According to legend the famed mathematician Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) was relaxing in a bath when suddenly he had an epiphany about how to calculate density and volume, commonly referred to as Archimedes’ Principle. Startling his neighbors, so the story goes, he jumped out of his tub and ran naked through the streets shouting, “Eureka, I’ve got it! Eureka, I’ve got it!”
A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled, “A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight” tells how some of the most brilliant minds in history – including Archimedes, Sir Isaac Newton, Descartes, Einstein, Tesla and others – received their great revelations while goofing off as we might call it. The article goes on to say that modern research has in fact provided strong evidence that the human brain “may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts.” In other words our best creativity, problem solving, and innovative ideas seem most likely to occur when we get out of the way of our own brains, allowing them to do their best behind the scenes work.
Of course, there is another essential element involved. Insights, or a-ha moments, are most likely to occur in a prepared mind, not a lazy one. It seems unlikely that the great epiphanies of Archimedes et al happened in a vacuum; rather their brains were in fact fertile for such revelations because they had spent countless hours preparing them.
Few of us will ever experience such break-through Eureka moments as Archimedes did. (Hopefully, few of us will startle our neighbors by running through the streets naked either.) But in each of us there are epiphanies looming deep within of our fertile, prepared minds. All we need to do is get out of the way of our own brains occasionally, allowing them to do their best behind the scenes work.