Eureka Forum Full of ‘Aha’ Moments
Center for Values Event Explores Flashes of Insight and Unexpected Discoveries
Apr. 26, 2010
To conclude the “Incite Your Curiosity: Creativity in the Age of Technology” lecture series, The Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology hosted a Eureka Forum to discuss the moments of sudden insight that are a defining but mysterious aspect of human thought.
Panelists at the April 22 event were invited to share their moments of insight that led to discovery.
The guests included Dr. John Pawelek, Yale School of Medicine; and University of Texas at Dallas faculty members Dr. Susan Jerger, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences; Dr. David Channell, School of Arts and Humanities; Dr. Wolfgang Rindler, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Robert Xavier Rodríguez, composer and conductor in the School of Arts and Humanities; and Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities.
Dr. Channell began with a history of “eureka” moments, from Archimedes' allegedly discovering how to measure volume and density in the bath, to Isaac Newton discovering gravity, to Charles Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest.
Some commonalities existed in each. The moment happened when the subject was not actively engaged in problem-solving, but was actively engaged in some other activity. The discovery also was typically something that had been there all along but was suddenly seen in a new way. Channell quoted Louis Pasteur, who himself had many “eureka” moments: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
As each panelist described his or her own “eureka” moment, the same commonalities shone through. Dr. Pawelek, a cancer researcher at Yale, said, “I made a connection between two dissimilar fields, and said, ‘That’s it!’” He added drawing that connection gave him a confidence in his discovery, without which he would not have been motivated or encouraged to press onward.
Dr. Jerger, who for 25 consecutive years has received grants from the National Institutes of Health to support her studies of speech processing and childhood hearing impairment, focused on the skills involved in “eureka” moments, such as research, problem solving, and creativity. She stressed that “it’s not just getting an idea – it’s getting an idea and carrying it to fruition; finding new ways to capitalize on chance.”
Dean Kratz’s “aha” moment occurred at an IHOP restaurant, having a conversation about an entirely different topic with his wife. His discovery had an opposite effect than Pawelek’s – it made him realize he had been wrong and had to refute his entire dissertation – but it was nonetheless a “eureka” moment.
Kratz concluded, “Humanity is full of eureka moments, and will continue to be, as evolution is inevitably linked to such discoveries.”