Drifting off now appears to be a vital function of the psyche—our imagination is a cauldron of creativity and an arena for rehearsing social skills. It may even be the backbone of our consciousness. Maybe what we all need is more time to let our minds meander.
Even those of us not in explicitly creative fields must come up with new ideas and insights in order to move ahead. How can we shake up our thinking patterns? Creativity has been pegged to conducive environments, perfect collaborators, personality traits, serendipity, and even spiritual muses.
Quite simply, cognition refers to thinking. There are the obvious applications of conscious reasoning—doing taxes, playing chess, deconstructing Macbeth—but thought takes many subtler forms, such as interpreting sensory input, guiding physical actions, and empathizing with others.
Why we dream is still one of the behavioral sciences' greatest unanswered questions. Researchers have offered many theories—memory consolidation, emotional regulation, threat simulation—but a unified one remains, well, a pipe dream.