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Incubation-based studying

34 bytes added, 22:55, 6 December 2018
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<blockquote>Poincaré and Hindemith cannot possibly be right. If they are spending their days actively thinking about other things, their brains are not unobtrusively solving deep mathematical problems or composing complex pieces of music, perhaps over days or weeks, only to reveal the results in a sudden flash. Yet, driven by the intuitive appeal of unconscious thought, psychologists have devoted a great deal of energy in searching for evidence for unconscious mental work. In these studies, they typically give people some tricky problems to solve (e.g. a list of anagrams); after a relatively short period of time, they might instruct participants to continue, to take a break, to do another similar or different mental task, or even get a night’s sleep, before resuming their problems. According to the ‘unconscious work’ perspective, resuming after a break should lead to a sudden improvement in performance, compared with people who just keep going with the task. Studies in this area are numerous and varied,5 but I think the conclusions are easily summarized. First, the effects of breaks of all kinds are either negligible or non-existent: if unconscious work takes place at all, it is sufficiently ineffectual to be barely detectable, despite a century of hopeful attempts. Second, many researchers have argued that the minor effects of taking a break – and indeed, Poincaré’s and Hindemith’s intuitions – have a much more natural explanation, which involves no unconscious thought at all.<br /><br />The simplest version of the idea comes from thinking about why one gets stuck with a difficult problem in the first place. What is special about such problems is that you can’t solve them through a routine set of steps (in contrast, say, to adding up columns of numbers, which is laborious but routine) – you have to look at the problem in the ‘right way’ before you can make progress (e.g. with an anagram, you might need to focus on a few key letters; in deep mathematics or musical composition, the space of options might be large and varied). So ideally, the right approach would be to fluidly explore the range of possible ‘angles’ on the problem, until hitting on the right one. Yet this is not so easy: once we have been looking at the same problem for a while, we feel ourselves to be stuck or going round in circles. Indeed, the cooperative computational style of the brain makes this difficult to avoid.</blockquote>
 
==See also==
 
* [[Interleaving]]
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