Encouraging flashes of brilliance

(Or even just simple, everyday brilliance)

I have these flashes where I just understand how everything works. And then I don’t.

For instance, one year one of my cousins got a little puzzle that was kind of a wheel where you had to match a number on one side with a number on the other side and one in the middle. She and my other cousins messed the thing up real good, so it was messed up when I saw it, but I instantly saw how it should go and I put it together. It turned out that everybody–my cousins, my aunts, my uncles–had been trying all day to put the thing together and so I was considered brilliant, and my feat reported to all and sundry. I even explained how I’d done it. Months–maybe a year, I don’t remember–later, this feat of brilliance was conveyed to some new friends of my cousins, and the object in question brought out for me to display how I’d solved it, and I couldn’t.

But it wasn’t an accident. I really saw how the thing went, and did it over and over that day.

Some years later, at a friend’s house for dinner, I picked up her Rubik’s Cube, which was also good and messed up. I knew about them but had never seen one. I played with it for about three hours and then suddenly figured it out. I didn’t know what I was doing at first, but I twisted it here and there and worked it, again impressing the multitudes. Somebody messed it up, I solved it again, quicker (although really none too quick, considering that people can work them in seconds, although I think nobody was doing so then. Took me about 20 minutes the second time.) I have never been able to repeat this feat, although I can work them quite reliably I have to follow a strict plan after the first layer, and sometimes the corners give me a hard time at the end. You would think I’ve gotten better, but no.

Just recently my kid got a new puzzle. It’s eight cubes, with a colored dot on each side, and the trick is to put them together so that each side has one color, and the sides that are together but not showing also match colors. I very systematically put it back together once. He took it apart again, and then he put it together once. We both thought we had a system.

Now, neither one of us can work it.

These are just puzzle examples. There are other examples, notably, this used to happen to me all the time in math. I would know exactly what I was doing, see the problem and solution clearly, and then it would just sort of disappear.

Newness seems to help. When the soduku things first came out I filled them in quite confidently, then I lost interest, then I was trying to show my kid how to do it and hey, couldn’t do it at all.

So did I eat stupid food for breakfst or what? What can I (or anyone) do to encourage brilliance? Why does my brain just stop working? I feel like Algernon.

Spend more time with these things, and eat plenty of carbohydrates, and exercise, and find things that interest you so that you spend lots of your otherwise idle time (eg driving) rolling the ideas around in your head.

I think this is probably more appropriate for IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Carbohydrates? Really? (Little white donuts are carbs, right? Right?)

I was going to start a thread on this same subject although I was going to refer to good and bad brain days.

A long time ago when I was in school I found that I could sometimes easily solve a difficult problem. Months later, when faced with the same problem I could remember solving it but wouldn’t have a clue as to how I did it. Very frustrating for me.

I’m not sure how to encourage brilliance right at the moment you need it, but whenever I am presented with a problem that I can’t seem to figure out, I almost always wake up the next day going, “Aha!” I read somewhere when you go to sleep, you usually think of the last thing you were doing, at least for a while. So I would suggest that you fiddle with whatever you need to solve right before you go to sleep and let your mind figure it out on its own.

It helps having your personal life in order too. If things are chaotic, your mind will be too distracted to come up with brilliant thoughts.

I find that driving on country roads and alcohol (although not at the same time) both lead to breakthroughs.

I find I often have these flashes of brilliance when they matter most - on tests & in job interviews.

But they cannot be forced, or counted on, that’s for damn sure.

A zillion years ago when I was in Grade 10, we had some kind of math test that was a qualifying exam for a region-wide competition. I was in Honours Math, so taking this test was mandatory. Even though I wasn’t strong in math at all, I had my flash of brilliance during the test and got a crazy grade on it - but I knew it was a fluke, so refused to go to the regional competition, pissing my teacher off for all eternity.

I find if I’m relaxed and don’t care about the results in any way, the flashes are usually present.

According to Malcolm Lowry, the clarity is due to… meh, probably not what you’re looking for.

Yes! Now, how to do it when I actually do care about the results? Or how to train my mind to not care, I guess that would work equally well.

I have those bizarre instances of brilliances like the OP described then other times I couldn’t solve my way out of a wet paper bag. Oddly, I found that I can recall things or solve math problems better if I rock back and forth while mulling it over. I think the rocking stimulates some sort of hyper-focusing or something.