The 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:
- The academic calendar-dominated life rhythms of the vast majority of the Davis population;
- The tragic death this week of Robin Williams; and
- Mahdavi Sunder’s article earlier this week on Developing the Whole Child: The Vital Role of Art and Music Education.
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.