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Eureka is an exclamation used as an interjection to celebrate a discovery. It comes from the Ancient Greek Εὕρηκα/Ηὕρηκα - Heurēka/Hēurēka meaning approximately "I have found it". Fascinatingly this word is historically related to the word heuristics.

This exclamation is most famously attributed to the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes; he reportedly proclaimed "Eureka!" when he stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose — he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. Since the day Archimedes leapt from his bathtub and ran naked through the streets of ancient Syracuse shouting "Eureka!" the history of science has been punctuated by moments of true insight and discovery.

This word has become synonymous with a sudden flash of insight or spontaneous burst of instant cognition that seems to come down from above. There are several scientific innovations that are said to have manifested with a brilliant flash of insight.

Once such popular example is the Benzene Ring.

For some seven years, Kekule faced the problem of benzene and tried to puzzle out how a chain of six carbon atoms could be completely satisfied with as few as six hydrogen atoms in benzene and yet be left unsatisfied with twelve hydrogen atoms in hexene.

Nothing came to him!

And then one day in 1865 (he tells the story himself) he was in Ghent, Belgium, and in order to get to some destination, he boarded a public bus. He was tired and, undoubtedly, the droning beat of the horses' hooves on the cobblestones, lulled him. He fell into a comatose half sleep.

In that sleep, he seemed to see a vision of atoms attaching themselves to each other in chains that moved about. (Why not? It was the sort of thing that constantly occupied his waking thoughts.) But then one chain twisted in such a way that head and tail joined, forming a ring and Kekule woke with a start. To himself, he must surely have shouted "Eureka," for indeed he had it. The six carbon atoms of benzene formed a ring and not a chain

One of the subtleties behind the Eureka phenomenon is that it reveal itself as a sudden flash of insight to a difficult problem, but usually only after the problem is forgotten and the brain is occupied with other things such as:

1. Sleep

2. Play

3. Cleaning out your office, desk or garage. (What David Allen calls clearing your decks).

4. Meditation and/or Prayer

5. Lovemaking and/or Romance

As you can see, the quality of distraction is the essence of letting go of the problem.

Here is one man's description of a Eureka moment:

"When I was working on my doctoral dissertation, too many years ago, I suddenly came across a flaw in my logic that I had not noticed before and that knocked out everything I had done. In utter panic, I made my way to a Bob Hope movie and came out with the necessary change in point of view."

This phenomenon is based on the fact that your brain is always working to solve a problem, even when you think it is not . . . and when you (let go of the problem) stop using the neuropathways that are consciously contracting around the problem, you are able to engage other neuropathways that were dormant because you were "trying too hard."

The best way to create the conditions for a major Eureka moment is to stop trying so hard!

A Theme Zoom recommended book on the many scientific innovations that were inspired by Eureka moments is called Eureka!: Scientific Breakthroughs that Changed the World.

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