Insight has been responsible for some of the most important innovations in mathematics, philosophy, science, technology, creativity and the arts. From Pythagoras and his theorem to Archimedes and his bath, to Newton and his apple, to Goethe’s observation of the prism, to Hamilton’s quaternions, to Tesla’s induction motor – all of these were the product of insight. And yet insight is not studied in conventional education.
An insight solution is not the same as a logical solution. We cannot deduce our way into an insight; it arrives whole and complete and is more like a vision than a series of thoughts. The most commonly used metaphor to portray insight is that of a light bulb suddenly being switched on. With insight we instantly see the solution to a problem just as we might see the whole contents of a darkened room with the sudden switching on of a light. Reasoned deduction would simply catalogue the contents of the room with no conception that a light exists.
We associate insight with genius, but an insight can occur to anyone, no matter what their position in life. We can have an insight into a problem, into a person’s motives, into our own motives, into the causes of events or into the causes of natural phenomena. We do not have to be a trained scientist to have such an insight; many of the inventors of the Industrial revolution were untrained amateurs.
Insight tells us that we do not see the world in its entirety; if we did we couldn’t have an insight into anything. What limits knowledge is the assumption that we already see and understand the world in its entirety. Insight is the product of challenging that assumption.