Great ideas often develop gradually after studying a problem at length--but not always. Sometimes an insight hits like a bolt from the blue. For Archimedes clarity struck while he was taking a bath. For Gustav Mahler it came as the blades of his oars touched the water. And for Albert Einstein it emerged while he was talking to a friend. Why do these moments of insight strike so suddenly? Why do they so often come to us when we are focused on something completely unrelated? And when great ideas "come to" us, from where do they come? In Aha!: The Moments of Insight That Shape Our World, philosopher William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life and On Desire, explores these epiphanies, from the minor insights that strike us all daily to the major realizations that alter the course of history. Focusing on aha moments as they take place in five different domains--religion, morality, science, math, and art --Irvine provides case studies that shed light on the different ways epiphanies happen in the different domains and on their differing social impacts. Along the way he describes some of the great aha moments in history, from ancient times to the present day.
We like to think that our greatest thoughts are the products of our conscious mind. Irvine demonstrates, though, that it is our unconscious mind that is the source of our most significant insights, and the role the conscious mind plays in eliciting these insights is to try, unsuccessfully, to solve certain problems. Only if the conscious mind is willing to do this--and thereby experience considerable frustration--is the unconscious mind likely to reward it with a breakthrough insight--for which the conscious mind will then take credit.
Irvine explores not only the neuroscience of aha moments but also their personal and social ramifications. How does a person respond to having a breakthrough insight that goes against a dominant paradigm? And how does the world respond when she shares that insight? Irvine shows that in many cases, what is most remarkable about those who have had the great insights of human history is their courage and perseverance in fighting for the world to accept those insights.
Aha! is a must-read for cognitive scientists, intellectual historians, philosophers, and anyone who has ever been blown away by the ideas that enlighten us when we least expect it.
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- Tonya Cornileus
Not for the Casually Curious
If you are mildly curious about Aha! Moments, this book will overwhelm you. It is a thorough and heavily researched explanation of the phenomenon. I tried to stick with it because there was so much to learn and even some practical examples. However, I found myself skipping or speeding through some chapters because they contained more than I needed. What I do know for sure is that if I need to know more about Aha moments, I know where to turn. I loved the breakdown of Aha moments by area (e.g., moral, science, math, arts, etc). I recommend this book if you’re interested in studying Aha moments. If not, you may not find this book very accessible beyond the initial chapters.