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November 01, 2017 Wednesday 01:15:00 PM IST

Archimedes’ Bath, Einstein’s Bed and Rowling’s “Bus”

Creative Living

Overthinking is a killer! People tend to think or brood over silly matters. They keep going over such stuff over and over again, either due to their lingering inner hurts or the reprimands of pessimists or yet again due to the perpetual confusion caused by extreme scrupulosity. It drains the power of the mind, weakens the spirit, exhausts the body and makes people too stressed to innovate.


Restless and wandering minds are generally prone to overthinking. Impregnated with a huge lot of ideas and immersed within an ocean of possibilities, they suffer from the malady of indecisiveness. Such people may withdraw from the world into self-made cocoons, depressed and unproductive.


Creative minds are careful not to fall into the trap of overthinking. They conquer such ills and embark upon a journey of productive thinking. Faced with a load of confusing ideas and challenged by an overload of information, they would rather switch over to a relaxed mode of being, which gradually reassures them and triggers the creative spark in them. The mode of relaxation could be anything ranging from manual work, exhausting games, a cat-nap, a relaxing bath, a cool and carefree hangout, an expedition, or even a jaunt in the wilderness. We may call such relaxation and diversion techniques as Bath- Bed-Bus (3B) technique, roughly summarizing three major modes of relaxation as stated above. More often, mental relaxation is likely to trigger creative solutions. Out of the ocean of ideas emerge new concepts and creations, as the spirit of calmness hovers over it.


I would like to draw your attention to some typical examples from the history of creative ideas to prove the point.




Let us start with the story of Archimedes (born in ca. 287 BCE). He was a Greek mathematician, scientist and engineer, who lived in the ancient city-state of Syracuse. The book De Architectura or The Ten Books of Architecture, written by the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollo narrates the story of Archimedes and the golden crown. The story goes like this: To celebrate his victory, Hiero, the new king of the city of Syracuse, wished to offer a golden crown shaped like a laurel wreath to his gods. The task of making the crown was assigned to a local blacksmith. On the day of the offering, Hiero observed that the crown was not golden enough. The king asked Archimedes to make sure that the crown was not adulterated, without destroying it in the process. Pondering over the solution to the problem, Archimedes went for a bath. As he got into the bath tub, the water in it began to spill out over the sides. Curious, Archimedes continued to lower himself slowly into the water, and he noticed that the more his body sank into the water, the more water ran out over the sides of the tub.


The solution to Hiero’s problem flashed through his mind. It’s said that he suddenly jumped out of the tub naked and ran towards his king shouting “Eureka, Eureka!” meaning, “I have found it! I have found it!”


It was the birth moment of the principle of buoyancy. Later on, Galileo offered his version of how Archimedes exposed the dishonesty of the blacksmith. It is reported in his short treatise La Bilancetta or The Little Balance (1586). According to Galileo, Archimedes actually suspended the crown from one end of a pair of scales, balancing it with an equal amount of gold on the other end. Now, since a body immersed in water is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the water displayed by the body, the denser body, which has a smaller volume for the same weight, would sink lower in the water than the less dense one. But since the crown was adulterated with another metal, its volume was different from that of pure gold and sank in the water to a different depth causing the little balance tilt. Had the crown been made of pure gold, the scales would continue to balance even when immersed in water. The little balance tilted, which conclusively proved that the goldsmith had cheated the king!


Thus, the principle of buoyancy was born out of the bathtub of Syracuse! Archimedes became the prominent icon of serendipity and creative thinking and his “Eureka” became interpreted as a cry of innovation ever since.




Einstein is reported to have slept punctually for 10 hours every night. Added to this were his daytime naps. Einstein was in literal sense a “sleeping genius”! His sleep was also punctuated with occasional dreams. The international best seller, Einstein’s Dreams [Alan Lightman,1992] describes Einstein as a habitual daydreamer.


Einstein claims that his Theory of Relativity was a by-product of one such dream. The setting of the dream was the Alps Mountains. He was hurtling down the mountain on a misty spring morning and then he was walking along a stream that trickled down from the snow-covered summit of the Alps.  He walked and walked until the mountains parted and the valleys came into view. Einstein could now see cows grazing in the fields, which were demarcated by electric fences. He then noticed a small herd of cows huddling near an electric fence. The cows were munching the grass, their heads happily thrust through slits of the fence, unhindered by any electric current. Quite out of the blue, a farmer came into view. He was working with a battery to activate the electric fence. Suddenly, a wave of current went through the fence. The cows retreated at once in utter shock. Einstein clearly saw all the cows jumping into the air at once to escape from being electrocuted. But the farmer violently refuted Einstein’s claims and insisted that he had seen the cows jump in the air one by one before fleeing the scene. This triggered a prolonged back and forth between Einstein and the farmer. At this point Einstein woke up, totally perplexed!


Einstein was sorry that he had a futile dispute with the farmer. Irrespective of that he kept his cool. He thought: Could it be that both the farmer and he could be right? They had, in fact, their own unique vantage points and experienced time and space in different ways. Eureka! That was the birth moment of the General Theory of Relativity! Einstein would later say his dream contained the entire truth of the General Theory of Relativity and the rest of his lifelong career was just an extended meditation on the questions inspired by the dream of electrocuted cows. The bed turned to be the bedrock of creative thinking and nursery of one of the most important scientific concepts of modern times!




J.K. Rowling says Harry Potter jumped into her mind during a tedious ride. She was on her way from Manchester to London in 1990 in a delayed train. Unlike many who spend their daily commutes trying desperately to shut out the world around them and instead of losing herself in a pop song, Joanne Rowling took advantage of a long train ride to lazy thinking. There came up an inspiration that transformed itself into one of the best bestseller book series of the world, The Harry Potter. In her interview with the Urbanette magazine Rowling narrates the incident as follows: “In 1990, my then-boyfriend and I decided to get a flat and move to Manchester together. We would flat hunt every once in a while. One weekend after flat hunting, I took the train back to London on my own, and the idea for Harry Potter fell into my head.” She continued: “Coincidentally, I didn’t have a pen and was too shy to ask anyone for one on the train, which frustrated me at the time, but when I look back it was the best thing for me. It gave me the full four hours on the train to think up all the ideas for the book.”


She typed her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on a typewriter. Though around twelve publishing houses rejected her original Harry Potter manuscripts, a small publisher Bloomsbury eventually agreed to publish it. Remember, Rowling’s seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows broke sales records as the fastest-selling book ever! A story in itself all inspired and conspired by a ride!


Hence, when you are stuck with an idea or confused with a chaotic lot of options, just pause. Go swimming, go to bed or go on a ride. The Bath-Bed-Bus technique is a powerful tool to generate breakthrough concepts!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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