In a previous post, we examined the famous “Aha! moment” of Archimedes, in which the mathematician realized he could measure an object’s density while taking a bath. Archimedes had been stuck on the problem of how to determine whether a crown made for his king was solid gold, or had some silver mixed in.
At a conference at NYU dedicated to Archimedes, some cold water was poured into Archimedes’ bath revelation. As The New York Times pointed out, as was the case with Archimedes’ supposed idea to use mirrors to generate death rays to take out Roman ships, the idea of measuring density this way is simply too good to be true. That is to say, the underlying principle works, “but in practice, the tiny difference in volume between a crown made of pure gold and one made of a mixture of gold and silver is too small to be reliably measured.”
Nonetheless, as the NYU conference on Archimedes makes clear, the mathematician’s ideas are extremely useful today, as they are being applied in multiple fields, from engineering to astronomy.
Moreover, the idea of the “Eureka! moment,” or our understanding of how creativity works (which is still in its infancy), might very well prove to be the most useful concept that Archimedes passed down to us.
The Nobel prize-winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel sees Archimedes’ habit of “letting the mind wander” as a blueprint for creative breakthroughs.
Read more about that here.