How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect.

Article: Carey, B. (2006). “How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect.” New York Times. Retrieved on 13 October, 2009.

This article discusses the idea that when the mind comes across something that is completely unfamiliar and baffling at the same time, the mind goes into high-alert mode soon after. Creative juices may begin to flow where none existed before and the person may be able to solve logical problems with greater accuracy, as the mind looks for patterns to “recover” from the “nonsense” it just encountered.

This study, of course, is still its infancy and conclusive proof seems to be a long way off.

It is possible that the mind “lights up” when there is something so illogical just because as human beings, we seem to crave and “respect” newer, unexplained phenomena? The mind loves a problem, and one that can’t seem to be solved or explained quickly, even better. Hence the mind may seem to go into a sharper mode to try uncover the hidden meaning, any meaning of the nonsense it just encountered, and when immediately faced with a more “mundane” problem, the mind recognizes the solution to the mundane problem very quickly.

It could be happiness, or fear, or puzzlement at the bizarre or unexpected that provides a nudge (or a kick) to the mind.

Does this lead to the oft-repeated out-of the-box thinking that we are all exhorted to follow?

It is possible. It could also be that seeing or listening to something illogical or nonsensical just makes us smile at the, put a spring in our step at the thought of the unknowns that still exist and thus cause us to  see something that was missed earlier.

As a product designer, this study might lead one to develop products that present unique challenges or a “twist-in-the-tale” products, that prompt the mind to step out if its logical thinking mode.

Conceptual Design: Mind/Brain always pays attention to unique and “different” events/things/people. Perhaps this makes the brain sharper in the immediate context and helps to solve common problems/issues more quickly?

Interaction Design: Product designers can come up with something different/challenging to relieve tedium or help people re-energize mentally or emotionally. Can magic be considered one such product?

“Paranormal Activity”, the latest horror flick (wild horses can’t drag me to it) is one such product? Shot for a paltry $15,000, it is raking in millions.

I once attended a magic show performed by a fellow student where an auditorium of over 400 students swore that the magician student levitated and caused another to levitate.

  2 comments for “How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect.

  1. April 22, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Remember that FLOW is caused in different way for applications versus games. What’s fun as a game is a nuisance in a Word Processor!

    This effect is related to the “flight or fight” response, I believe. We take notice when we are faced with novel situations—we have to make a decision as to what course of action is in our best interest.

    Interaction Design: I wonder if this can be used to improve the “drill and practice” software…

    True–magic is all about unexpected! Even as we expect it…

  2. Jyothi
    May 6, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Came across this today, thought it was appropriate.

    I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells. – Dr.Seuss.

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