The June 19, 2009, Wall Street Journal had a good article on the scientific study of the “flash of insight” of the creative moment: A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight: Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain’s Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming, by Robert Lee Hotz. Hotz describes how researchers have recorded brain wave patterns and used MRI scans of brains to capture and analyze the “Eureka moment.” A couple items:
- Flash of insight moments often materialize unexpectedly “through an unconscious shift in mental perspective that can abruptly alter how we perceive a problem.”
- Researchers have found that sudden insights “are the culmination of an intense and complex series of brain states that require more neural resources than methodical reasoning.”
- It seems that our brains may be the most active when our minds are wandering, when we’re just daydreaming, and we’ll spend maybe around a third of our day daydreaming.
- Daydreaming may be a more creative state than an active, focused, and methodical reasoning state as the unfocused mind may more readily allow new ideas and different, unexpected associations between ideas.
- EEG recordings show a distinctive burst of gamma waves from the right hemisphere of the brain one-third of a second before a person consciously experienced their moment of insight.
- No one really knows why problems sometimes trigger an insight or what makes one person more inclined to one and someone else not, but a prepared mind does favor flashes on insight.
- People in a positive mood were more likely to experience a flash of insight.
The importance of daydreaming was also written about in a book I’ve referenced before in podcast episodes, The Creative Spirit, by Daniel Goleman, Paul Kaufman, and Michael Ray, in the section titled “Perchance to Daydream.” They wrote that daydreaming and relaxation is useful in the creative process, but it can be hard to get away from other people trying to control your attention, either at school, work, or even just watching television. It’s important to get away from the noise, turn off the TV or radio, relax without interference, and just let your mind wander.