Does daydreaming have a purpose? Neuroscientists have recently become enraptured with the workings of the brain at idle moments. Referred to as “default mode network,” letting the mind wander is in fact a busy, critical state that is the key to maintaining one’s sense of self and personality. The Los Angeles Times reports:
In the span of a few short years, [scientists] have come to view mental leisure as important, purposeful work — work that relies on a powerful and far-flung network of brain cells firing in unison. Neuroscientists call it the “default mode network.”
Understanding that setting may do more than lend respectability to the universal practice of zoning out: It may one day help diagnose and treat psychiatric conditions as diverse as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, depression and schizophrenia — all of which disrupt operations in the default mode network.
Beyond that lies an even loftier promise. As neuroscientists study the idle brain, some believe they are exploring a central mystery in human psychology: where and how our concept of “self” is created, maintained, altered and renewed.
The idea that there may be a physical structure in the brain in which we unconsciously define who we are “would warm Freud’s heart,” says Dr. Marcus E. Raichle, a neurologist who has pioneered work in this fledgling field.
Raichle suspects that during these moments of errant thought, the brain is forming a set of mental rules about our world, particularly our social world, that help us navigate human interactions and quickly make sense of and react to information — about a stranger’s intentions, a child’s next move, a choice before us — without having to run a complex and conscious calculation of all our values, expectations and beliefs.