“Our brain never pauses”

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Flames. If you’ve taken time off in recent weeks, your mind may have had a chance to take a break. Whether you’ve walked in the forest, dozed off on a sun lounger, paddled a paddle or swam in more or less turquoise waters, you may have let your thoughts float without constraining them. You might think that on vacation, when we are not engaged in a complex intellectual task, or solving some problem, our brain is resting.

Nevertheless, it is not the case ! Even when we do nothing in particular, our brain is very active, in a mode that we now call “by default”, to qualify this spontaneous activity. For at least half of the time we are awake, thoughts thus arise freely and spontaneously. As soon as there is no more intellectual constraint, our mind travels and brings to our consciousness a felt emotion, a detail perceived in the landscape in front of us or else pushes us to rethink past events or to imagine what is going to happen. arrive later.

This incessant flow of thought was first described over a century ago by psychologist William James (1842-1910). Today, we use the term “spontaneous thinking” as opposed to “controlled and voluntary thinking”, which occurs when we are engaged in a cognitive task (working, discussing, solving a problem). We thus include in this phenomenon not only all the thoughts and feelings that arise unexpectedly, but also what is called mental wandering, daydreaming, or even creative thinking.

Flow of ideas and feelings

How do you go from one idea to another and what is the nature of the spontaneous thought process? Recently, Judith Mildner and Diana Tamir, of the Department of Psychology at Princeton University, argued that this mental activity can be seen as a form of “unconstrained” memory. This flow of ideas and feelings would draw its content from the stock of information in memory and would bring into play brain regions similar to those involved in memory functioning. To support their hypothesis, the authors base themselves on the fact that at least 50% of what we spontaneously think about corresponds to reconstructions from lived events, or from our knowledge, and concerns our past or our future. .

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