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Perchance to Dream


Perchance to Dream

by Kenneth Lyen

Have you ever been stumped by an unusually tough problem, your mind blank, and no solution in sight? It happens to me a lot.

Here’s what I do. I go to sleep. I kid you not. But before going to bed, I make sure I’ve spent a reasonably long period of time fully immersed in the problem, reading up everything I can about it, and stuffing myself with information until I’m at bursting point. I try very hard to solve the problem when compos mentis. If I fail, I sleep on it. Literally zzzzz.

In the middle of the night I might be rudely awakened by the answer trying to break free from my subconscious. Sometimes when wafting in that twilight zone of half wake half sleep, the solution bursts unceremoniously into my hebetudinous mind. Occasionally, I might be taking a stroll, having a shower, chatting with friends, or sitting on my throne performing royal duties, when quite out of the blue, a bolt of lightning strikes.

The common denominator is that when the solution comes, it comes. It almost always arrives unexpectedly, without warning, like a terrorist. And often when I am most relaxed, not thinking any thoughts, non compos mentis. Fortunately I don’t take long baths, so I don’t have Eureka moments where I leap out of the tub and run down the streets naked.

Archimedes (287-212 BC) had just gotten into his bath which had too much water because it overflowed, when a small region in the right hemisphere at the anterior superior temporal gyrus lit up with electrical activity. He suddenly realised that water displacement could be used to work out the volume and density of the king's crown. Archimedes shouted "Eureka" (I have found it), and forgetting all sense of decorum, ran home naked, whereupon his wife gave him an earful.

Psychology professor Richard Wiseman found that 89% of people obtained their top ideas outside the office. Most when in a relaxed state of mind, such as waking up from sleep. Wiseman, said: "These new results illustrate how our minds are often most creative when we relax and take time away from everyday pressures... In our dreams we produce unusual combinations of ideas that can seem surreal, but every once in a while result in an amazingly creative solution to an important problem". He pointed out that his ressearch showed the relative ease with which ideas are produced, but suggested that bosses should alter the employees’ working habits to aid creativity.

I would second that! "Boss, let me sleep on the problem a bit longer!"