In case you missed it, this Melissa Dahl piece talks about the emerging interest in the upside of mindlessness, or what cognitive scientists tend to call mind-wandering:
Like just about every other aspect of the human condition, our consciousness operates on a spectrum. On one end lies conscious awareness, or mindfulness. But all the way on the other end, there’s something you could call mindlessness. And mindlessness brings many benefits that are being overlooked, like creative thinking and personal problem-solving. Both mindfulness and zoning out, and all the points in-between, are useful.
Having written a book that talks about the importance of regaining your capacity to focus in a world of technology-delivered and -enhanced distraction, the fact that I’m now working on a project that (among many things) explores the value of mind-wandering sometimes feels a bit odd.
But I’ve concluded that the capture of one’s attention during times when you could be allowing your mind to wander is no better than the redirection of your attention away from something you should be doing to something else. We shouldn’t think of the problem in terms of mind-wandering versus concentration; we should think of it terms of our having control over “the contents our consciousness” (as William James put it) versus some other entity kidnapping our mental state.