Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Disorganized brains.....better or worse?

Thoughts today were inspired by reading Steven Johnson’s book
“Where Good Ideas Come From”

Would you say that your brain is more often disorganized than not…or, does it proceed from one thought to the next in a methodical, organized, planned and sequential order?

What is your instant response to the above question? Be honest here. You at least have a rough grasp of how your thinking process unfurls. Now, hold onto that answer.

Turns out, the neural networks in our brains go though oscillation cycles. One of these is the phase-lock state and this occurs when the neurons in our brain fire in a synchronized fashion. In the phase-lock mode, the brain “executes an established plan or habit” and thoughts proceed in a sequential, orderly fashion. The brain also goes through cycles of what is called chaos or noise; this is where the neurons fire out of sync.

Robert Thatcher is a brain scientist at the University of South Florida and wanted to see if there was any correlation between I.Q. and the oscillation cycles of phase-lock and noise in brains. He did a study on dozens of children and found that some of the Children had longer periods of noise and other children had a tendency to remain longer in the phase-lock state.

When Thatcher compared the brain-wave results with the Children’s I.Q. scores, a direct correlation emerged. What he found was that the longer the child’s brain remained in the noise or chaos state, the higher the I.Q. The children who spent a longer time in the phase-lock state actually had comparatively lower I.Q scores.

Researchers are beginning to see that the more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are. The longer your brain is able to reside in the disorganized mode, the more able it is to combine different ideas, to make novel associations, to learn new things from disparate data, to strategize on how to respond to a changed situation etc; this process occurs less often in the more organized brain state. Smarter brains simply remain in the chaos phase slightly longer than average or dull brains. Now this is fascinating (and counterintuitive too, as Johnson notes) and I LOVE counterintuitive!!! One would think that a more methodical thought processing would result in better, more robust and accurate thoughts.

My humble, (potentially faulty) assessment of this conundrum: It would seem that in a disorganized/chaotic brain state, the brain would have greater access to a wider, more diverse pool of thoughts zipping about. Thus, the probability of fusing one thought to another and discovering a potentially new, useful concept or innovation would be more likely.


  1. This is very interesting stuff. I wonder if there is a relationship between "a disorganized brain" and Attention Deficit Disorder. I suspect there is. I humbly say that I did answer your question by saying "my brain is definitely disorganized." I also have been diagnosed with ADD. I invite you to see "a slice of [my] mind" by reading my blog. I'll definitely keep on reading yours.


  2. Fascinating and well written article. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. I'm also wondering about people with autism and this article.

  4. It seems to make a great deal of sense to me. It would seem that the phase lock state would be when the brain is accessing information it already knows and a chaos state would be when it's trying to create or think of something know and is reaching for information all over the brain.

    I'd love to see if there was any correlation with peoples comforts with new interests, experiences, and intellectual curiosity rather than a reliance on things that are comfortable and known.

    I've always found the physical structure of the brain and the patterns in our thoughts/personalities to be amazingly interesting

  5. Yeah Kevin, I guess it does make more sense (than less)that we would be learning/associating more things in the chaotic context than in the other one.

    //I'd love to see if there was any correlation with peoples comforts with new interests, experiences, and intellectual curiosity rather than a reliance on things that are comfortable and known.//

    Now THAT would be awesome! Where are the studies? I'll be looking out for them for sure.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. This makes complete sense to me. I have always found that allowing or forcing myself into a chaotic mind set makes me more creative, and more effective. I personally abhor routine. I get up at a different time every day with no alarm clock, and go to sleep at widely varying hours of the night. It's always good to have a tiny bit of possible scientific confirmation that my disorganized, chaotic existence, may in fact be good for me!

  8. Interesting post. But I guess noisy activity and organisation don't have to be mutually exclusive. It fits in with the idea that the brain is organised hierarchically, with higher levels being involved in more complex and abstract thought processes.

    On receiving input, problems that can be solved easily by lower levels do not challenge the higher levels at all. However, when they can not be solved by lower levels, higher levels are called upon to try to resolve the situation by trying alternative actions or new combinations.

    This can continue until very high levels are being forced to consider new connections between disparate and previously unconnected concepts. Seeing similarities between two apparently unrelated concepts signifies a high degree of certain kids of intelligence.

    Anyway, it's nice to have a positive way of framing our chaotic thought processes :)

  9. When thinking, my brain tends to be in chaos state and its hard to come up with a decision or a conclusion everytime. Yes, I may probably be smart, but I accomplish less :( How can I be helped?