A difficult-to-describe-or-even-really-be-conscious-of concept Lehrer hits on in the book and recently in his blog is "the constant tension in the mind between paying attention to the outside world versus our own internal thoughts." The current idea held by researchers who observe the neural circuitry related to this "tension" is that daydreaming, or "mind wandering" is an important mindstate, crucial to meeting long-term challenges and making "big-picture" decisions. It seems our deepest insights hit us as our mind wanders, whether or not we are aware that it is wandering.
In this post, he explores the link between "daydreaming" and alcohol consumption.
Carl Zimmer's column in the newest Discover Magazine takes a close look at the data concerning act of "zoning out." It tells us we spend a lot less time "focused" than we might like to think.
Depending on the experiment, people spend up to half their time not thinking about the task at hand—even when they’ve been told explicitly to pay attention...These results are shocking when you stop to think about them. Each of us has a magnificent hive of billions of neurons in our head, joined to each other by trillions of connections. The human brain is arguably the most complex organ in the natural world. And yet studies on mind wandering are showing that we find it difficult to stay focused for more than a few minutes on even the easiest tasks, despite the fact that we make mistakes whenever we drift away.