Hit the Reset Button In Your Brain

0810BRAIN-master495The article in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times entitled Hit the Reset Button In Your Brain, written by Daniel Levitin, director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, seems particularly germane with respect to:

Levitin’s entire article can be read at New York Times Sunday Review: Hit the Reset Button In Your Brain  The article begins:

“This month, many Americans will take time off from work to go on vacation, catch up on household projects and simply be with family and friends. And many of us will feel guilty for doing so. We will worry about all of the emails piling up at work, and in many cases continue to compulsively check email during our precious time off. But beware the false break. Make sure you have a real one. The summer vacation is more than a quaint tradition. Along with family time, mealtime and weekends, it is an important way that we can make the most of our beautiful brains.”

That initial passage really resonated because so many of our friends and neighbors’ lives here in Davis are dominated by the academic year schedule with its long summer break.

Not everyone fully agrees with Levitin.  In a follow-up article in his Maybe It’s Just Me, But… column in Psychology Today, Mark D. White, Ph.D., wrote, “In response to the popular New York Times article by Daniel J. Levitin, ‘Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain,’ someone had tweeted: ‘I would do that more often if the process of booting back up didn’t take so long.’

White responds to that tweet by making the following observation, “Since then, I can’t get my mind off of the article, which is full of fascinating science and insightful advice” and by asking his own question, “How many of us regularly shut down or reboot our computers? I rarely do, unless I get what we used to call the ‘blue screen of death,’ a total lock-up that demands a complete shutdown (and a few choice words from yours truly). Why is it we rarely reboot our computers even when we should?”

White continues, “Speaking for myself and, I would wager, more than a few others, the reasons for not rebooting our computers also apply to why we don’t ‘hit the reset button’ in our brains, even when it would help to do so.”

That observation, as well as the observations White shares in his whole article, are a superb companion to Levitin’s.

Levitin’s ability to resonate didn’t stop just with the initial passage quoted above. He also tied that first Davis reality to another equally compelling Davis reality that continually plays out here on the Vanguard.

“Every day we’re assaulted with facts, pseudofacts, news feeds and jibber-jabber, coming from all directions. According to a 2011 study, on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986. As the world’s 21,274 television stations produce some 85,000 hours of original programming every day (by 2003 figures), we watch an average of five hours of television per day. For every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain). The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.”

Because of copyright laws you will have to go to to the New York Times website to read Dr. Levitin’s full analysis of the dynamic tension that exists in the brain’ two-part attentional system, and how “daydreaming” is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, moments when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable.

One of the questions that Dr. Levitin asks is whether the never-ending flow of information we receive from Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, text messages and the like leaves us with any opportunity to do creative daydreaming. He talks about how the brain’s ability to switch between daydreaming and attention is controlled in a part of the brain called the insula. “The efficacy of this switch varies from person to person, in some functioning smoothly, in others rather rusty. But switch it does, and if it is called upon to switch too often, we feel tired and a bit dizzy, as though we were seesawing too rapidly. Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things.”

Levitin’s analysis of daydreaming appears to pertain to the local phenomenon of intense involvement of the citizens in many of the decisions that we make in Davis, and whether that involvement is actually a form of “community daydreaming” that, when the dust settles, improves the quality of the decisions we make.

Levitin argues, “Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment.” 

He goes on to agree with Dr. Sunder, in her article this week, when he continues,  “Music, for example, turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.”

Later in the article it was easy to daydream about both Frankly and Tia Will, when Levitin tied his thinking back to real world issues and said, “This radical idea could have profound effects on decision making and even on our economy. Consider this: By some estimates, preventable medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. You want your diagnostician to give the right answer, not always the quickest one.”

So, go out and read both Levitin’s article, as well as Dr. White’s follow-up column in Psychology Today.  Let us know if you think they pertain to life here in Davis.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Frankly

    Great article. I like this type of thing because it inspires deep thinking and learning something new.

    I will read this article. I am fascinated about the functions of the brain and also how our emotions interplay with our cognitive processes.

    The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited.

    This comment is in conflict with other reading I have done on the subject that explains that our cognitive capacity is significantly higher than what we use on a daily basis… and we can train our brains to be more efficient and to access that greater capacity. I think that theory is in part the basis for luminosity.com. That and the “if you don’t use it, you will lose it” principle.

