Diffusing Diffuse Thinking

August 5, 2014 at 9:22 am (Rant, Teaching, Thinking) (, , , , , , , )


On the weekend I was following along on an online course I signed up for at Coursera (free online courses, you have no reason not to go there). The subject was focus vs diffuse thinking. Essentially they discussed the difference between when you focus your concentration on something and what your brain looks like during that as opposed to day dreaming and sleep thinking. I’ve known about the differences between thinking while awake and while asleep, but it’s been a self-taught concept. I used to put a lot of effort into dreaming and lucid dreaming several years ago. I used the creativity for designing out game concepts and new ideas about things.

One of the techniques I eventually picked up however, was this idea of tricking your mind into solving problems for you. I used this for my thesis whenever I was stuck or didn’t know where to go with my idea. The trick is essentially to guide your sleep. I would set an alarm for a precise time; I had worked out approximately how long I typically needed (it was around 10-15 minutes), and I would “gently” think about my problem enough to guide my dreams, but not prevent sleep. When I would wake up, it would feel like someone smarter than me worked out the problem or that I’ve been thinking about it for days.

This is one of the concepts they covered in the course. They mentioned some famous names that used to do exactly this thing: Salvadore Dali and Thomas Edison. They would each hold a heavy object and fall asleep. When they’d nod off, they’d drop the object and it would wake them up. Edison apparently had even done sleep research in addition to this to try and figure out just how much sleep the human brain needed.

Anyway, it’s interesting how these sorts of ideas pass through history at different times. It’s sort of like the idea of Calculus: two different people discovering and refining the same idea at the same time. I figured if it’s important enough for those two guys to do, it’s important enough to share to others. Hopefully this helps someone out.

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