Daydreams: Rehearsing the future.

Recently I read a fascinating article called The Secret Life of the Brain in New Scientist.
By way of a brief overview, the article basically describes a ‘default state’ that our brain diverts to whenever we aren’t actively using it to solve problems or perform tasks etc. Scientists identified areas of the brain (see above) that commenced intense activity once volunteer test subjects were in an apparent state of rest.

This amazing organ, which accounts for only 2 per cent of  our body mass but devours 20 percent of the calories we eat, fritters away much of that energy doing, as far as we can tell, absolutely nothing.

“There is a huge amount of activity in the [resting] brain that has been largely unaccounted for.” Says Marcus Raichle… “The brain is a very expensive organ but no one has asked deeply what this cost is all about”.

Firstly it’s fascinating that the brain can use that much energy, or conduct processes that require that much energy, without our even realising that it’s happening, but maybe it’s fairly obvious when you think about it – if every process that our brain performed was intentional it would take forever to get anything done.

Surely if these secret neural processes are that ‘expensive’, they must be quite important?

through the hippocampus, the default network could tap into memories – the raw material of daydreams. The medial prefrontal cortex could then evaluate those memories from an introspective viewpoint. Raichle and Gulnard speculated that the default network might provide the brain with an “inner rehearsal” for considering future actions and choices.

I’ve read about this connection between memory and the future before in Future Recall: Your mind can slip through time (again in NS), an article which eventually lead to Memorascope,  which was a project about the effects that emotionally and memorially devoid ‘Non-Places’ (Auge) might have upon our ability to imagine the future, and whether or not it might be possible to use ‘prosthetics of memory’ (Landsberg, A.) to associate memories (prosthetic or otherwise) with these spaces. Primarily I was thinking about how these prosthetics of memory, and the prosthetic memories (Landsberg, A.) that they create, could be conciously used and manipulated.

So, if daydreaming is “the ultimate tool for incorporating lessons from our past into our plans for the future”, but is an unintentional thought process based on memories that are not necessarily our ‘own’ it would seem that we have very little control over what they might be. Does this in turn mean that we don’t have as much control our futures as we might think? But then, does the sheer volume of prosthetic memories made available through digital and communication technologies also mean that we have  more of the raw material required for imagining future possibilities to hand than ever before?

The question of how our technological encounters affect the creation, storage, recollection and dissemination of the materials that construct our memories, and the consequences that these technological prosthetics of memory have  upon our everyday experiences, is a recurring theme in my work and something that I consider important, but it would be good to go further than that, and maybe that’s where daydreams and The Secret Life of the Brain might come in; How do these things affect the rehearsal, or imagining, and potential realisation of our personal futures? Whats does it mean if they do? And what is the significance in the staggering amount of time and energy devoted to daydreams?

Anyway just some thoughts,  but I feel like there’s a lot of potential in daydreams as an area for design investigation, and at the very least, its an interesting article.

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