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  • Writer's pictureGina Greenlee, Author

Pensando en la Inmortalidad del Cangrejo: Neuroscience and The Default Network


Purple Smoke
Image credit, Dmitry Dreyer, Unsplash

Wandering is not limited to geography. Also an altered state of consciousness, wandering allows a disembodied self to drift on currents below awareness with minimal attachment to the physical world. This state taps imaginative faculties and freedoms central to our creativity. When our mind wanders, our brain is exploring our web of memories for new combinations and novel solutions.


When we wander in consciousness (daydream) we turn down what Olivia Fox Cabane and Judah Pollack, authors of The Net and the Butterfly: the Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking, call the “Executive Network,” the decision-making side of the brain, and let the “Default Network” (mind-wandering mode) take over:


“Neuroscientists have discovered that the secret to breakthrough lies in our ability to switch between [two modes], the focused and the meandering. The focused mode is one you are already familiar with, because it’s the one you have been consciously using all your life. You can think of this mode as the “executive mode.” It’s the one you use to execute, to get things done. Goal-oriented and deadline-focused, it’s a champion at making lists, following timelines, and coming in under budget. The part of your brain responsible for this mode is called the executive network or EN.


“The EN is a group of brain regions near the front of your skull that help you focus on a task and accomplish a specific goal. You’re very well versed in the use of your EN. You did, after all, spend at least a decade in school specifically training those brain regions. As a matter of fact, you’re using your EN right now to read this sentence.


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“…But your EN alone can’t create breakthroughs. It needs help from the more meandering network, the one that creates shower moments. This is our creative network, the default network or DN. You can think of the DN as a council of breakthrough geniuses inside your brain. The geniuses talk and exchange ideas, half-baked theories, and wild speculations. The DN is the source of all our creativity, all our invention, all our genius…If the EN gives us the ability to accomplish a task, the DN gives us the ability to look through the complexity of the world to see the patterns underneath.”

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“In the Spanish language, there’s the idiom pensando en la inmortalidad del cangrejo. Its literal translation is “thinking about the immortality of the crab.” It applies to a person engaged in creative daydreaming—her imagination wandering freely in hopes of rousing innovative solutions to practical dilemmas.”

“I was allowed - in this very creative time in the day, you know, as light was coming up - to dream.”

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