In a recent New York Times article, “Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain,” a reporter followed a group of brain scientists as they went out into nature to experience first-hand what being separated from technology does to our brains.
This plays into one of the Elements of Monasticism that I’ll be exploring here: Separateness, or the choice to remove oneself to varying degrees from society, from civilization, or from social contact, and what the benefits might be for interfaith and secular seekers.
The results at the end of the trip are predictable. The scientists are more relaxed; they feel a more expansive sense of time; they can give their ideas more attention and pursue them with more depth.
How has it changed them? One reports that,
[w]hen he gets back to St. Louis…he plans to focus more on understanding what happens to the brain as it rests. He wants to use imaging technology to see whether the effect of nature on the brain can be measured and whether there are other ways to reproduce it, say, through meditation
One interesting new finding the scientists discuss during their journey: even the “expectation of e-mail seems to be taking up our working memory.”
Working memory is a precious resource in the brain. The scientists hypothesize that a fraction of brain power is tied up in anticipating e-mail and other new information — and that they might be able to prove it using imaging.
“To the extent you have less working memory, you have less space for storing and integrating ideas and therefore less to do the reasoning you need to do,” says Mr. Kramer, floating nearby.