The value of nonsense

October 6, 2009 at 3:49 am 1 comment

“Disorientation begets creative thinking.”

As reported in the NYT article, “How nonsense sharpens the intellect,” college students who read an absurd short story by Frank Kafka prior to their participation in a pattern recognition and recall test engaged in significantly more implicit learning (“knowledge gained without awareness”) than a peer group who read a coherent short story.

This is one area of psychology where the theory of mind is racing to catch-up with research:

In a series of new papers, Dr. Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these findings are variations on the same process: maintaining meaning, or coherence. The brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns.

When those patterns break down — as when a hiker stumbles across an easy chair sitting deep in the woods, as if dropped from the sky — the brain gropes for something, anything that makes sense. It may retreat to a familiar ritual, like checking equipment. But it may also turn its attention outward, the researchers argue, and notice, say, a pattern in animal tracks that was previously hidden. The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.

“There’s more research to be done on the theory,” said Michael Inzlicht, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, because it may be that nervousness, not a search for meaning, leads to heightened vigilance. But he added that the new theory was “plausible, and it certainly affirms my own meaning system; I think they’re onto something.”

More here.

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Entry filed under: think. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. jleeger  |  October 6, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    sounds like they’re making stuff up, to me…

    Reply

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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