What exactly is an

insight

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Talk to cognitive scientists and they will tell you an insight is the moment you spontaneously come to an understanding of a previously incomprehensible concept, or you suddenly grasp the solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. In their classical laboratory experiments, usually with college students or members of the general public, they typically ask people to solve a creative puzzle like how to connect nine dots in a diagram using just four straight lines and without lifting the pencil from the paper, or how to attach three candles to a wall and light them up using just three tacks and three matches.

These puzzles might seem simplistic, but they are actually designed to be difficult and frustrating, inevitably leading subjects to an impasse that forces them to go back, challenge their original assumptions, and think “outside the box,” hopefully opening their eyes at some point to the solution. Some modern neuropsychologists actually scan the brain activity of the subjects while they are performing these tasks, to try to observe what happens in the neural circuits of the human mind as a person finally figures out how to crack the puzzle. This enlightening moment of “insight,” which may be accompanied by a feeling of great joy, satisfaction, or relief, is often described in the scientific literature as the Eureka moment, the “aha!” experience, or ...

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