Tag: science

Creativity Productivity & Work Science

Eureka moments are a myth 💡

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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.

Science Video

The persistence of memory

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Carl Sagan, from the Cosmos episode “The Persistence of Memory”
Psychology Science Video

What your thoughts look like

To be in your own thoughts — language, like headphones, delivers a sense of privacy.

Of course, no thinking is linear. Neurons are always crashing into each other, trying to connect and build new avenues of ideas.

The whole of brain waves is greater than the sum of its parts.

But knowledge presents a key constraint in the gobbling of information — it requires a dishwasher of synthesis to make even more sense of the apparent world.

What’s most dizzying is experiencing nothing. Whatever your neurons are up to this very moment determines what you do next.

Life & Philosophy

Seeking ignorance and uncertainty

Curiosity is a powerful tool. It makes us question our surroundings and compels us to ask why things work the way they do. It kicks the mind into exploration.

But the addition of courage takes curiosity a step further; it tries to fill the void through hands-on experimentation. These small tests are fuel for failure in disguise as they convert ignorance into knowledge.

The greater challenge, therefore, is the audacity to continue guessing. Even when something gets discovered, it opens up a whole new can of ignorance.

The learning never stops if the asking never stops. The more we know, the more we desire to know.

Creativity Science

‘Grab a leash and take your thoughts for a walk.’

So, how do you walk and brainstorm?

Said Henry David Thoreau, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

Walking boosts creativity. If you ever get stuck in a creative rut, science shows that you should go for a stroll to get your endorphins moving.

As learning scientist Marily Oppezzo notes in her TED presentation below, walking generates twice the ideas. Even if you walk and then sit, your mind will continue to generate novelty.

But you can’t just walk forever, nor should you run. You should discuss your ideas out loud; the good ones will stick around. If you really want to remember everything discussed, record the thinking session on your phone.

So, how do you walk and brainstorm?

Says Oppezzo:

  1. Pick a problem/topic for brainstorm
  2. Walk at a comfortable pace WHILE you are brainstorming
  3. Generate as many ideas a you can
  4. Speak and record your ideas
  5. Cap your time

The chair-based lifestyle is not only killing us, but it’s also stifling good ideas. Go for a walk to freshen up your pattern of thinking.

Science

The blurry black hole photo

In the New Republic, writer Matt Ford rightly argues why we should be in awe of the blurry photo of the black hole. It's not about the picture as much as the effort in went in to capturing it. Context is king.

This level of cynicism is better understood as ignorance. The image itself might indeed seem unimpressive. But judging it as you would any other digital photograph, shorn of all context and understanding, would be shortsighted. One also has to consider the thought and labor behind its creation. The photograph might not depict the horror of galactic destruction as some expected, but it represents something even better.

In other words, the photo should not just be consumed and forgotten like every other piece of digital (re: social) media. The image of the black hole is an artifact.

Think about it: A group of mostly hairless primates, stranded on a rock circling a nuclear spark, used radio waves to photograph an invisible sun-eater so far away that a person would have to travel for 55 million years at the speed of light to reach it. It’s hard to not feel a frisson of awe at the scale of the feat. This context is vital to fully appreciating the image itself, in the same way that the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling is even more impressive when you know that Michelangelo spent three years of his adult life bent over backwards to paint it.

Read In Defense of the Blurry Black Hole Photo