Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Aha" Moments Caught on "Tape"

An excellent article in the Wall Street Journal by Robert Lee Hotz reports on research that has "caught on tape" the moment of insight that comes to us in a daydreaming state of mind. “…EEG recordings revealed a distinctive flash of gamma waves emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere…..one-third of a second before a volunteer experienced their conscious moment of insight,” writes Hotz.

What’s more, the moment of insight was associated with a change in alpha brain waves in the visual cortex, which also jibes with what researchers know about the daydreaming state. The brain enters an alpha wave state while daydreaming, which is a more relaxed state of mind, and when daydreaming we can envision things, in other words, we can see with the mind’s eye. According to the researchers, these calming changes brought to us via our daydreaming state of mind helps to “quiet the noise” so that we can experience the answer or connection.

What’s weird, according to the researchers, is that the moment of insight seems to happen before we’re even consciously aware of it. That’s why the answer seems to come out of nowhere, but actually, we’re accessing stores of knowledge, memory, and experience unavailable to us when we’re focusing/struggling/concentrating. And thus—the supreme value of the daydreaming state of mind.

We owe a great debt to psychologists who started the research on daydreaming but it appears that the neuroscientists are taking us to the next level when it comes to understanding the mechanics of daydreams.

What's your experience with "aha" moments?


  1. Sometimes an "aha" moment is like a sneeze that gets stuck. You can feel an idea is there, but you can't really get it. I always think if you can't remember something you should stop thinking about it. I definitely believe the theory that it is better to walk away, sleep on it, and return the next day. Sometimes while driving in the car I'll blurt out something totally random. The train of thought occurs in my head but I'm not even aware of it. The thought appears as if from no where.

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  3. My aha moments are usually in the shower. It does seem to come out of nowhere. I usually have soap in my hair and want to write it down and can't get to it.