A eureka moment is an experience where a solution or idea suddenly appears in your mind and immediately feels true. One reason eureka experiences are peculiar is that they tend to accompany accurate solutions to problems. That means that if I am trying to solve a problem or make a decision and I have an eureka experience, the idea is likely to be correct and help me solve the problem. The feeling of eureka predicts useful problem-solving solutions, and it does so with surprising consistency.
This process of the mind is similar in a way to other subjective experiences that also aid us in quick thinking, like feelings of hunger or fear. But just like other subjective experiences, eureka moments can also lead to errors.
Consider the following case. In a lab setting, scientists asked participants to solve anagram puzzles, like one that said “ithlium is the lightest of all metals.” “Ithlium” is an anagram of the word “lithium.” To solve the anagram participants needed to rearrange the scrambled word to get the correct word. Then, the participants were asked to rank the truthfulness of the new statement: “lithium is the lightest of all metals.”
The point is that solving the anagram puzzles artificially induced a feeling of eureka, and the eureka feeling made the participants more likely to say that the new statement was true. So, eureka moments tend to be correct, but they can also give us false insights that can be persuasive.
This research shows that feelings of insight can make ideas seem truer than they are. So, the next time you have a eureka feeling, remember to pause and ask how trustworthy it is.