4

votes

A wandering mind is an unhappy mind?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 17, 2010 at 11:01 AM

A recent article by Daniel Gilbert and Killingsworth is about mind wandering and happiness.

exerpt:

Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed, "stimulus-independent thought" or "mind wandering" appears to be the brain???s default mode of operation...this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost.

NYT covering this topic here

a graphic:

alt text

Any thoughts from a evolutionary view on this? Happiness is the evolutionary proverbial carrot that drives us towards evolutionary goals: food < survival < reproduction

(EDIT) Fearsclave brought up an interesting point that made me think of this article about: "It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects." interesting read.

1cbb6b2a813475d6c0b17fd5e898dc50

(1248)

on December 17, 2010
at 02:53 AM

100% agree with you Fearsclave. Being in nature is a great tool to escape your thoughts. When I deer hunt every part of my being is in the woods anticipating a deer to pop up in front of me. I become a predator hunting prey which is true to our instincts. Over the course of our history we humans have forgot how to do this. Hunting and martial arts are the 2 tools I have used to gain control over my wandering mind.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 18, 2010
at 03:47 PM

By the way, I'm not implying that pondering about the origin of mankind and the universe is a worthless topic. It just might be the domain of evolutionary biology and astrophysics, not sacred texts (written by neolithic grain eaters!!!).

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 18, 2010
at 03:17 PM

A lack of curiosity about purpose does not equate to nihilism. I suspect that my genes want me to procreate and be happy, and that sounds good to me! In that regard, details about gluten intolerance are a lot more informative than pondering about my place in the universe.

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 18, 2010
at 03:07 PM

An "answer" implies resolution and so is not the best word. Maybe an "reasonable response" is a better phrase.

587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on November 18, 2010
at 02:58 PM

I guess it depends on what you mean by "answer".

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 18, 2010
at 01:23 AM

Philosophy will also answer my questions above if religion is not to your taste. As for a machine that tells you where your emotions are, I would guess that an ancient Hebrew would say, "So what? What does that tell me about how to be a good person?" If science is universally superior, then how can it answer the "unscientific" questions I mentioned, such as "What is my purpose?" You might say, "That's not a valid question," but if you did not have a sense of purpose (and therefore an answer to the question) then you would not bother posting on these boards.

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 18, 2010
at 01:14 AM

One might not think religion can answer these questions, but that tis the same as saying one may not like milk

C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc

(2437)

on November 18, 2010
at 12:25 AM

I think you might be onto something...

C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc

(2437)

on November 18, 2010
at 12:24 AM

How do they know what animals are/aren't thinking?

587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on November 17, 2010
at 10:42 PM

I agree with Kamal's approach here and would add that I don't think any religion can answer any of the questions in David's comment, at least not to my satisfaction.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 07:45 PM

David- I understand your line of thinking, but do not agree with it. In my limited view, "Why did this happen" is not a valid question. When a stone is harvested to make a cobblestone walkway, it does not ask "Why did this happen?!?". We can form complex thoughts, and thus yearn to have our specialness and purpose explained. Imagine telling someone from Biblical times that a machine (fMRI) can pinpoint certain emotional activity...just because humans' scientific ability isn't perfect doesn't slay science as a universally superior explanator compared to religion.

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 17, 2010
at 07:12 PM

Much respect to you Kamal, for all you have contributed to this board. However, I will respectfully disagree with you here. Science can answer questions like, "What caused this?" but cannot answer the question: "Why did this happen?" or "What is my purpose?" or "Why do I love this person?" Can you imagine the SM proving that you love your mother? It's scientifically impossible to prove, but that does not mean it's not true. Also, note that the scientific method cannot prove the scientific method, but you can "have faith in" the scientific method.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 06:12 PM

How? If you define religion as the iterative, rigorous use of the scientific method to arrive at an adaptable nondogmatic conclusion, then yes, science is the religion in my case :)

Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

(4089)

on November 17, 2010
at 05:40 PM

@Pieter: yup, that "Third day effect" line about sums it up. That article addresses exactly what I was talking about. The last multi-day hunting trip I went on felt like I'd kind of dropped out of the world; my head got totally immersed into being alert and aware and looking for sign, etc., and I hardly thought about work or even missed the internet. I'm convinced that our brains are better adapted to processing huge volumes of stimuli from complex outdoors environments than they are to processing huge volumes of mediated symbolic content.

