CChanging our idea light bulbs

Eureka or Serendipity?

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Serendipity.   How trained minds recognize that something is different and, in so doing, solve a problem.  Yes, I know that is not the definition you will find in a dictionary, which claims it means:   the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.  Except the concept of serendipity universally occurs in science and technology, and my definition describes how it happens.

As opposed to what we see on TV or in the movies.  More developments have reached the light of day after years of experimentation, as opposed to a  “Eureka” moment.   (NOTE:  They do so occur, but insights don’t generally occur in a single, final, complete thought.) Moreover, most new developments don’t involve a single person toiling away in a laboratory.  Our product/process development involves teams.  And, those teams of folks are building on the innovations that have been previously developed.

CChanging our idea light bulbs

But, as I said, some folks do manage to achieve “eureka” solutions.  And, the data indicates that these folks right temporal lobes manifest a burst of high-frequency activity when it does so occur. And, that flurry follows a brief “brain reset”, a period of time where we lose ourselves, not cluing into what’s happening around us.

The question is- can such periods of intense insight can be cultivated?   In our case (and I’ve described them as)- “multiple bottle of wine” moments.  The setting point seems to be when we are positive, when we are relaxed.  (When we are stressed, our cognitive function tends to be overly analytical, the state where we critique ideas,  where we do not develop new ones.)  And, we need to have a fair amount of knowledge about the subject matter (or a related one)- so we can determine there are new connections about things we already understand.

It’s why sometimes it’s useful to switch our activities to do something different.  This reduces the stress on our brains, and affords the less critical portions of the brain to notice associations that seconds before completely eluded us.

But, that’s also serendipity.  We’ve trained our minds and accumulated knowledge.  And, then when we are performing something else, involved in less stressful situations, that Eureka moment strikes.  Based on knowledge and facts that were already loaded into our brain- it’s the association that’s different.

But, sometimes it’s an experimental conclusion that comes out of the blue.  Stookey’s recognition that he created Pyrex.  My development of Bicarbolyte dialysate.  Rhee’s  and Min’s recognition that cancer may be surmounted by infecting folks with Salmonella. Bertochini observing an anomaly that can be used to solve our plastic bag waste mess.

But, without knowing the expected results, observing those anomalies would have been lost on them.

Or, as one pithy commentator propounds…

Many people watched the apple fall.   Only Newton asked why.

Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A.

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