The Science of Eureka - nCenter

The Science of Eureka

The Science of Eureka


Somewhere, deep in a research laboratory, amongst the noise of bubbling beakers, humming machines, and the whir of a lab rat running on his wheel, a caffeine fueled scientist shouts the famous exclamation. Something has just clicked, the data has relinquished the answers, his neurons have fired, and suddenly, in a moment of clarity it all makes sense.


So, maybe that is a little dramatic, maybe wild haired scientists shouting “Eureka” only exist in movies.  But we’ve likely all had that feeling of a eureka moment, that sudden feeling where something clicks in your brain, like the switch has suddenly flipped, and all the lights go on.  For me, eureka moments feel almost physical. Like the moment you plug in the Christmas tree, after hours of untangling cords and replacing bulbs, and suddenly you are being bathed in light. In a flash, confusion is transformed into understanding.

The word itself is derived from ancient greek for “I found it” and is attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes.  Who, according to legend, shouted “Eureka” running through the streets after he had had a particularly enlightening moment and suddenly understood the concept of density and displacement.

And, according to science, it is real–these famous “Eureka Moments”.

They are also called “Aha! Moments” or “Creative Insights”, and they are classified by a sudden sense of clarity on a previously incomprehensible problem.  When a problem is solved with the aid of a “Eureka Moment” it increases the ability for the answer to be recalled later and the length of time that the answer is remembered.  These moments have been studied with the aid of electroencephalographs (EEGs), the same technology used to create brain maps at the nCenter. EEGs show a “flash of insight” when an individual has an “Aha! Moment”.  However, like many phenomenons of the brain, the exact physiology is yet to be fully understood.

Brain scans and EEGs link “Eureka Moments” to a sudden moment of powerful comprehension, indicated by a spike in gamma activity. The formation of new neuronal pathways within the brain has been linked to burst of gamma waves, and many scientist theorize this is the physiology behind “Eureka Moments”.  The feeling of sudden clarity and connection comes from a physical neuronal pathway being laid down in our brain. This sense of clarity, as quick as a snap of your fingers, is caused by the formation of a new synapse. Remarkably, just prior to this burst of gamma activity, there is a high concentration of alpha activity over the visual processing center of the brain.  It has been theorized that directly before a burst of creative insight the brain attempts to reduce any distraction that may be caused by visual input.

Ironically, despite decades of research, we are only just beginning to understand what is occurring in our brains during these famous “Aha! Moments”.  You might even say scientists are anxiously awaiting to have the “Eureka Moment” to understand “Eureka Moments”.


Blog By: Katlian Afton

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