The discussion of Horizontal and Vertical thinking brings us to one of the most intriguing questions of cognition which science is starting to answer, what is the nature of insight ? Can we do anything to ” trigger” or increase the frequency of our ” Eureka” moments of true discovery when the pieces of the puzzle abruptly slip into place ? My argument is that insight is a biological event and that is triggered not simply by the stimulus of Horizontal thinking alone but by a feedback loop between Horizontal and Vertical thinking that is mediated by a cognitive activity that theorist John Flavell termed “ Metacognition“. Awareness of this insight process should allow us to intentionally construct environments that will increase the probability of generating insight.

Mankind has been aware of the existence of insight for thousands of years and most educated people are familiar with the story of Archimedes leaping from his bath shouting ” Eureka !” ( ” I have found it !”) at his sudden discovery of water displacement. Nevertheless, formally defining insight has proved difficult though everyone seems to recognize insight when they see it, much like the Supreme Court does with obscenity. From the inception of psychology it was questionable whether insight was actually a tangible process happening within the brain or merely a clever concept that described a chance event of recognition. Thanks to modern research the evidence is leaning strongly toward insight being a physical and identifiable brain function.

For some time it has been anecdotally and clinically noted that insight is not a randomly distributed phenomenon throughout the population. It tends to occur more frequently at the upper end of the bell curve; secondly, there are subgroups within the population such as schizophrenics whose abnormal brain function correlates with significantly lower levels of insight yet even here the degree of insight is affected by the schizophrenic’s educational level.(2)

Even greater weight must given to brain imaging testing of insight that have demonstrated that moments of insight correlate with revealed increased activity in the right hemisphere anterior superior temporal gyrus for insight relative to noninsight solutions. (3) The insight event is measurable and reproducible. A physical process is something that we can intentional attempt to trigger in real-world ” applied” settings and not just a research lab.

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