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Centre for Medical Humanities

Wandering Minds

Interdisciplinary Experiments on Self-Generated Thought

Wandering Minds is an experimental project, led by researchers at Durham, Cardiff and York Universities, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig. Mind wandering - having only recently become an object of major study in psychology and neuroscience - is today positioned as key to understanding many aspects of human cognition and psychological wellbeing. However, researchers are still puzzling over how best to concretely define mind-wandering and related phenomena (e.g. daydreaming, self-generated thought, fantasy, or spontaneous cognition). Such clarification is critical to developing neuroimaging paradigms to investigate these states.

At the same time, scholars in the humanities and qualitative social sciences have produced rich elaborations on the phenomenology of mind-wandering, and have developed methods for analysing the content of thought. However, there are strikingly few instances of collaboration – between the qualitative, theoretical and interpretive social sciences, on the one hand, and the neurosciences, on the other.

In this project we want to put these things together: to experimentally entangle neuropsychological data, fMRI data, and rich qualitative data, in order to design an innovative, interdisciplinary mind-wandering paradigm. By analysing this interdisciplinary procedure itself: using auto-ethnographic and historical methods, we specify what is involved in concretely experimentalizing humanistic and social scientific knowledge in an interdisciplinary neuroscientific setting.

Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, this project contributes towards research aimed to further the development of the second generation of the “European Platform of Life Sciences, Mind Sciences, and the Humanities” as a source for new ideas, approaches and interactions at the crossroads of the life sciences, mind sciences and the humanities.

Contact Details

Wandering Minds
Department of Geography 
Durham University 
Lower Mountjoy 
South Road, Durham 
DH1 3LE, UK 

Tel: 0191 3341800 
Fax:0191 33 41801