Brilliance Often Springs from Boredom

Posted on September 12, 2014

Photo: flickr

Every so often, we face a job we dread because it seems exceedingly dull. As a child, I felt that way about household chores- scrubbing a toilet, sweeping a floor, wiping a countertop, weeding. I remember one day my grandmother was visiting and announced that she would sweep the floor for me, because she liked sweeping. What?

She explained something about the little piles that I really tried to appreciate - because I wanted to like sweeping too - but alas, could not. Recently, however, I've been given a new reason to like sweeping, and other somewhat tiresome tasks. It is not because the tasks themselves can be made more intellectually invigorating, but because they generally cannot. When the mind is not fully engaged, it can wander - and that's often when insights arrive.

Two respondents, both working on a master’s thesis at the time, appeared to get their Eureka moments while sleeping; at least they arrived upon a sudden awakening in the middle of the night. From Erik Hanitzsch: "This goes back to 1966…One of my homeworks required a simple [computer] program. However the darn thing would not compile. It simply refused. Three a.m., I was sound asleep, woke up, started to get myself dressed. My wife asked me what I was doing. 'I found it!! I have to go to the West Engineering Building, start the computer and make the correction.' 'Oh honey! Don't be silly. Go back to sleep.' 'No! I have to do it now, otherwise I'll forget it!' And off I went, corrected the error; it compiled and 'Hurrah' now I can go back to sleep."

Source material from Scientific American

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