Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 9th 2015 Contents the field, even had a paper rejected by
a referee who said the apparent activity
must surely be down to an error in the
Today things are very different.
Almost 3,000 scientific papers have
been published on the topic of the brain s
surprisingly busy "resting state."
Some object to this term for the very
reason that the brain isn t resting at all.
They prefer instead to talk about the
"default mode network"---the areas of
the brain which remain active while we
are apparently idle.
The big question is: why is the idling
brain so active? There are plenty of the-
ories, but no agreement yet. Maybe dif-
ferent brain areas are simply practising
Perhaps the brain is staying active
like an idling car, just in case it needs
to act suddenly. But it s possible that
those mind wanderings and replays of
our day play a vital role in helping us
to consolidate our memories.
We know that our dreams seem to
play a part in sorting out our memo-
ries---now there is evidence that it hap-
pens during the day too (in rats, at least).
We also know that when the mind is
left to wander, it often focuses on the
future. We start thinking about what
we re going to eat in the evening or
where we re going to go next week.
All three of the chief areas of the brain
involved in imagining the future are part
of the default mode network. It is almost
as though our brain is programmed to
contemplate the future whenever it finds
Moshe Bar from Harvard Medical
School thinks there might be a very
good reason for that.
He believes daydreaming essentially
creates memories of events that haven t
This gives us a strange set of "prior
experiences" we can draw on to help
us decide how to act if the daydreams
ever do come to pass. For instance, many
air travellers have wondered what it
might be like to crash. Bar s idea is that
if the plane did actually crash, the mem-
ories of all those daydreams from pre-
vious flights would come into play and
help the passenger decide how to behave.
But the resting state is not easy to
As some cognitive psychologists have
pointed out, just because a person is
lying in a scanner we can t be sure that
they are alone in their thoughts, intro-
They could be thinking about the
sounds of the scanner and what s hap-
pening around them. For this reason
there are still plenty of unanswered
questions about mind wandering.
For instance, are the daydreams we
experience when we re trying---and fail-
ing---to focus on our work different from
the ones we have when we re deliberately
trying to switch off?
Progress is being made, though. A
study published earlier this year hinted
that we might all experience the resting
state in a slightly different same way.
Researchers conducted a detailed brain
scan study of five people who had been
trained to recount their mind wanderings
in detail every time they heard a com-
The researchers found considerable
differences between each person s day-
dreaming thoughts and experiences.
In September, researchers at the Uni-
versity of Oxford used scans from the
Human Connectome Project of 460
people s brains in a resting state to
explore which parts of the brain com-
municate with each other when we are
Again, the results hinted at personal
differences in the resting state---this
time linked to life skills and experiences.
The strength of the connections
between different parts of the brain
varies with the strength of a person s
memory, their years of education and
their physical endurance.
It is as though parts of the brain
remain connected when our mind wan-
ders just in case we need them to do
Scientifically, the discovery that the
brain is never truly at rest could help
make sense of a longstanding mystery:
why does the brain uses 20 per cent of
body s energy when the activities we
know it performs should need only need
about five per cent?
Marcus Raichle has labelled the miss-
ing 15 per cent the brain s "dark ener-
gy"---resting state activity might account
for some of this discrepancy.
The discovery of the resting state also
has the potential to change the way we
each feel about our brains.
We know how hard it is to empty our
minds. We know how our minds have
a frustrating tendency to wander even
when we don t want them to.
But the emerging picture suggests
these quirks might actually be benefi-
cial---even if they do prevent us from
finishing a task in time to meet a dead-
In other words, perhaps it s time to
celebrate the virtues of an idle mind.
Monday, November 9, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
From Page A26
Scientifically, the discovery that
the brain is never truly at rest
could help make sense of a
longstanding mystery: why
does the brain use 20 per cent
of body's energy when the
activities we know it performs
should only need about five per
cent? Marcus Raichle has
labelled the missing 15 per cent
the brain's "dark energy"---
resting state activity might
account for some of this
The brain isn't
resting at all
In September, researchers at the University of Oxford used scans from the Human Connectome Project of 460
people's brains in a resting state to explore which parts of the brain communicate with each other when we
are at rest.
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