Putting a ‘blank mind’ is not only possible but necessary

The mind does not have an ‘on/off’ switch yet researchers from the University of Liège, the EPF Lausanne and the University of Geneva have just shown that turn off thoughtswhat we call putting ‘the mind blank’ is possible.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesaffirms that we generally consider that our mind is full of thoughts when we are awake. Similarly like the current of a river, we entertain our own dynamic mental stream: one thought can lead to another, relevant to what we do or not do, it fluctuates between our inner life and the outer environment.

However, how can the brain maintain such a thought-related mode constantly? The study indicates that it really can’t, and that our brains also need to “switch off” for some moments, which we can experience as blank spaces in the mind.

How the study was done

The researchers analyzed a previously collected data set where healthy participants reported their mental state before hearing an auditory probe (beep) while resting in the MRI scanner. The options were between perceptions of the environment, dependent thoughts of stimuli, thoughts independent of stimuli and mental absences. Functional images were collected during this experience sampling method.

When we report that the mind is blank, our brains seem to be in a mode similar to that of deep sleep, only that we are awake

The researchers found that ‘mind blank’ episodes were reported very rarely compared to the other states, and also rarely recurred over time.

Using the machine learningThey further discovered that our brains during mind blank episodes organized themselves in a way where all brain regions communicated with each other at the same time. This ultraconnected brain pattern was further characterized by the high amplitude of the global fMRI signal, which is an indicator of low cortical arousal. In other words, when we report mind blankness, our brains appear to be in a mode similar to deep sleep, only we’re awake.

Sleep-wake boundaries may not be as discrete as they seemDr Demertzi Athena

«the blank mind it is a relatively new state of mind within the study of spontaneous cognition. It opens exciting avenues into the underlying biological mechanisms that occur during waking life. After all, the boundaries of sleep and wakefulness may not be as discrete as they seem,” says lead researcher Dr. Dr Demertzi Athena, FNRS researcher at GIGA ULiège. “Rapidly and continuously changing brain activity requires robust analysis methods to confirm the specific signature of mind blank,” continues the study. Dr Van De Ville Dimitri.

The researchers claim that the rigid neurofunctional profile of mind blank could explain the inability to report mental content due to the brain’s inability to differentiate signals informatively. While the underlying mechanisms are expected to be elucidated, this work suggests that instantaneous unreportable mental events may occur. during wakefulnessleaving the mind blank as a prominent state of mind during the ongoing experience.

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