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On an interesting side note, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that jazz musicians, known for being adept at musical improvisation, showed "dramatically reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex" when they were in the midst of improvising—the same description of the prefrontal cortex area found in a baby. And these researchers also found that the more these jazz musicians were able to deactivate this prefrontal cortex—and think like a baby—the more they were able to spontaneously invent new, exciting melodies!
According to Gopnik, this reduced activity in a baby's prefrontal cortex is also what blesses infants with the ability to stay open to improvising new and unusual responses to situations—often to their parents' delight. In contrast, adults have busily scheduled prefrontal cortexes that often react to situations with learned knee-jerk responses, which can sometimes be the equivalent of be-a-jerk responses...and anything but delight! And our adult prefrontal cortexes can also keep us shut down to learning new ideas or seeing new patterns. Hence, when challenges strike, it's to an adult's benefit to think like a baby and stay open to improvising in new ways, to thinking outside of the box.
So how can you tap into some of this terrific expanded consciousness and think like a baby? The answer: Start meditating!
Both Gopnik and those Johns Hopkins University researchers compared the unwound state of mind found in babies and jazz musicians to the same open mindset found in those doing meditation. Indeed, Gopnik very much believes a baby's consciousness is similar to the consciousness adults reach in a meditational state. A state where we find ourselves, as Gopnik describes, "dissolving attentional focus and becoming aware of everything at once."
For many reasons, I found comparing a baby's consciousness to the consciousness reached in meditation particularly fascinating. I'm a huge fan of meditation. I know lots of people assume meditation to be some Buddhist mumbo-jumbo, but it's been scientifically documented to create therapeutic changes in the brain. In particular, Dr. Brick Johnstone, professor and chair of the Department of Health Psychology, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Health Professions, has performed many studies on how meditation affects the brain. He's even pinpointed a specific change in the right parietal lobe, the brain region Johnstone describes as a human's "self-awareness spot." Meditating lessens the self-awareness spot and allows you to experience that I am at one with everything feeling.
Johnstone has also noticed a quieting of this self-awareness spot during appreciation of art, nature and music—which may explain why people often say they lose themselves in a beautiful painting or scenery. He also noticed that a similar affect occurs during our experiences of romance and charity—the reason we feel selflessness when we're sharin' the lovin'.
How meditation can open the door to greater happiness