Eureka! How to Have Eureka Moments Like Archimedes

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Archimedes

Stepping into his bath to relax one day Archimedes saw the water level rise and suddenly realized that the volume of the displaced water was equal to that of the body part he submerged. He was now the first person in history to be able to calculate the volume of irregular objects. He was so excited he screamed out “EUREKA!” and ran down the street naked.

So how can we have a eureka moment like Archimedes?

Sudden understanding requires relaxation


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Nothing resembling a eureka moment ever came from a tight mind. All the great minds of the past had their sudden understandings when they were relaxed or when they had properly trained their mind to quiet down. In Archimedes’ case it probably had a lot to do with the warm bath. He had resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to do any work and was going to chill out in a bath. Eureka!

If you think about it it is quite logical. If your mind is tight you are focusing on forcing an idea to come about. Your mind will be full of thoughts like “I must think of an idea” or “I must have a eureka moment”. It won’t happen. If, however, your mind is quiet there is more room for new thoughts to come in or more space for you to notice a small thought that might otherwise sneak through.

Relaxation is not just a physical act. It is a mental one. This is important. You could by laying in a hammock by a pool in Hawaii and your mind would be going at a hundred miles an hour thinking about this and worrying about that. Relaxation has to take place in the mind for there to be enough space to be creative, inventive and original.

Sudden understanding requires lots of study (but not too much)


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Many people think that people like Archimedes just had sudden realizations without doing any work before hand. However, it is important to understand that their sudden realizations were not really all that sudden.

If you think that Archimedes just got into a bath and had a spontaneous out of the blue realization about “volume” then you would be wrong. The man was a very smart and diligent physicist who spent his days mulling over problems just like this one.

If you want to have a eureka moment you need to do hours and hours of study in the given area. You need to know every angle, history, mechanic and so forth. Once you have this background information you will be more likely to have a breakthrough.

However, there is a danger. People who study too much often lack experience in their field. In Buddhist monasteries the teachers are very careful to ensure their students don’t put study over meditation because if they do they run the risk of over conceptualizing certain concepts or ideas and missing the point. Experience is very different from theoretical understanding.

Think of study as being like reading about an elephant. You can learn about its height, trunk, eyes, memory and so on. Now think of experience as being like actually going to the zoo and seeing an elephant. It is a very different thing and in most cases study pales in comparison.

Like Archimedes when he saw the water level rise you need to see your field in action if you want to be able to penetrate its nature and come up with something innovative.

Take a look at buddhist master Mingyur Rinpoche and how he made took a theoretical concept and made it experiential and came up with something quite innovative – using panic attacks as his meditation practice:

Sudden understanding requires new perspectives


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The story of Archimedes and the bath occurred after he was given a crown by the king and asked to determine whether a dishonest goldsmith had used some silver instead of pure gold. The problem was he couldn’t damage the crown by melting it down and weighing it so he had to find some other way. He found that way when he had a bath and his perspective changed.

It is very difficult to have an understanding if your views and opinions are very solid and fixed. People who have great breakthrough moments are those people who are willing and able to think out of the square and look at different ways of doing things. This, of course, is a lot more difficult than you think. Human beings are accustomed to doings things a certain way and to think outside of that conceptual framework is extremely hard.

To look at a problem with a new perspective you can do things like:

  • Set aside religious dogmas
  • Talk to people from different backgrounds and cultures
  • Work at a different time of the day
  • Approach a problem using a new forumla
  • Etc.

Of course you don’t have to do these things all the time – just change them when you are focussing on the problem you have at hand or change them occasionally to help you gradually shift your perspective.

Sudden understandings require a clear mind – meditate


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One of the best ways to make your mind more “likely” to have a breaktrhough is by keeping it clear, healthy and well trained. The best way to do this is to meditate.

Meditation clears your head of a lot of thoughts and makes you more disciplined and open. When you have a lot of space in your head you are more receptive to certain ideas and new ideas seem to flow more easily.

It doesn’t matter what meditation you do the yogis and scientists all agree – it is good for your intelligence, creativity and your brain health. Perhaps try some simple breathing meditation. This will help you get out of the habit of “normal thinking” and put you in a frame of mind where eureka moments are more likely to occur.

Sudden understandings require patience

The last thing I want to talk about is the art of being patient. Every great idea in history was a result of weeks, months or years of work. If these people weren’t patient they would never have had their history altering moments. Like them, we need to be patient. Without patience our great potential will not have a chance to manifest – give yourself time!

Have you ever had a eureka moment?

7 thoughts on “Eureka! How to Have Eureka Moments Like Archimedes

  1. this is possibly the best post you’ve written here all year! it really got me thinking and got me inspired to go back to a few old art pieces that i have been working on…. patience right?

    ;0)

    Adrianne

  2. Since I started going to the gym I have noticed that my mind is a lot more creative and spontaneous at work. I think it might have something to do with the chemicals that my body releases and it makes me feel really good. I also think that exercise is kind of a meditation… it gets me nice and clear. Anyway really good article. Thanks.

  3. Wonderful article. I never thought of relaxation, openness, and meditation to be the possible causes of a eureka moment. Look at Buddha for instance! He meditated for 40 days under the Bodhi tree and had one of the most well known Eureka moments.

  4. I think you’ve created a simple formula here that really works. In effect: 1) Study 2) Stop 3)Wait. I agree that preparation is key. Also, I’d recommend clearly stating the problem is an important step. That preps your mind to think as you relax.

  5. Adrianne – great stuff! Good luck!

    Zack – you’re right about the Buddha. I’ve been to the bodhi tree a few times and you can really sense the power of what occurred there.

    Sara – Nice one. I hadn’t thought of that but it sounds like a really essential step.

    Thanks for the comments guys – love em.

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