Distractible You

Neurologists have found that it is natural and normal for the mind to wander. That’s what minds do, and it contributes to their ability to form new neurological pathways. As Cathy Davidson puts it in her book, Now You See It, “The mind always wanders off task because the mind’s task is to wander.” Or, in a favorite metaphor from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: “If thought searches, it is less in the manner of someone who possesses a method than that of a dog that seems to be making uncoordinated leaps.”

I am interested in ways to put this distraction, our mind’s tendency to make uncoordinated leaps, to productive use. And I think the key term here is use. The more you can think of ways to put ideas we come across to your own uses, the more you will learn. The more you can connect what’s going on in class to your own life and the things you care about, the more you will learn.

I am interested in your ideas about how to put our minds’ wanderings to use during class. But just to get us started, here are some ideas:

  1. Make connections (how does what we’re discussing connect to other classes, or to your non-academic life?)
  2. Ask questions (the more you speak, the more you will remember. Actually talking literally changes how ideas form.)
  3. Create mini-essays or do some micro-brainstorming (I used to do this when I was bored in lectures. I would take an idea that interested me, and start developing it in my notes. I figured that if my mind was wandering, I might as well use it to develop my own ideas about the subject.)
  4. Think of friends. (How would you explain this to a friend? Is there anything coming up in class that a particular friend would be interested in?)
Davidson, Cathy. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Learn. New York: Viking-Penguin, 2011. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. What Is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. Print.

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