Summary of the book The Lost Soul (Michael C. Corballis)
The Wandering Mind, Michael C. Corballis

The Wandering Mind will prove that there is always an active part in everyone's mind, even when we lack concentration, and point out the role of inattention to memory and creativity.

This book is suitable for:

  • People who want to learn about the brain;
  • Employees and students who want to be more productive at work;
  • Artists and entrepreneurs looking for creative inspiration.

The author of this book is Michael C. Corballis, a writer, psychologist and professor emeritus at the City University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research focus is on neuroscience, memory and language development. At the same time, he is also the author of several famous books such as  A Short Journey of the Soul  or  Recursive Thinking.

Chapter 1. The book's greatest value: The positive aspects of an absent mind.

We often use wishful thinking to remove discomfort from negative events like traffic jams. However, this kind of thinking is really annoying if we're trying to concentrate. But why are we always so "dreamy"?

In this summary, you will see that it is inevitable, because everyone's brain is pre-installed with a "distracted system". This sounds pretty negative, because if we weren't alert at all times, how could our ancestors survive from saber-toothed tigers or deadly venomous snakes.

However, the book will demonstrate the benefits of being "inattentive" just enough. In the next part, readers will learn about

  • A man is "stuck" at a single point in his memory;
  • The reason why most of our childhood memories are false;
  • The way to not be a fortune teller, you can still "read" other people.

Chapter 2. The brain is always active even when it is not focused, so wandering thoughts are not a negative thing.

Have you ever sat staring at a pile of work that needs to be solved but your mind is busy "walking around" somewhere? Don't blame the lazy brain, because then it also uses the same amount of energy as when it's focused.

Imagine the human mind as a small town: a lot of people gather in the central area when a big event takes place, but after that, even though the crowd has dispersed and returned to daily life there are still a few small events happening around. This is similar to when we are absent-minded.

When people focus on a certain task, only a few areas of the brain are active. But when we start to drift off, our brains go into "network default mode". Named by psychiatrist Marcus Raichle, this network covers all the areas of your brain that aren't focused on your work. However, there is a lot of activity that continues.

Although it has some negative effects such as reducing productivity, reducing happiness or causing aging, distracted thinking is not entirely bad. When "floating" their souls, artists or inventors may suddenly find creative inspiration, thereby helping to make the world a better place.

Good ideas will come to you when you take a shower or go for a walk. This is how George de Mestral invented the emery tape when he got shaved ice on his clothes while walking.

In the next section, we will learn how memories guide distracting thoughts.

Chapter 3. In the absence of concentration, the human brain utilizes three levels of memory.

We are often distracted thinking about things in the past or the future. In fact, these thoughts revolve around only 3 levels of memory.

The first level includes basic skills. Distracted thinking often involves basic skills such as walking, talking, or writing. People also often think about things they can't do, like playing an instrument or speaking a foreign language fluently. So if we don't imagine it sometimes, we become depressed because we can't do it.

The next level of memory is knowledge. It includes all the information about the people one has met or the things that have happened. At this level, creative thoughts arise when people try to connect those facts together into a complete and logical story.

Whether you're writing a book or even simply daydreaming, the brain can create completely fictional stories based on previously accumulated knowledge. Typically, it always imagines places you've never been to, like climbing Hawaii's volcanoes.

“Event memory”, the third and final level of human memory, is what helps us to store all our experiences. Because these memories are so personal, this is what determines how we see ourselves. However, there are also memories that will fade over time, you only start to imagine again when suddenly encounter an old photo related to it.

It can be said that the above three levels of memory will take the human soul through interesting experiences.

Chapter 4. The "walk of the soul" can be affected by a strange illness.

Have you ever felt so happy when suddenly recalling a childhood memory? Surely losing that part of the memory would be a very bad thing. However, people with dementia will not be able to recall old experiences, and there are cases where people with dementia cannot create new memories. In short, the only thing people with this syndrome can think about is the present!

Henry Molaison, whose mind was "stuck" in the present moment after surgery at the age of 27, is a prime example. Even when he turned 60, he always thought he was only about 34 years old.

