13 May 2009

Focus and Drift: A Secret Path to Brain Power?

Image Source: Magic Trance

"Generate and test" is the secret to prolific creativity for both humans and nature (natural selection). Another powerful pairing may be "focus and drift", for building mental facility -- perhaps even brain matter. First, focus:
In the study, Luders and her colleagues examined 44 people — 22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation, including Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana, among others. The amount of time they had practiced ranged from five to 46 years, with an average of 24 years.

More than half of all the meditators said that deep concentration was an essential part of their practice, and most meditated between 10 and 90 minutes every day.

The [UCLA] researchers used a high-resolution, three-dimensional form of MRI and two different approaches to measure differences in brain structure. One approach automatically divides the brain into several regions of interest, allowing researchers to compare the size of certain brain structures. The other segments the brain into different tissue types, allowing researchers to compare the amount of gray matter within specific regions of the brain.

....The researchers found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls, including larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. There were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more gray matter than meditators. _PO
The discipline of meditation provides the brain with more "staying power" when confronting a problem, situation, or challenge. That is focus. Now, drift:
“Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness. But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks,” Christoff, who has also been the lead author of the study, says. The experts used an observation technique known as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) for their study. This machine has the ability to show brain areas basically “lighting up” or “turning off,” depending on whether they are active or dormant. In addition, it allows for almost real-time observations on a test subject's brain.

As a reference point, the researchers employed readings recorded while the patients sat in the fMRI machine, and pushed a button when numbers appeared on a screen. Their brain activities were monitored second after second, and stored for comparison.....Christoff says that daydreaming, a contemplative state in which the brain wonders, occupies about one third of every individual's life, and, as such, merits more investigation.

For example, the study has revealed that the “executive network” in our brains, usually dealing with high-level, complex problem-solving, is also highly active in daydreaming. This network consists of the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. In addition to these regions, the wondering mind also activates the “default network,” which is made up of the medial PFC, the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction. The later network has been thus far believed to be the only segment of the brain active during daydreaming. _Softpedia
Competence in using the "focus and drift" cycle can provide a greater potential for problem-solving and creativity, in addition to a better ability to cope with routine challenges. There are many useful approaches to meditative focus. And quite a few methods have been developed to facilitate highly productive daydreaming "drift." Combinatorial sorting suggests an enormous range of potential "systems" for using focus and drift in a highly personal manner.

Be sure to remember to throw in a generous mix of exercise, creative play, good nutrition, and stimulating social interaction.

It may not be long before we develop "smart drugs" and smart therapies that are capable of building intelligence and executive powers to amazing levels. The humans who are already familiar with their mental and emotional powers will be best able to take advantage of an artificial boosting of intelligence and EF. Most people -- the academically lobotomised psychological neotenous narcissistic zomboids of our day -- will only grow more warped and dysfunctional. Technology can only accomplish so much, if humans lack wisdom in applying it.

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Blogger Bruce Hall said...

On the creative side, I have speculated that Al Fin is an anagram. Of course, such speculation is never the final answer, is it?

Perhaps drugs can temporarily enhance brain function, but drugs often have unintended consequences. Nature seems to have provided a means to enhance bodily functions... use. Letting the mind wander ... as in speculating ... is a form of brain exercise.

Wednesday, 13 May, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Interesting problem.

Genetic modifications are the long term application that will change us as a species.

But between here and there are many dozens of other approaches that are more permanently potent than any brain drug we have envisioned up until now.

Thursday, 14 May, 2009  

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