Do we want a cure for Walter Mitty?

“Sluggish cognitive tempo,” a new medical term for excessive daydreaming, could save lost-in-a-fog children and adults from being misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder, writes Diana Senechal. But she worries that Walter Mitty and Fern will be cured of imagination.

If James Thurber’s Walter Mitty had been diagnosed with SCT, he’d stay “on task” and remember to buy the puppy biscuits. There’d be no “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.”  (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of my favorite stories of all time.)

Not all wandering minds are lost, Senechal writes.

I have had students who had difficulty staying on task because they were thinking about the subject in an interesting way – as well as students who seemed “off-task” because they were actually concentrating hard (and not taking notes as the others were). I myself tended not to take notes in school; I preferred to listen and think.

If we “faulted, diagnosed and fixed” all the daydreamers, “the world would fill up with dreary essays that never departed from the rubric,” writes Senechal.

In Charlotte’s Web, Fern’s mother pays a visit to the family doctor, Dr. Dorian, in order to seek his advice about Fern, who, in her view, spends far too much time alone with the animals, just sitting and listening to them. Dr. Dorian leans back, closes his eyes, and says, “How enchanting!”

Senechal will discuss solitude on BBC’s  The Forum this weekend.

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