Eureka Moments IV


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The Muses, I trust will pardon me, that to them I do not feel myself obliged--for, in justice to their heavenly inspirations, I believe they have never yet favoured me with one visitation; but sent in their disguise necessity, who, being the mother of Invention, gave me all mine-- while fortune kindly smiled, and was accessory to the cheat.

Elizabeth Inchbald, A Simple Story*

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Hunches, or inspirations, come to me often when I have thought about a problem for years and then have suddenly found the answer. This is because I train my subconscious mind to retain and ponder problems. Whenever a new idea enters my head, my subconscious mind asks whether it is related to any of the long-standing problems stored there. If there is a connection, the new material is brought to the attention of my conscious mind. This way of thinking is not unique with me. . . . Investigators in the field of inspirations, or hunches, have suggested that a person who commands several branches of knowledge transfers something that is well known in one area into other areas. The act of transferal constitutes an inspiration. . . .

The scientist, if he is to be more than a plodding gatherer of bits of information, needs to exercise an active imagination. The scientists of the past whom we now recognize as great are those who were gifted with transcendental imaginative powers, and the part played by the imaginative faculty in his daily life is at least as important for the scientist as it is for the worker in any other field--much more important than for most.

Linus Pauling, from Linus Pauling in His Own Words

Isadora Duncan’s legacy was not so much in her often-repeated theory of dance as in her insistence on the freedom to dance, and her unforgettable demonstration of what that meant. Don’t be merely graceful, she declared. Unless your dancing springs from an inner emotion and expresses an idea, it will be meaningless.

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators

I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered -- it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it looks like a dodo. It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do.

Adam, Extracts from Adam’s Diary, by Mark Twain

By the time of her death, on 11 February 1963, Sylvia Plath had written a large bulk of poetry. To my knowledge, she never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity.

Ted Hughes, from the introduction to Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.

Albert Einstein, from The World As I See It, originally published in Forum and Century, 1931

[ This carbon atom] is again among us, in a glass of milk. It is inserted in a very complex, long chain, yet such that almost all of its links are acceptable to the human body. It is swallowed; and since every living structure harbors a savage distrust toward every contribution of any material of living origin, the chain is meticulously broken apart and the fragments, one by one, are accepted or rejected. One, the one that concerns us, crosses the intestinal threshold and enters the bloodstream: it migrates, knocks at the door of a nerve cell, enters, and supplants the carbon which was part of it. This cell belongs to a brain, and it is my brain, the brain of the me who is writing; and the cell in question, and within it the atom in question, is in charge of my writing, in a gigantic minuscule game which nobody has yet described. It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.

Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

*For full references, please see Further Reading, page 118.

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