D05728a0613658cb5b2f652eb6f36783

(125)

on November 17, 2010
at 04:11 PM

Science is the religion in your case :)

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 03:35 PM

I'm highly skeptical that religion can answer anything, especially a paleohack :-(

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 03:11 PM

Good catch. Before I was nothing, I was Zen. It's very paleo, compared to most structured philosophical systems!

587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:51 PM

I think this idea is pretty close to what is taught in Zen.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:21 PM

I plagiarized part of that from this guy, whose books on the illusion of self are available free online here...http://www.well.com/~jct/

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:12 PM

Yeah, I immediately thought of this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:10 PM

I've read Flow, GTD I will have to look up. thanks

3a966a805e09d88b0f223f2985392e4f

(836)

on November 17, 2010
at 12:40 PM

They can't achieve a cause-effect relationship purely by the nature of their measuring methods. If X occurs then Y occurs, it does not mean X caused Y. So when he says, "We see evidence for X causing Y" he doesn't actually see evidence, he just sees that temporal relationship which is not necessarily causally connected.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on November 17, 2010
at 12:29 PM

Keith, my initial thought too, although from the NYT piece: "We see evidence for mind-wandering causing unhappiness, but no evidence for unhappiness causing mind-wandering,” Mr. Killingsworth says." I have no full text acces...

Bcad307b240275ae3f5820ba6eb4a712

(923)

on November 17, 2010
at 12:14 PM

Or, an unhappy mind is a wandering mind.

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6 Answers

3
21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:18 PM

Have you ever read criticisms of thought? One idea is that thought has gone loco in modern society. I'm sleep deprived at the moment, and wrote this slightly insane facebook status a couple hours ago:

*The extraordinary intelligence of the body is all that is necessary for good living, but we interfere with its natural operation through the medium of thought. The widespread hoax is that these thoughts are inside of us and special to us; in truth they rampage and trump reality at will. Complexity of modern life has allowed thought to become an overbearing roommate in the studio apartment of your mind.

**Repetitive thought forms belief, and belief becomes unassailable. Absent a practice to let go of thought, that is the human condition. Human is now a misnomer, as we would be better classified as elegant bags of opinions.

C2502365891cbcc8af2d1cf1d7b0e9fc

(2437)

on November 18, 2010
at 12:25 AM

I think you might be onto something...

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 03:11 PM

Good catch. Before I was nothing, I was Zen. It's very paleo, compared to most structured philosophical systems!

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:21 PM

I plagiarized part of that from this guy, whose books on the illusion of self are available free online here...http://www.well.com/~jct/

587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:51 PM

I think this idea is pretty close to what is taught in Zen.

2
Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

on November 17, 2010
at 01:38 PM

I'm inclined to think that a lot of this is environmental, a result of those of us living in cities being stuck in an evolutionarily inappropriate environment. I find that this state of mind tends to go away on fishing and hunting or camping trips. Bopping around in natural surroundings looking for food tends to soothe my mind fairly quickly, especially if I know I have more of it to look forwards to.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:12 PM

Yeah, I immediately thought of this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html.

Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d

(4089)

on November 17, 2010
at 05:40 PM

@Pieter: yup, that "Third day effect" line about sums it up. That article addresses exactly what I was talking about. The last multi-day hunting trip I went on felt like I'd kind of dropped out of the world; my head got totally immersed into being alert and aware and looking for sign, etc., and I hardly thought about work or even missed the internet. I'm convinced that our brains are better adapted to processing huge volumes of stimuli from complex outdoors environments than they are to processing huge volumes of mediated symbolic content.

1cbb6b2a813475d6c0b17fd5e898dc50

(1248)

on December 17, 2010
at 02:53 AM

100% agree with you Fearsclave. Being in nature is a great tool to escape your thoughts. When I deer hunt every part of my being is in the woods anticipating a deer to pop up in front of me. I become a predator hunting prey which is true to our instincts. Over the course of our history we humans have forgot how to do this. Hunting and martial arts are the 2 tools I have used to gain control over my wandering mind.

1
3a966a805e09d88b0f223f2985392e4f

(836)

on November 17, 2010
at 12:36 PM

People's minds typically wander to unhappy things. They don't have to wander to unhappy things, but they do in the average person because the average person doesn't have his life under control.

