Do you know who you are? Do you know why you’re here? Do you know where you’re going? If you answered yes to this Holy Grail of questions, you may be one of those unfortunate people who either found yourself in a sea of Self-Help books, or who found yourself laughing at those who ask such silly questions when they could be writing Self-Help books and making lots of money. Either way, you FOUND yourself, which is about the deadliest condition known to science, harmful to your senses of adventure, curiosity, wonder, and the enjoyable pursuit of answers that are slipperier than a greased pig inside Socrates’ toga. Fortunately there is a cure. All you have to do is put the books down, turn your mental GPS off, and Get Lost. And put the breadcrumbs back in the bag. They won’t help, and you certainly don’t want to risk having your mother follow you.
But if you’re one of the fortunate people to whom “Get Lost!” is an invitation rather than a dismissal, you already know that the Holy Grail is really just an excuse to go wandering. So pick a world, the inner one or the outer one, or combine them both to get so lost even your smart phone won’t have any answers, and get going. Just be sure to tell your mother WHEN you’re going at least, because, you know, she worries, and besides, you likely won’t be able to escape her entirely in either world. Even without breadcrumbs, mothers know ways to get inside your head.
For me, thanks to age, a two-year pandemic, three wandering kids, and a partridge in a nut tree, it’s the inner world that’s been more inviting of late. Some might say that I should have paid more attention to the invitation. As I found out, strange things can happen when you shake the nut tree. One book has already fallen out (Hold the Apocalypse – Pass Me a Scientist Please), two more are ripening, and the partridge has been behaving more and more like a cuckoo of late. As a scientist and a writer, I find this curious, but can offer no explanations. But as a daydreamer, I at least know where to look for them.
I don’t wish to scare you, but when you daydream, your brain’s Default Mode Network lights up. More like a kid at Christmas than a stressed executive on a cigarette break, it does this while the more respectable networks in your brain fall asleep. This is playtime for your DMN, its chance to engage in some Walter Mitty-like fantasizing perhaps, or to simply make fun of those parts of the brain that are only lit after a few beers. The DMN is not just about mindless entertainment however. At some level, through random associations, connections, insights, and adventurous neurons that like to walk on the wild side, it is also working to make sense of your inner world. I can testify from personal experience that either it does not like to work too hard, or my inner world needs a better interpreter than a cuckoo.
For many people who have particular goals, daydreaming is really planning, with minimal risk of failure provided you don’t turn it into an extended vacation. Of course, if an extended vacation is your goal, you’re already halfway to your dream home. Scientists say daydreaming helps us to stay motivated and focused on our goals, and that people who daydream are better at achieving them. Just be sure to set goals that your Default Mode Network can help you with without assistance, because the only thing the other networks are showing at this slack time are infomercials. Which is fine if all you want is an amazing new vacuum cleaner that can suck the money right out of your wallet, but until you can dream up your own money sucking infomercial, I suggest you keep dreaming. And take heart, even if your goal is too big and you fail in your daydreams, only your DMN will know. And to your DMN, failure is just another excuse to get lost and try again.
These same dream scientists (not the ones in your DMN) also say that daydreamers are more patient, make better decisions, and are more creative. And they didn’t just dream that up. Scientists study getting lost the way Stanley studied Livingston, and come back to write about it. In fact, science is nothing if not one big Lost & Found Department, allowing scientists the pleasure of repeatedly losing, then finding themselves. And many times where they find themselves is at the center of a new and exciting discovery. While some scientists may use the Lost & Found Department to search for anything from their missing socks to their missing trust, others with more wandering minds have discovered penicillin, the pacemaker, insulin, x-rays, and quinine.
And non-scientists who got lost have been just as productive. We all have their DMNs to thank for such things as microwaves, super glue, matches, nonstick pans, rubber, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, and sandwiches. And let’s not forget beer. Personally, the day I forget beer is the day I’ve gotten so lost even my DMN won’t know where to find me. To be honest though, I guess I can say the same thing about some days when I remember beer.