown, Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Institute
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