But what exactly is this madness, and how does it help them think and create? How does it make them see?
The most reasonable place to begin looking seems to be with those few first hand accounts we
have. Tesla and Sagan both spoke of having visions. Einstein utilized mental images of such clarity that he didn’t need
to write things down, and this sounds much like a vision. Archimedes certainly acted like a man seized by a visionary experience
when he ran naked down the street screaming “Eureka!” Indeed, the word “eureka” is now taken to mean
a visionary flash of insight, thanks to that happening. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to look first into what this
visionary “eureka” moment is in order to find out what makes mad scientists what they are.
The visionary state, and associated states like religious awe or possessionary experiences,
have recently been the subject of much scrutiny by mainstream science. While the visionary states that were studied were of
the spiritual sort, I hypothesize that those and the visionary state of the eureka moment are the same thing. They are described
in the same terms and seem to have the same effects, even if the content is different. Indeed, this isn’t even my idea
originally. One of the teams of neuroscientists studying Buddhist transcendental states proposed that they were fundamentally
the same thing as the eureka moment.
The theory I present here is based on the work of several such groups of researchers.
Metanoia is a technical term used by psychologists and sociologists to describe the conversion
experience, meaning the experience of religious awe and revelation that forever alters the mind and life of the person experiencing
it. An example of this would be finding Jesus at a tent revival and becoming Born Again.
The experience of metanoia is usually the result of a period of conflict and stress. Once conflict
has reached a high enough pitch the psyche seeks to heal itself by breaking itself down and then rebuilding itself in a more
adaptive form. What emerges is something that thinks and feels in such a manner as to handle the stress and conflict more
The process of reaching metanoia has a lot in common with the process of becoming an expert
at something. When somebody becomes an expert at something, it is the result of long study and accumulation of facts and theories
that at first seem relatively unrelated. Once they reach a sufficient “density” then the brain undergoes a complete
reorganization. The information becomes stored in a manner that is much more efficient. Understanding comes easily and naturally.
It could be said that the brain undergoes a conversion experience, a break with its past state, and afterward is something
of an expert.
This process of becoming an expert and metanoia are both related in an interesting way to the
unitary state of consciousness. To put it simply, the unitary state of consciousness is the term given by neurobiologists
to the state of physiology that people in deep meditation and prayer states reach.
The brain is connected to the body by two systems of nerves. One is called the Sympathetic Nervous
System (SNS). It is responsible for increasing awareness and focus, releasing adrenaline into the bloodstream, and in general
preparing the body for either flight or fighting. The other is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). It is responsible
for relaxing, resting, calming, and healing the body, in general. Because these two systems have opposite effects, they tend
to inhibit each other most of the time. When one is on, the other one is off.
But under situations of great stress, when one of those two nervous systems is being driven
faster than it can handle, when the mind is nearly overwhelmed by what it is experiencing, then both nervous systems are turned
on at the same time. When this occurs the parts of the brain that determine what is itself and what is everything else get
shut off in order to reduce the energy requirements and stress level. The right and left hemispheres of the brain synch up,
and the whole brain acts together.
The researchers observed that this is the point in meditation or prayer at which the Buddhist
monks and Franciscan nuns they were studying felt the presence of God, or a state of enlightenment. It was often accompanied
by visions. And it was associated with an increase in intuition and inspiration. As the researchers put it, it is what causes
the eureka moment.
It causes the eureka moment because the unitary state is what drives the full conversion experience.
It is the build-up of stress that overloads the brain enough trigger the unitary state, which causes the person experiencing
it to lose their sense of self and become completely absorbed into whatever is on their mind. The psyche tries to heal itself
of the enormous strain it is under by breaking down and rebuilding itself along lines that more easily handle whatever it
is that caused the stress.
This rebuilding often involves a flash of understanding into whatever problem or issue it was
that caused the overload and resultant stress. If it was an attempt to solve a problem, like Archimedes was doing, then the
flash of insight depicts the solution to that problem. It is the result of the mind throwing all of its resources into getting
rid of the stress: the quickest way to get rid of the stress is to make its cause vanish: solve the problem. Because the mind
is unified and both halves of the nervous system are operating the problem is attacked with a force usually inaccessible to
the normal conscious mind. Every subconscious resource, memory, and insight is used. And because solving that problem in the
unitary state represents the ultimate union of left and right brain; shadow and will; id, ego, and superego it feels like
ultimate truth, divine revelation. It is a moment of ultimate synthesis of the mind driving it to work like never before.
That this state of consciousness is behind the genius of mad scientists (well, any scientist
really) seems likely. The neurobiologists researching the eureka moment describe it in these terms. Archimedes, who coined
the term “eureka”, was so moved by his insight that he ran naked and screaming down the street. That certainly
sounds like a metanoia experience. Tesla had fits with symptoms similar to those described by those neurobiologists, and eureka
insights resulted wherein he saw plans and blueprints of machines, fulling assembled models of them. Feynman's synesthetic
experiences when working with formulas is also consistent with the unitary state, as are Sagan's visions.
Understanding the cause of the eureka moment leads to the intriguing notion that a person with
the gift of insight scientifically might be able to develop methods of bringing about the eureka moment. Means of bringing
it at least partially under conscious control. This would have very useful repercussions, not least of which would be a faster
rate of learning and a deeper level of understanding. Perhaps it could be used to give people with no scientific talent the
ability to solve scientific problems, or amplify one's native scientific talent into something as great as that of Archimedes