in 1927, russian psychologist bluma zeigarnik demonstrated that people have a better memory for incomplete than complete tasks. once a task is finished, we stop thinking about it. but when it is interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds.
Along with providing time to generate novel ideas, procrastination has another benefit: it keeps us open to improvisation
our slow, uncertain brains are still better than computers – here’s why
parashkev nachev 2016
reversed procrastination by focal disruption of medial frontal cortex
ashwani jha, beate diehl, catherine scott, andrew w. mcevoy, parashkev nachev 2016
•Voluntary reaction times are slower and more variable than neural noise explains
•Such procrastination is theorized to reflect a neural race selecting each action
•Electrically disrupting medial frontal cortex reverses procrastination
•A cardinal prediction of race models of action in the brain is thereby confirmed
An enduring puzzle in the neuroscience of voluntary action is the origin of the remarkably wide dispersion of the reaction time distribution, an interval far greater than is explained by synaptic or signal transductive noise [1, 2]. That we are able to change our planned actions—a key criterion of volition 3—so close to the time of their onset implies decision-making must reach deep into the execution of action itself [4, 5, 6]. It has been influentially suggested the reaction time distribution therefore reflects deliberate neural procrastination 7, giving alternative response tendencies sufficient time for fair competition in pursuing a decision threshold that determines which one is behaviorally manifest: a race model, where action selection and execution are closely interrelated [8, 9, 10, 11]. Although the medial frontal cortex exhibits a sensitivity to reaction time on functional imaging that is consistent with such a mechanism [12, 13, 14], direct evidence from disruptive studies has hitherto been lacking. If movement-generating and movement-delaying neural substrates are closely co-localized here, a large-scale lesion will inevitably mask any acceleration, for the movement itself could be disrupted. Circumventing this problem, here we observed focal intracranial electrical disruption of the medial frontal wall in the context of the pre-surgical evaluation of two patients with epilepsy temporarily reversing such hypothesized procrastination. Effector-specific behavioral acceleration, time-locked to the period of electrical disruption, occurred exclusively at a specific locus at the ventral border of the pre-supplementary motor area. A cardinal prediction of race models of voluntary action is thereby substantiated in the human brain
plans different from schedules
for many people, a plan, something one prepares to do, is the same as a schedule, a timetable in which to do it. this is because people believe that one way to achieve goals is to systematically progress towards them. however, there are other ways both to live and to achieve goals.
being able, at times, to live unplanned and unscheduled and yet at the same time wielding the discipline to carry on; this is something that people my not remember how to do because they have been taught that it is not possible.
symbolic photograph this is a serendipitous photograph. it was taken within thirty seconds of entering one of the hothouses at kew gardens in london, england. after that the hothouse was closed for the day. can you see certain details in the photograph? the sky is reflected in the water. it turns out that maki was due to leave for san diego, halfway around the world from london, in a few days time so this was the last time in two years that he would have a chance to take this particular photograph. he was lucky. but there was also serendipity. the photograph shows the scene in a hothouse in england, where these tropical water–flowers are blooming. the symbolism is very appropriate because it is an interesting metaphor for the blooming of human spirit in unlikely surroundings. the cast–iron latticework of the roof appears in the reflection, indicating the human agency in the presence of th eflowers in that location. but nevertheless, the flowers are beautiful. they are not beautiful because anyone placed them there, but are beautiful just as they are. this is what made this photograph an ideal one to symbolise the book somesuch(link).
the travels and adventures of serendipity: a study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science robert merton, elinor barber 2004 isbn0691117543 p192
“for it is langmuir's conviction that 'calculation upon the unforseen' is not only consonant with scientific principle but that it will also pay off in other ways that are highly desirable. Calculation upon divergent phenomena will produce results that are both unexpected and important: 'You don't know all the things that are going to happen. Too many of them are unexpected. And it is many of these unexpected things that are going to be the most profitable, the most useful things you do.’”
“The crowning reward of such general planning is that it will preserve a freedom of inquiry, a freedom of opportunity, that is not only rational and efficient but is also part of a good way of life. 'Freedom of opportunity as developd by democracy is the best human reaction to divergent phenomena. We may, in fact, define 'freedom' as 'the opportunity to profit from the unexpected.' 'It is in the best interests of science and of democratic society therefore that serendipity be held in high esteem.”
neil garrett, stephanie c lazzaro, dan ariely, tali sharot 2016