When you keep a written historical record of your ideas and problems, you initiate a thinking process and make possible a phenomenon that George Mandler, a leading researcher in the problems of the consciousness, calls mind popping. Mind popping is when a solution or idea seems to appear after a period of incubation out of nowhere.
The act of recording your thoughts and ideas about a particular problem plants the information into your long-term memory and also into your unconscious. While consciousness plays the important role in our daily lives of restricting the boundaries of our actions, in the unconscious, we can activate complexes of information without boundary. Information held in long-term memory can be processed in parallel in the unconscious and find its way into conscious thought. An innovative idea emerges not in any real-time sequence but in a mind popping explosion of thought. This is characteristic of analog processes.
Suppose you follow my past post suggestion about the importance of keeping a written record or journal of all your ideas. Now you have a new idea, so you record as much information as you have about it. By periodically reviewing your notebook, you activate all the recorded information in your conscious and subconscious mind. You have now set up a mental system of network thinking where ideas, images, and concepts from completely unrelated problems combine to catalyze the nascent moment of creativity. This necessarily nonlinear thought process can occur unconsciously, and not necessarily in real time.
The more problems, ideas and thoughts that you record and review from time to time, the more complex becomes the network of information in your mind. Think of thoughts as atoms hanging by hooks on the sides of your mind. When you think about a subject, some of these thoughts become loose and put into motion in your subconscious mind. The more work you put into thinking about a problem and the more information you put into your long-term memory by systematically recording them, the more thoughts are put into random motion. Your subconscious mind never rests. When you quit thinking about the subject and decide to forget it, your subconscious mind doesn’t quit working. The thoughts keep flashing freely in every direction through your subconscious. They are colliding, combining and recombining millions of times. Typically, many combinations are of little or no value, but occasionally, a combination is made that is appreciated by your subconscious as a good combination and delivered up to the conscious mind as a mind popping idea.
Archimedes got his sudden insight about the principle of displacement while daydreaming in his bath. According to legend, he was so excited by his discovery that he rushed naked through the streets shouting, Eureka! Henri Poincare, the French genius, spoke of incredible ideas and insights that came to him with suddenness and immediate certainty out of the blue. So dramatic are the ideas that arrive that the precise moment in which the idea arrived can be remembered in unusual detail. Darwin could point to the exact spot on a road where he arrived at the solution for the origin of species while riding in his carriage and not thinking about his subject. Other geniuses offer similar experiences. Like a sudden flash of lightning, ideas and solutions seemingly appear out of nowhere.
Recording your creative work plants the information in your subconscious mind and somehow activates relevant patterns so it can be processed into a mind popping solution, even after a long delay during which the problem is abandoned. In the 1970s, Frank Wilczek of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., deduced how the nuclei of atoms stay together, one of those rare knowing the mind of God discoveries. His breakthrough occurred when he was reviewing a totally different problem, in fact, a completely different force of nature. When suddenly he experienced a mind pop and realized that a failed approach in one area would be successful in another.
That this is a commonplace phenomenon was shown in a survey of distinguished scientists conducted over a half-century ago. A majority of the scientists reported that they got their best ideas and insights when not thinking about the problem. Ideas came while walking, recreating, or working on some other unrelated problem. This suggests how the creative act came to be associated with divine inspiration for the illumination appears to be involuntary.
Our conscious minds are sometimes blocked from creating new ideas because we are too fixated. When we discontinue work on the problem for a period of time, our fixation fades, allowing our subconscious minds to freely create new possibilities. This is what happened to Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin. While idly sitting in his car waiting for his wife to complete an errand, he found the answer to a puzzling inconsistency in his research on photosynthesis. It occurred just like that quite suddenly in a matter of seconds, the path of carbon became apparent to him.
To experience mind popping, try the following experiment. Write a letter to your subconscious about a problem you have been working on. Make the letter as detailed as possible. Describe the problem, what steps you have taken, the gaps, what is needed, what the obstacles are, the ideal solution and so on. Instruct your subconscious to find the solution. Write “Your mission is to find the solution to the problem. I would like the solution in two days.” Seal the letter and put it away. Forget it. Open the letter in two days. If the problem still has not been solved, write on the bottom of the letter “Let me know the minute you solve this.” Sooner or later, when you are most relaxed and removed, ideas and solutions will pop up from your subconscious.
Your mind also works when you are sleeping. The reason most creative people give for their morning work schedule was expressed by Balzac, the great French novelist, who said he wanted to take advantage of the fact that his brain works while he sleeps. Once asked where he found his melodies, Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the giants of musical history, said that the problem is not finding them, it is getting up in the morning and not stepping on them. Thomas Edison sometimes slept on a table in his laboratory so that he could start work as soon as he woke up and not forget anything.
Try this exercise before you go to sleep. Take a few minutes and review a problem that you are stuck about. Write down the key words on a sheet of paper and put the paper on your bed stand. Forget the problem and go to sleep. When you wake up, look at the paper. You will probably think of new insights, see the problem more clearly and may get a mind popping idea.
There is, in the universe, a vast order. It never forsakes you. I throw a coin into the air, and it returns and hits the floor every time. Because there is a vast order, all things can be separated and understood. Observe that when NASA sends up four rockets one-half second apart, thereafter images are approximately simultaneous. So, we say that we see four rockets at the same time. This is the illusion of simultaneity. In the order of things, we attempt to comprehend spontaneously those things which are not simultaneous.
In the same way, we think of a creative genius as a mysterious person who spontaneously creates ideas out of the blue. This is not so. Creative geniuses think fluently and flexibly. Fluent thinking means to generate quantities of ideas and flexible thinking means to think beyond the ordinary and conventional nature of things. Geniuses are fluent thinkers because of the following practices. They:
Defer judgement when looking for ideas.
Generate as many ideas as possible. Accept all ideas.
List their ideas as they occur and keep a written record.
Constantly review, elaborate or improve their written records. This allows their subconscious minds to continually incubate and generate new ideas.