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Daydreaming, what is it?

With each breath I drew I took flight into a new fantasy. I indulged myself in a realm where dragons flew, knights galloped on steeds, and princesses needed rescuing. The next second I was staring up at an all too familiar tiled ceiling, the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Tilton, explaining how to divide and where to put the remainders. Another breath later and I was off shooting down an alien swarm that looked like division marks. I would be awakened from my dream-like state quite frequently to answer a question that I did not know had been asked. Day after day of this led my teachers to the conclusion that I was mentally handicapped. I’m not actually, just not where I'm suppose to be. What I've spent most of my waking life doing is called daydreaming. It didn’t occur to me until recently that I knew very little of daydreaming, and what I do know was that people often look down on daydreaming as laziness. And I could see why many people would think that. But what is daydreaming really? Is the daydream a place where fantasies are made real, or perhaps something more entwined with reality where problems begin to solve themselves? With purpose and poise I set off on my research journey ready to find out my answers and a hope to find some way to claim my daydreaming frenzy as my own.

"A time when the mind wanders" was the textbook definition that I got from the Teen's Guide to Psychology in our library. It was a nice place to start before I dove into the interwebs to find all the good juicy stuff. However I soon came to understand that daydreaming was just now being studied in depth as old views withered away. I found many, many, many countless little web journals reporting research findings with their views about daydreaming. But none were cited and there were no hard facts, nothing backed up by any authority figure. I finally found a semi-good looking website, but it still was not cited. I actually found a magazine first then I went to the website. What I found was far from what I had hopped but better than I feared. “Daydreaming or mind-wandering - familiar to one and all - is more precisely defined as a state of mind where thoughts that are experienced by an individual are unrelated to what is going on in the environment around them” ( The article, most of which was uncited quotations, was about how daydreaming in children improves critical thinking. My first thoughts were to dismiss it as false. To prove my point I googled famous daydreamers and what I got was a list of people, even a quotation or two, one from the father of relativity, "Imagination is more important than knowledge" (Albert Einstein). There was also a list of famous daydreamers that stretched upwards and onwards, yet like the many journals before me, I have forgotten how I found it, nor did I record it. Perhaps I daydreamed it out of desperation. On the list there were countless people of importance, almost every single scientist, philosopher and inspirational person throughout history. This raised more questions for me. If our brain naturally daydreams, and in no small amount, why is "mind-wandering" held in such ill regard?

Still the endless stream of blogs of daydreaming problems came forth. At first it was enlightening to get someone else’s opinion on Daydreaming and its many burdens but the complaints eventually became laughable. I was nearly rolling on the ground when I read a student's blog saying that if he didn't daydream he'll excel to Einstein level brilliance. With the good came the shocking. According to writers the average time that people can pay attention to something is six to eleven seconds at a time, with very few exceptions to this standard. I was alarmed for all of three seconds before Ms. Hult came crusading in with an off-hand comment about Sigmund Freud. "The father of psychoanalysis" he was referred to in I got lost in researching his. Mr. Freud believed all human actions are based on sexual desire, his view on sexuality expanded into anything that gave the person pleasure, or the actions are based on destructive desires. His view on daydreaming, though brief, was enlightening as, "playing out one’s personal fantasies" (Sigmund Freud). Still so many unanswered questions though.

I’ve managed to construct a loose hypothesis as to why people hate daydreaming after an interview with my school’s shrink. “It gets in the way when you’re trying to focus on something that needs to be done.” The book I’m reading, Shogun, even had a little input on daydreaming. while Toronaga sat pondering recent events he thought. “What I would give to have peace of mind, but is that not what all Daimyo seek? A mind that does not wander” (James Clavell). People tend to be aggravated when their hard work is disturbed by a random thought that sends them off on a series of thoughts. Be it while listening to your teacher's lesson, driving a car or trying to solve immediate problems, daydreams are random and pop out of nowhere and often when you're engaging in pressing tasks, like the zit you get in the middle of your forehead before an important date. That was what I managed to scrounge up as to why daydreaming has such a poor reputation.

The twisted path of blogs and websites eventually landed me a gold mine when I quick jumped to page 64 of my Search. On the top was, a web journal filled up to its gills with credible sources and information galore. People once believed that daydreaming was a sign of laziness. however recent studies have shown that daydreaming causes the brain's problem solving area to flare up ( staff). Like sleep, daydreaming is when the brain works out its problems from earlier in the day. "When you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal – say reading a book or paying attention in class – but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships" (Christoff on The state our brain is in when we daydream is extremely similar to our deep sleep cycle, the time when our brain refragments itself getting rid of useless files and condensing. My own personal opinion as to why we have developed daydreaming is to record all the information we've obtained throughout the day, I'm not referring to new knowledge but rather constant data from day to day, like it is slightly colder today, there are clouds over there, and any other itty bitty details that make each day its own. As to why problems occur during this state is beyond me, perhaps it is the fact that it is Human Nature to want to understand everything, so it is our nature to dream about these things. Some research project this has turned out to be; for each answer, two questions spring forth.

Continuing on my own train of thought here, you have probably seen someone get shocked out of a daydream. They instantly tense up, eyes wide and alert ready to fight, like they just got scared and entered the flight or fight response. The two reactions could be one in the same, before humans had technology we were scavengers eating the meat that other predators abandoned. During the prolonged hours of inactivity we began to dream, yet remained alert and vigilant, ready to move at a moment's notice. When did one of our ancestors pick up a sharp stick and realize it could kill? After laying around staring at the ceiling during a sleepless night, I daydreamed about this topic a lot. And I determined that we owe daydreaming more than just random ideas of creativity. Daydreaming increases creativity, daydreaming is our brain's base state, Daydreaming is problem solving and playing out one's desires. Daydreaming could very well be the reason why humans have advanced technologically. Things evolve out of necessity, but they are born from ingenuity. The little me back in forth grade daydreaming about blasting bad guys, rescuing princesses, was doing just that finding ways more suited to my crazy mind.

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becool said...
Feb. 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm
this article is awesome i also spen countless hours daydreaming during class but have never wondered what daydreaming really was untill now
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