    But I do get the point that we can over-tax and over-stress our brains.

    Sleep is another component to our cognitive capacity and brain health. We create synapses during the day with each experience and decision, and then REM electrical storms happen in our sleep to wipe away the weak ones so that we have a cleaner slate the next day. I have always said that sleeping makes you stupid in a good way.

    My common routine of a quiet evening on the back patio with my wife and the dog with a glass of wine or cocktail and the occasional cigar (I know, yuk!) where we (wife and I, not the dog) just talk about life, plans, dreams, etc… and the same type of activity with my good friends… just out on the deck of my cabin with a drink and a conversation… that type of thing recharges me for work. And my work has always been the most mentally-challenging part of my life. The constant flow of information and decision requirements and strategies and financial issues, combined with the constant barrage of relationship and conflict from employees, coworkers, bosses, regulators, customers, partners, suppliers, contractors, service providers… etc., etc., etc… and then competition from others to take away what you are working to build and retain.

    I generally work about 10 hours per day and at least half a day on the weekend. But other than my quite time in the evenings, I do take time off… generally long weekends, but the occasional week off… and every couple of years I take that two week vacation. And that is plenty for me. Because being gone away from work does create its own problems and stresses that detract from the benefit of more time off. As I get older, I will work to restructure my work life/role so that I can take more time off. But retirement does not even resonate as an interest of mine at this point.

    One more thing… for me, a bit of blogging during the day actually does exercise and “wake up” my brain to make me more sharp for the issues I face in my job on a daily basis. There are different mental puzzle and conflicts with other posters that I find intellectually situating… and by working on those puzzles, I have more patience and tolerance for tasks like calling that pain-in-the-ass customer or regulator with all that required humility and tact. So thank you Vanguard for that.

  2. DavisBurns

    My husband and I are heading out to the International Dark Sky Association’s conference Blinded By The Light in Flagstaff. The trip will include some boondocking (self-contained RV camping) with no Internet, no phone signals and no DVDs. We used to think we would miss it but we never do. It’s always pleasant and relaxing. Last year we spent a week in the Canadian Rockies on a vacation without cell phones to make reservation or find a place to eat. It was a blast from the past and while we didn’t have the same kind of control, there was a spirit of adventure and serindipity that is lost with cell phone service. We make life more complicated than it needs to be and every convenience comes with a cost. Maybe it’s time to ask how many electronic connections we really need. I have relatives who live without computers or cell phones and their lives are still full but much simpler.

    Along the same lines, I think about recreation in Davis for kids and how much is organized and how little opportunity there is for kids to run around, explore and discover things on their own. They get to explore on their iPads but I think few parents let their kids explore their neighborhoods (and how can they with every yard fenced ) or the parks or greenbelts. What we don’t have for kids are undeveloped places. I read an article years ago by a UCD professor about how our sanitized environments failed to provide essential experiences for our kids. I think it was Mark Francis.

  3. DurantFan

    In Davis we are encouraged to minimize our carbon output (strive for a “Mickey Mouse” sized carbon footprint), and yet are urged (through Crown Castle et al.) to maximize our electronic input (strive for a “Goofy” sized electronic footprint).* Out of towners will know of our hypocrisy by our “limping!”
    *No wonder our brains are “fried!”

    1. Frankly

      Can’t very well participate in the information economy without the communication infrastructure. Even leftie environmental-loved northern Europe is big on making sure everyone is connected. I read an article that talked about his one small community on the northern European frozen tundra with about 75 residents that had a fiber trunk going to it… every resident had screaming broadband bandwidth and WiFi. The article included a sub-story about one of the residents several miles out on a frozen lake when his snowmobile broke and while trying to fix it the lake was breaking up, and so he just emailed emergency services in town from his WiFi connection and they came and pulled him to safety.

  4. DurantFan

    “…Frankly August 15, 2014 at 2:08 pm Can’t very well participate in the information economy without the communication infrastructure. … ”

    We will keep the economy going by over inflating the “electronic bubble” (with greenhouse gasses, yet) until it “bursts”!

  5. DurantFan

    “…DavisBurns: August 15, 2014 at 11:16 am….”

    I appreciate the pleasant and insightful comments you posted on the above date/time. It was, in fact, relaxing to read them.

    My recommendation for an enjoyable vacation is is to .. “start slowly and taper off.”

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