What’s Happening When Something Clicks?

I’ve been enjoying an extended “aha!” moment this week. You know the kind of thing: suddenly it all falls into place and seems to make a new kind of sense.

It’s a profoundly satisfying feeling.

I could sit about enjoying it all day – except that this particular insight has to do with the nature of my contribution to the world, my business, and what I should be doing with my time, so it’s sent me into a flurry of activity instead.

But what’s actually happening when you experience an “aha!”, an insight, a “clicking into place”?

I suspect it has to do with the unknown becoming known. And that means that it has to do with the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

(OK, OK! To the woman who’s reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master And His Emmissary, it is quite possible that it seems like everything has to do with the relationship between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. But bear with me just a moment.)

As McGilchrist points out in his fabulous RSA Animate video, it’s not true that the left brain “does” reason and the right, emotion. Nor that the left “does” language and the right, imagery. It’s more interesting than that.

In fact modern research shows that the left hemisphere is specialised for focussed attention, for analysing the parts of things, and for attending to things that are already familiar; the right for broad attention, attending to whole things and their contexts, and looking out for novel things.

In his book McGilchrist explains that new ideas and experiences need both hemispheres to be understood: new information is perceived by the right hemisphere, “passed” to the left hemisphere for analysis of its parts, before being “returned” to the right hemisphere to be understood as a whole in its context.

I’m wondering if the “aha!” moment is simply how it feels when the right hemisphere “gets it” on the return leg. Or am I stretching the whole idea too far?

5 Comments

  • Barbara Frodsham

    10/11/2011

    Hi Judy. My Neuroscience studies have recently been focusing on Insights. There are 2 ways to solve problems: by thinking them through as a process, or by having an insight. It is completely different parts of the brain that activate when we are using either of these functions. And apparently there is a moment of calm, just before we have an insight and then the brain takes lots of information from different areas and magically comes up with an insight. What we recognise as an AHA moment.

  • Maarten Aalberse

    10/11/2011

    Hmm, I think it’s part of the puzzle, Judy.

    I few years ago I co-wrote a book “L’Intelligence du Stress” (sic!), where we elaborated the hypothesis that
    1) The prefrontal cortex, evolution’s “latest miracle” – and connected to all other parts of the brain – largely works outside conscious awareness (as if it is way too intelligent for our everyday awareness).
    2) In order to “receive it’s wisdom”, we really have to let go of what we know and believe consciously, based on past conditioning, and open up.

    And… we are aware of links with the ideas of a certain Miltoon… 🙂

  • Judy

    10/11/2011

    Thanks both! I wonder if there’s a relationship between all of this and the frequency of aha! moments in Clean Language sessions? Working with metaphor probably involves a “letting go” process, and results in a “moment of calm”…

  • Maarten Aalberse

    11/11/2011

    Hi Judy
    We described 6 processes that facilitate the kind of process you’re hinting at:
    sensory curiosity & acceptance („input“), complexification and disidentification („processing“), cognitive curiosity and individuation („output“).

    Does clean facilitate these processes?
    That’s not really a question, isn’t it?

  • Peter

    11/11/2011

    It’s when you notice yourself doing something different that you know you’ve had a “aha” moment and never realised it.

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