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Hans Berger, the inventor of the electroencephalogram, was the first to propose the idea that the brain is constantly busy. In a series of papers published in 1929, he showed that the electrical oscillations detected by his device do not cease even when the subject is at rest. However, his ideas were not taken seriously, and a general perception formed among neurologists that only when a focused activity is performed does the brain (or a part of the brain) become active.[12]

But in the 1950s, Louis Sokoloff and his colleagues noticed that metabolism in the brain stayed the same when a person went from a resting state to performing effortful math problems suggesting active metabolism in the brain must also be happening during rest.[4] In the 1970s, David H. Ingvar and colleagues observed blood flow in the front part of the brain became the highest when a person is at rest.[4] Around the same time, intrinsic oscillatory behavior in vertebrate neurons was observed in cerebellar Purkinje cells, inferior olivary nucleus and thalamus.[13]

In the 1990s, with the advent of positron emission tomography (PET) scans, researchers began to notice that when a person is involved in perception, language, and attention tasks, the same brain areas become less active compared to passive rest, and labeled these areas as becoming “deactivated”.[4]