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May 8, 2012

Discuss: The benefits of daydreaming

Like the alt rock band you started in college, it’s unlikely that you’d list daydreaming as a professional skill on your c.v. It’s a habit typically pinned on slackers, not neuroscientists.

Yet daydreaming is an activity of people who consistently score the highest on creativity tests.

Here Jonah Lehrer -- the author of novel books such as “Proust was a Neuroscientist,” which makes links between science, literature and creativity -- talks about the benefits of daydreaming that he learned from Jonathan Schooler, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

There are at least two implications to Lehrer’s remarks.

One is that Christians need to find ways to structure the kind of “big thinking” that daydreaming represents into the culture of their institutions. True, in flat institutions with tight budgets and limited staff it’s difficult to step away from the daily challenges to take a stroll or go people watching. But you should. It just might be the means to solving the challenges that keep an institution overworked and underemployed.

The other implication is that people have to be conscientious of how they daydream. There’s a difference between letting the mind wander and mentally checking out. Lehrer’s worry about his iPhone doesn’t necessarily incite a call to Luddism. But, much like Jamie Smith’s theological caution, Lehrer’s is a warning to pay attention to how human habits develop around technology. Because of handheld technologies, what were once spare moments that made daydreaming seem “natural,” are now moments of boredom we fill up with constant digital activity. The science suggests this may hurt creativity in the long run.

It also means that in the digital era daydreaming must become a discipline. How counterintuitive is that?

Benjamin McNutt is the editor of Call & Response. You can follow him on Twitter @benjaminmcnutt.

1 Comment

daydream believer

As a chronic daydreamer, I vouch for the necessity of open-ended, unstructured time to think, and subsequently rearrange one's thinking. A few tools can help. Blank sheets of paper. Empty hours. Time alone. These sound like, and probably are, work-life luxuries. However, I've found that these "luxuries" insist upon themselves to such a degree that I prefer to make them priorities in my non-work life, in order to experience their benefit in my work-life too.

Finally - how does it change, if we call it sabbath rest, rather than daydreaming?

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