The Aha! Moment

We have all experienced the great moments of clarity, when suddenly everything makes sense. Your heart starts beating faster, a smile creeps up on your face and you gain real wisdom – wisdom that changes your perception of the world. Some call this feeling the Eureka Effect based on a story of Archimedes jumping out of a public bathroom and shouting Eureka! as he realized how to solve a difficult problem he was facing. I prefer to call this experience the Aha! Moment based on the German Aha-Erlebnis as I am not an ancient Greek philosopher and I certainly do not like public bathrooms.


You do not only encounter these moments when finally solving coding challenges, but when hearing jokes also. Have you ever heard a joke that did not seem funny at first? And right the second silence fell on the room, your brain finally made a click, you realized why the cute girl on the other side of the table was laughing so hysterically and you start laughing too. Just like… 3 seconds too late. It maybe does not happen to you, but it surely does happen to me and the wave of emotional satisfaction feels exactly the same like solving a hard coding problem.

These Aha! moments occur when your brain redistributes and reanalyzes the available information to forms a novel conclusion. The region of the brain responsible for this change is the hippocampus, widely know for its role in the formation of long- and short-term memory as well as spatial navigation.

Theoretically, “insight” means the reorientation of one’s thinking, including breaking of the unwarranted “fixation” and forming of novel, task-related associations among the old nodes of concepts or cognitive skills. Processes closely related to these aspects have been implicated in the hippocampus.

In their fMRI study Jing Luo & Kazuhisa Niki (abstract cited above) fabricated these experiences on a study group using Japanese riddles. As far as the riddles go I do understand that there are concepts that can not move a nail, but.. I do not feel any smarter after reading that the answer to the riddle is a river. I would not be a good study candidate. (I do love participating in brain imagining studies though and whenever I get the opportunity I participate gladly). What we should learn from that research (jokes aside) is that whenever you experience a Aha! moment, your brain just integrated new information into your memory and somehow connected it to whatever already was in there. That is important. That is why we all push our boundaries and challenge ourselves with previously unseen programming tasks. To force ourselves to be better, smarter and more versatile thinkers. Because after your hippocampus formed new connections, you will later discover them again and again, when you need them most.


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