Have you ever given much thought to the story about the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes and the problem of precisely measuring the volume of irregularly shaped objects? Supposedly he had an epiphany when he sat in a tub at a public bath. Supposedly, at the moment he figured out the problem, he yelled out, “Eureka!”

There are a few problems with the old tale but the etymology of Eureka is not one of them. It is from he Ancient Greek word εὕρηκα (heúrēka), meaning “I found (it)”.

One of the beauties of the relationship of Archimedes’ supposed exclamation and the State of California in that the word was called out in relation to the element, gold. “Eureka” found its way onto the state Seal of California and is also the name of a city in the same state.

Do people experiencing an eureka moment actually exclaim “Eureka”? I don’t know of any public opinion polls taken on the subject. It might be interesting to etymologists and people who love trivia to know this. Thinking back to some of my own epiphanies, I probably exclaimed, “wow!” or “Holy Cow!” my default expressions of surprise. If I ever said, “Eureka!” it was probably done well after an actual event.

Personally, those amazing moments when I accurately flash on the solution to a problem are rare. What usually happens is the internal emotions of excitement and a buzzing in the head come together at the moment that I realize my glorious hunch is terribly wrong. Is this an anti-eureka moment?

The mundane thing about attaining a eureka moment is that it usually happens after the drudgery of trial and error or a lengthy time of using the scientific method. The mind goes through some sort of steady, unseen formula towards understanding. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, one sees a familiar thing or concept in an entirely novel way.

A couple of months ago, I had a minor aha moment. I had been baking a mini pizza in the toaster oven. There is always the problem of holding a hot toaster-oven size baking tray in place while loosening the prepared pizza. Cloth potholders are inconvenient because cheese or sauce can get on them while struggling with the little pan.

Then, I asked myself what might work to securely hold the pan while I scrape the pizza from the pan. In a moment, the image of my electrician’s pliers popped up, almost as a vision. The idea worked elegantly. Not only can the pan be held safely and securely while scraping the pizza from the pan, but the pliers can grasp the edge of the little pan to remove it from the toaster oven when the pizza is finished baking. I don’t remember if I said “eureka” or anything else at the time of the discovery.

Have you ever noticed that your own eureka moments don’t occur in the heat of worrying about problems? They usually happen while taking a walk, taking a shower, or driving your car. That’s why it’s smart to always have a small pad and pencil close at hand.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a saying from Isaac Asimov. “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny…'”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, Meanderings, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Eureka!

  1. Doug says:

    I wonder if Tesla or Einstein ever used the word eureka when they had a brilliant thought.
    Nice pic of “A-Ha”. Hot guys, good music.

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