Not only physical problems, but human creation of false memories can also change the destination for "walks" of the soul. Part of that is because memories aren't permanently preserved like a movie we can watch again. As we grow up, it is we who will tend to distort it.

British psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus, has proven that it is possible to introduce false memories into people's minds. Participants in her study "remembered" and answered questions about events that had never even occurred to them.

Since we can distort our memories, it's perfectly normal for us to be absent-mindedly thinking about things that never happened. Self-created experiences are so real that they can fool all the other senses of the body.

In the next section, we'll figure out how to "read" people.

Chapter 5. Without superpowers, we can still "see through" others.

You don't have to go to a fortune teller to understand other people's thoughts, in fact you have done it by letting your mind "wander" in a certain direction. It is not any supernatural power, but the ability to observe and actual experience that will help you read people. The “default mode network”, which covers the brain when people are distracted, will give you those skills.

To prove this, the author gave a situation to a group of people: When he met Emily, John said he drove a Porsche when in fact he only owned a Ford. The group of participants were asked to predict the reaction of Emily, a girl who didn't know anything about cars, when she saw John's car. As a result, most people predicted the right outcome: Emily thought John's Ford was a luxury Porsche.

Brain scans showed that the default mode network decided how the group of people gave answers. It can be seen that it is completely possible to "wander" into other people's minds to understand their thoughts.

This absent-minded way of thinking also helps people overcome the most difficult situations. By understanding the thoughts of others, we learn about their ability to behave accordingly. In addition, if we know a person's mistakes, we will not be embarrassed when we talk to them. At the same time, you will also find a way to not make the other person dissatisfied with your words. For example, in Emily's case, if we knew she would be humiliated when her mistake was made public, we would remind her discreetly so that Emily would not be mistaken again.

Chapter 6. Storytelling, a typical form of mind wandering, has been around for millions of years.

In addition to common traits with other animals such as herd behavior or the use of tools, humans also possess a unique ability, which is to tell stories. There are many reasons why we let our souls "float" and let it freely create new stories.

Back in the hunt, people shared important secrets to survival through storytelling. Until now, there are many tribes that still maintain that habit, they tell each other their hunting experiences such as where there is food, the dangers lurking or tell about other tribes. It is also a form of providing children with essential survival skills. Its importance is most evident in those tribes whose narrator receives honor from all.

Besides, telling fiction stories will promote the development of language. Not only does it help to better convey knowledge, but it can also create more elaborate and elaborate anecdotes. It allows people to express abstract ideas and name new inventions.

Besides the stories based on interesting and important experiences, there are many stories that arise from another fascinating and fantastical narrative.

The next section of the summary will demonstrate the importance of the absent mind to creativity.

Chapter 7. The fact that many people use drugs for creative inspiration will leave a few side effects.

Because creativity is at the core not only in the arts but also in business, many people turn to drugs for inspiration. All drugs such as LSD, narcotics or morphine have cognitive altering effects.

If Steve Jobs, Charles Dicken, Edgar Allan Poe, The Beatles, and many other artists and creatives took drugs, Winston Churchill and James Joyce used alcohol to find inspiration and new ideas. If used a lot, these substances will cause some side effects such as addiction.

A simpler and safer way to be creative is to use your distracted thinking and a process called "incubation". First, when you're absent-minded, develop all of your great ideas at the creative center of your brain - the network of automatons.

For example, research has shown that during the creative process, people who take breaks and do mundane tasks come up with very new and interesting ideas. In contrast, people who have to use all their memories during breaks will not be able to find new inspiration because they don't have enough time to relax and hatch new ideas.

It can be concluded that a completely absent mind can bring new creative inspiration.

“Creativity depends on the network coverage of automated systems when we are absent”


Mindfulness is not entirely a negative thing because then, the human brain continues to function. Not only will you find creative inspiration, you will understand the people around you better if you let your mind relax when needed.

Advice from the book

Let your mind work freely.

Don't always try to do your best, sitting down, relaxing and letting your mind wander will inspire creativity when you get back to work.