The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny!’Isaac Asimov, Science Fiction Author
In Asimov’s quote about the creative process in science, he recognizes that the end of the discovery, the solving of a problem, isn’t where the fun of science lies. While coming up with a new way to do things has its rewards, it’s the road to that discovery that is more exciting. “That’s funny” signals the beginning of the journey to new knowledge. It’s the moment when a researcher notices that something is off about the results of an experiment. It’s when something has gone wrong. The scientist notices the problem and decides to investigate what happened and why.
Who Is Isaac Asimov?
Isaac Asimov was a Russian-born, U.S. immigrant, 20th century science fiction writer, who famously came up with the four laws for robots, which according to “MIT Technology Review” are:
- A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the other laws.
Asimov became a bio-chemistry professor at Boston University School of Medicine. He wrote over 500 books and died in 1992.
The Story behind ‘Eureka!’
One of the myths of creativity is the “Eureka” moment. The idea is that naturally creative people have flashes of brilliance that allow them to create and implement new and exciting ideas. To sum up the origin story, according to Kevin Ashton’s “How to Fly a Horse” (affiliate link), King Hiero tasked Archimedes with finding out whether the crown he had made was pure gold or if the king had been duped. Archimedes went to take a bath and noticed the water rose as he lowered himself into the tub. He immediately got out of the tub and ran through the town naked shouting “Eureka!” usually translated as “I’ve found it!”
Ashton has several problems with the story, but he points to one flaw in the Eureka myth. Even if the story is true, there was no flash of brilliance; Archimedes went into the tub thinking about the problem. The tub was just a connection or catalyst that allowed him to find a solution to a problem he had been actively contemplating.
The Creative Process in Science
Creativity is a meta-skill that you can apply across subjects, including science. If you want to learn about becoming more creative in your area of expertise, subscribe to this blog and join our Patreon. My books “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” offer researched-based creativity tips in a fun way. “Penguinate! Positive Creativity” and “Penguinate! The Disney Company” offer essays and short stories with activities at the end to help you improve your creativity.