The invention of Eureka

Eureka originates in ancient Greece and is often attributed to Archimedes. Eureka translates as „I found it“, and is based on the anecdote that Archimedes found the Archimedes principle, while taking a bath. Then he happily ran through the street shouting „Eureka“. Personally, I can relate to the story insofar, as I get many good ideas while taking a shower. However, I feel that science, and especially modern science has marketed itself as being an accumulation of Eureka moments. Hollywood typically is marketing science in this sense, where Dr. Emmet Brown form back to the future is the Eureka stereotype scientist, and you can also find it in Interstellar (, among many other examples. Supposably, scientists are expected to have eureka moments, California even made it its state motto, highlighting its location on the global innovators landscape.
Being originated in Greece, Eureka is to me closely connected to the myth of the ancient Greek heroes. By focussing on the ego -the I- eureka frames us as being touched by Genius. Genius comes and goes, as Elisabeth Gilbert pointed out, hence feeling good about eureka means automatically that this feeling is going to diminish at some point. This is in my eyes one problematic relation to eureka, it creates a „High“ that can only be followed -relatively- by a „Low“. There is no doubt that we have sudden insights, but I would argue that these insights are embedded into a long process that encapsules our upbringing, our education, our mentors, our team, and the whole societal setting we are embedded in, to name just a few factors. Eureka is in this sense not only a personal moment, but a consequence of many different origins that are hard to track down. You can surely try to provide a setting that allows for some sort of excellence to flourish, and there are certainly some people closer to Genius than others. However when thinking that our eureka is part of a larger embedded network, it makes us less important, I think. I also think, that this is a good thing. The late Derek Parfit described his head as an office, where an idea would be handed in at the front desk, and from there would be handed back into the different departments. After often substantial time, the solution would be handed back to the front desk. This is quite often how I think my head works as well. I may designate consciously and based on my experience on certain problems, but ultimately the manifestation of the solution in my head is quite unpredictable. This brings me to the second problem I have with eureka: Expectation management.
Many emerging scientists, among them often students, assume that they are expected to have eureka moments. And they feel that these eureka moments are expected to feel a certain way. These moments ought to feel fantastic, and as long as you do not have them on a frequent basis, you are not a scientist. This leads to people proclaiming trivial insights as huge Eureka, and the lack of Eureka as a great disappointment. I feel by confusing scientific work with eureka moments, we created a problem. Of course, this confusion is related with larger currently dominating problems, such as the increase of the personal ego complex and the general questioning of science.
Overall, Eureka moments may happen to some people. In my experience Eureka happen for instance quite often, when somebody understands the idea of somebody else. Ideas are to me a bit like Helium balloons that fly about, and that you can grab. Practice may certainly help to evolve into being able to generate Eureka moments. But it takes years of practice to become a scientist, and this process is hence in itself hard to measure or understand. For the time being, Eureka pose and interesting epistemological problem. It is however important to highlight that Eureka may happen, but do not have to happen. I for myself have a fair amount of ideas over the day, some of which good, many of which bad. None is however that good to thrill me in the sense of the Eureka moment. This to me is the biggest and maybe final Eureka. My thoughts as well as my science may matter, but only in relation to others. Explaining my insights and seeing other people understand or confirm my ideas is I think the best Eureka moment. Other may be a mirror of understanding in this sense, and through their understanding I start to understand more as well, especially about my connection to others. Eureka!