I'd look into GTD if you want something actionable to do about this. Getting Things Done is a system which allows you to outsource your worries onto paper and never think them twice. For example, how many times have you thought "Oh I have to buy flashlight batteries" when you're not at the store? That's a useless thought, and all it does is create a little unsettled anxiety. It will probably pop into your mind a few more times in the next couple days too, just creating the same amount of worry.

I'd also look up the book "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which explains the psychological state of satisfaction in which we are immersed and single-tasking our work.

89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on November 17, 2010
at 02:10 PM

I've read Flow, GTD I will have to look up. thanks

0
A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4

(20436)

on November 17, 2010
at 07:44 PM

I was going to answer this post, but I can't remember... What?

0
1c67bc28f4e44bbb8770b86df0463df3

on November 17, 2010
at 06:35 PM

"The Power Of Now" will fix you right up.

0
9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 17, 2010
at 03:28 PM

In terms of evolution: thinking about what might happen to us or has happened in the past to us (in other words, "self-consciousness") would be a good adaptation for learning about certain watering holes to avoid or good places to hunt. But it is generally a very uncomfortable feeling. As has been pointed out, we don't feel it when we "flow." Note that this ability also allows us to anticipate death. This is not to say that it is completely useless, although my own argument for why evolution developed this skill is not very good. I'd like to hear other people's ideas on its "purpose," if it has one. This might be a question that religion or philosophy can answer but not science.

D05728a0613658cb5b2f652eb6f36783

(125)

on November 17, 2010
at 04:11 PM

Science is the religion in your case :)

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 03:35 PM

I'm highly skeptical that religion can answer anything, especially a paleohack :-(

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 18, 2010
at 03:47 PM

By the way, I'm not implying that pondering about the origin of mankind and the universe is a worthless topic. It just might be the domain of evolutionary biology and astrophysics, not sacred texts (written by neolithic grain eaters!!!).

587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on November 18, 2010
at 02:58 PM

I guess it depends on what you mean by "answer".

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 18, 2010
at 03:07 PM

An "answer" implies resolution and so is not the best word. Maybe an "reasonable response" is a better phrase.

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 18, 2010
at 01:14 AM

One might not think religion can answer these questions, but that tis the same as saying one may not like milk

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 07:45 PM

David- I understand your line of thinking, but do not agree with it. In my limited view, "Why did this happen" is not a valid question. When a stone is harvested to make a cobblestone walkway, it does not ask "Why did this happen?!?". We can form complex thoughts, and thus yearn to have our specialness and purpose explained. Imagine telling someone from Biblical times that a machine (fMRI) can pinpoint certain emotional activity...just because humans' scientific ability isn't perfect doesn't slay science as a universally superior explanator compared to religion.

587538a2db229b2ec884ea04cc3dc75e

(462)

on November 17, 2010
at 10:42 PM

I agree with Kamal's approach here and would add that I don't think any religion can answer any of the questions in David's comment, at least not to my satisfaction.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 17, 2010
at 06:12 PM

How? If you define religion as the iterative, rigorous use of the scientific method to arrive at an adaptable nondogmatic conclusion, then yes, science is the religion in my case :)

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7

(24543)

on November 18, 2010
at 03:17 PM

A lack of curiosity about purpose does not equate to nihilism. I suspect that my genes want me to procreate and be happy, and that sounds good to me! In that regard, details about gluten intolerance are a lot more informative than pondering about my place in the universe.

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 17, 2010
at 07:12 PM

Much respect to you Kamal, for all you have contributed to this board. However, I will respectfully disagree with you here. Science can answer questions like, "What caused this?" but cannot answer the question: "Why did this happen?" or "What is my purpose?" or "Why do I love this person?" Can you imagine the SM proving that you love your mother? It's scientifically impossible to prove, but that does not mean it's not true. Also, note that the scientific method cannot prove the scientific method, but you can "have faith in" the scientific method.

9f2b5def0bc7fd8ad615637d1ffeb9ec

on November 18, 2010
at 01:23 AM

Philosophy will also answer my questions above if religion is not to your taste. As for a machine that tells you where your emotions are, I would guess that an ancient Hebrew would say, "So what? What does that tell me about how to be a good person?" If science is universally superior, then how can it answer the "unscientific" questions I mentioned, such as "What is my purpose?" You might say, "That's not a valid question," but if you did not have a sense of purpose (and therefore an answer to the question) then you would not bother posting on these boards.

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