William James, the father of experimental psychology in the United States, first introduced the word plasticity to the science of the brain, positing in 1890 that “organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity.”
In 1726, an Apple dropped from a tree and hit the elder physicist Isaac Newton on the head. It was then he discovered insight into gravity. Or so the story goes.
In reality, he had already done a lot of his thinking while staring at the surrounding apple trees. Newton’s friend and biographer William Stukeley wrote: “Occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood.”
We polish stories, embellish them, so they’re more memorable and thus more shareable. To quote librarian Keith Moore, the Newton story is “an 18th-century sound bite.”
There is no such thing as a Eureka moment. Light-bulb moments arise because we’ve already spent a long time thinking about them and letting the subconscious do its work.
It’s no surprise that big ideas seem to happen in dull moments when we’re in the shower or doing the dishes. Ideas also come to us during rest. A resting mind still hungers for stimulation because creativity is always awake.
This is also why planning unscheduled time is so vital to the work process. We have to get out of our own heads so we can think with more clarity.
Eureka moments are a myth. They occur when we’re thinking without thinking. The right ‘creative’ brain is always on. It splits duties with the left brain to interpret various phenomena.