Famous Eureka Moments

The falling apple has caused physicist Isaac Newton to formulate his laws of gravity. Archimedes took a bath and figured out how to calculate volume and density.

Anna Marie Roos, a historian of science, advises us to take these eureka moments with a grain of salt. However, she thinks they give insight into the creative process.

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How 'Eureka' Moments in Science Happen

nationalgeographic.com

Narratives of scientific discovery get polished after the fact.

  • Newton was an old man when he told his friend, William Stukeley, that his thinking on the nature of gravity "was occasioned by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood." The adage of "the apple fell on his head" came with time, but is not historically correct.
  • Archimedes did have a eureka moment while he lowered himself in the bath, but the part that he streaked across Syracuse is probably not true.

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Eureka stories happen when decades of work get compressed into one inspirational moment.

The stories of Newton and Archimedes point to the need to quiet the mind and be contemplative. The falling apple and gravity, and overflowing bathtub and specific gravity show us that creativity needs space. Creative ideas often occur when scientists allow themselves to play.

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