Deep English - The Eureka Moment


Sometimes our best ideas come when we least expect them. For Greek mathematician, Archimedes, this happened during a trip to the local baths. The king of Syracuse had put him in charge of finding out how to detect fraud in the manufacture of a golden crown. The king suspected his goldsmith was leaving out some of the gold and substituting it with silver. As Archimedes relaxed, he saw that the more his body sunk into the bath, the more the level of the water rose. He suddenly realized that the volume and purity of the crown could be measured using water displacement. Silver weighs less than gold, so if the crown wasn't pure gold, but actually a mixture of silver and gold, it would displace more water. At that moment, he jumped out of the bath and ran home naked, cryingEureka! Eureka!” meaningI've found it! I've found it!” To this day, having a sudden flash of insight into a difficult problem is called a eureka moment.

The history of science and invention is chock full of eureka moments. Sir Isaac Newton, while sitting under the shade of a tree, was suddenly struck in the head by a falling apple. In that moment Newton came up with the theory of gravity. Albert Einstein, after many months of trying to solve intense math problems, let his imagination wander. He saw a moving train being struck by two bolts of lightning at the same time, one at the front and one at the back. He then wondered if a person standing beside the track and a person on the train would see the strikes as simultaneous. In that instant, the theory of relativity was born.

While we may never have the kind of grand realizations that Newton and Einstein had, eureka moments happen to us all the time. Do you remember the last time you suddenly got the punchline of a joke, or remembered a person's name that was on the tip of your tongue? That's a eureka moment.

Studies by neuroscientists show that the kind of insight contained in a eureka moment is actually the result of a much longer creative process. We first use our analytical minds to turn a problem over and over in search of a solution with no success. But when we finally relax, give up thinking, and turn our attention inward, the insight suddenly arrives. So the next time you are struggling with a difficult problem, maybe it is best to be patient, do something relaxing, and let the solution come to you. Either that, or go sit under an apple tree. Coconut trees are not recommended.