AHA! – Eureka, Insight, and Epiphany



The experience of creative “breakthrough”





(jouissance, a term suggesting ecstatic timelessness)


Mais qu’importe l’éternité de la damnation à qui a trouvé dans une seconde l’infini de la jouissance?


(What matters an eternity of damnation to someone who has found in one second the infinity of joy?)

– from Baudelaire’s poem “Le Mauvais Vitrier,” (The Bad Glazier) (from Phil Cousineau’s The Painted Word)


Brain science suggests that the perception of the convergence of separate strands of information that bear on a specific problem you are motivated to solve is intrinsically pleasurable–the joy (even the jouissance) of  INFOVORY satisfied ) (from A&O notes on CREATIVITY)


Insight, the intuitive apprehension of a aspects of a phenomenon that are deeper than mere outward appearance, often occurs suddenly in association with the sense of resolution of a stress-evoking problem or concern: ambiguity, a reinterpretation of data informing efforts to solve a problem, or even a joke.  It may appear suddenly in consciousness, but likely has an extensive background of non-conscious concern. 

Studies that have used electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) indicate that even apparently sudden insight “is the culmination of a series of brain states and processes operating at different time scales.” (Kounios & Beeman (2009). The Aha! Moment: The cognitive neuroscience of insight. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01638.x )


The sudden awareness of a highly valued new thought—say the solution to a troubling problem—is frequently deeply emotional.

This represents an extraordinary expression of rational and emotional elements closely intertwined.  It is a unique situation and we might expect that the experience represents unique activities within the brain—activities we have undertaken to understand ever since techniques became available to indicate what underlying physiological processes are in play.

A candidate site in the brain for integrating or coordinating activation leading to this experience identified by as Salvi (et al. 2020) is the right anterior temporal lobe, in part because of its possible involvement in semantic integration and previous evidence using fMRI and EEG that indicates a correlation between activation at this site with the experience of insight.  In their new investigation, they wanted to see if “focal sub-threshold neuromodulation to the rATL facilitates insight problem-solving. In three different groups, using a within- and between-subjects design, we tested the causal role of this brain region in problem-solving, by applying High Definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation to the rATL (active and sham condition) or the left frontopolar region while participants attempted to solve Compound Remote Associates problems before, during and after stimulation. Participants solved a higher percentage of problems, overall, and specifically by insight when they received rATL stimulation, compared to pre-stimulation, and compared to sham and left frontopolar stimulation. These results confirm the crucial role played by the rATL in insight problem-solving.”



TDCS to the Right Anterior Temporal Lobe Facilitates Insight Problem-Solving. Carola Salvi Mark BeemanMarom BiksonRichard McKinleyJordan Grafman (2020) Scientific Reports 2020 Jan 22;10(1):946.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31969588/