NOW THERE’S A THOUGHT
by Anton Wills-Eve
a real brainwave
NOW THERE’S A THOUGHT
Is it possible to have a complex thought or a really interesting brainwave if you cannot share it with someone else? Wittgenstein, in his theory of solipsism as the basis of every individual’s personal perception of the world, certainly suggests otherwise. Usually an exchange of ideas is only possible if you know somebody who is as well versed in the subject with which your brainwave is concerned as you are. Otherwise you first have to define what you mean by your clever thought or brainwave before discussing the concept further.
Dictionary definitions seldom help very much with this type of problem as is illustrated by the OED which defines brainwave as a ‘sudden clever idea’, or an electrical impulse in the brain. The key adjective here is obviously ‘sudden’ but that does not allow for the range or scope of the thought that is implied by the other adjective ‘clever’. Newton, when an apple fell on his head, cleverly worked out his laws of gravity. But they were hardly sudden. Thus the thoughts emanating from his near pommicidal experience were not brainwaves. But they were clever thoughts. So it can be argued that clever thoughts do not have to be brainwaves. But let us consider another famous scientific moment.
Archimedes watched his bath water level rising as his body’s mass displaced it and he saw a whole, complete and exquisite explanation of a mathematical problem. How to measure volumes of hydro-displacement. That was sudden and was a brainwave. But it was so quick it did not really involve much thought at all. All it involved was seeing something and realising its possible significance. So was Archimedes cleverer than Newton or was he just quicker off the mark? And anyway which one of them knew enough people to whom they could explain what they believed they had discovered without first having to give them a lesson in what they were talking about?
I mean, would you consider a raving lunatic rushing naked down the street shouting “I’ve got it” necessarily more clever than a chap, bent double, hobbling out of an orchard complaining that he had a headache because he had been hit on the head by an apple? Most people would probably have sought medical help for both men in each case. And imagine how much longer the world would have had to wait for enlightenment in science if those two things had happened.
Now there’s a thought!