“Things just clicked.” “It was a spark of inspiration…a bolt of lightning…an epiphany….” Readers curious to know what happens when we solve a problem in a flash will find the latest research here.
For centuries, the brain was accessible only during autopsy, so scientists studied it by observing behavior. This changed in the 1990s with the invention of scanners such as the fMRI that give us the ability to observe the brain as it works. Skeptics claim that inspiration is a myth. That “eureka” moment is merely the rush that comes from an answer we’ve been working toward during the entire problem-solving process. A host of imaginative studies, many by Kounios (Psychology/Drexel Univ.) and fellow neuroscientist and co-author Beeman, reveal that certain areas of the brain work when we consciously analyze a problem; entirely different areas light up during an aha moment, a finding that has produced media enthusiasm and probably inspired this book. The authors claim that their findings may “inspire people…to be more creative in their personal and professional lives.” Kounios and Beeman describe four stages of insight. First, one reaches an “impasse” in dealing with a problem. There follows a “diversion” during which the problem “incubates,” followed by a solution in a flash of “illumination.” Though rewards and deadlines usually encourage analytic thought, they often suppress inspiration. To empower creativity, distract attention from the specific (the problem itself) toward the general—the further the better. “Our goal is to explain what insights are, how they arise, and what the scientific research says about how to have more of them,” they write. Daydreaming, musing, fantasizing and sleeping all prime the pump.
Being good scientists, the authors’ secrets of success lack the dramatic specificity of more commercial authors, but readers will appreciate their ingenious, thoughtful update on how the mind works.