I’ve just been reading about the brain in The New Yorker (July 28). ‘The Eureka Hunt’ by Jonah Lehrer describes the work of Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist who has spent the last fifteen years ‘trying to figure out what happens inside the brain when people have an insight’.
As a writer I have a particular interest in insight. Jung-Beeman and his co investigator John Kounios describe it as a delicate mental balancing act.
‘At first, the brain lavishes the scarce resource of attention on a single problem. But, once the brain is sufficiently focussed, the cortex needs to relax in order to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere, which will provide the insight. “The relaxation phase is crucial,” Jung-Beeman said. “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers.” Another ideal moment for insights, according to the scientists, is the early morning, right after we wake up. The drowsy brain is unwound and disorganized, open to all sorts of unconventional ideas…We do some of our best thinking when we’re still half asleep.’
That must be why writing first thing in the morning (what I call, falling onto the page) works so well. It’s because it’s too early for the brain’s policeman, otherwise known as the left hemisphere, to be on duty, censoring and being sensible, which are the last things you need when you’re writing.
Next time I’m accused of being lazy when I'm having an afternoon nap or otherwise lolling about, I’ll be able to say, ‘I’m working!’ and have science on my side.