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Mindwandering by Moshe Bar

What: This non-fiction book is a deep dive on the brain. It goes behind the scenes to describe how our brains work and what’s going on when our minds disappear down rabbit holes.

Who: Author Moshe Bar is a cognitive neuroscientist.

When: Bar describes the results of research studies undertaken in the past 10 to 15 years.

Where: Primarily the United States and Israel.

How: It’s possible to actively promote creativity and other mind states, such as flow.

What I Thought: In an engaging style reminiscent of Ethan Kross’ Chatter, Moshe Bar’s Mindwandering is an interesting look at the mind, the brain, and the role biology plays in our day-to-day experiences.

Author Moshe Bar deftly switches between his personal experiences, research studies, and pop culture references while talking about a rather scientific topic. His tone is clever and interesting, and while sometimes he gets pretty wordy, his analysis is infused with humor.

Bar describes the evolutionary basis for our thoughts, including the way people perceive imminent threats and prepare for them (which can contribute to anxiety), the use of past experiences to predict future possibilities and patterns, and the biological reasons our brains keep us grounded in either the past or the future.

Technological advancements have allowed scientists such as Bar to explore and confirm theories about how human brains behave even when people aren’t engaging in a specific task. The term “mindwandering” is another way of describing mental drift, or daydreaming. What are our brains busy doing when we aren’t doing anything at all?

It turns out they are often processing thoughts such as ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. We can choose to engage in activities that improve our moods by changing our thought patterns.

There are three types of idleness: doing nothing and being bored, doing nothing and being happy about being nothing, and doing nothing but extensively and creatively daydreaming.

Throughout the book, Bar proscribes different activities that can be done to help improve our moods, expand our creativity, and tackle challenging problems. Much of the book can be looked at as an advertisement for meditation, which is the second type of idleness: purposefully doing nothing, and which is helpful for brain functioning, life satisfaction, and mental health.

Bar describes types of thoughts and thought patterns as either top-down or bottom-up and reveals the situations in which each is preferable. He also introduces concepts including states of mind, tolerance of uncertainty, and inhibition. The appendix to the book features recommendations from the author on how to best appreciate life by immersing oneself in the present moment.

My thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of Mindwandering.


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