Friday, January 14, 2011

Take a bath

Have you ever been working hours, maybe days, on a large project only to come to distractions, dead ends, and non sequiturs?

Often it is best to take a break.

“Take a break,” you say “the project is due in an hour!”

Sometimes distance from a project is just what we need. Refocusing your energies on something different, even for a moment, can give you a fresh perspective when you return to the task at hand. There are many success stories I could point to, including many of my own. However, the funniest one I think is the anecdote of Archimedes.

Archimedes was given the daunting task of figuring out if the crown that had been made for King Hiero II was pure gold or if the goldsmith put silver in it. He had to essentially break down the crown without causing any damage to it. Oh, yeah, under the threat of death if he failed.

Try to imagine the weight of Archimedes stress. I’m sure he racked his brain, performing all sorts of mathematical equations and experiments, for hours, until his mind was a blur of numbers and symbols.

Then, the answer came to him, not at a desk, but while he was in the bathtub. The story goes, that while in the bath, he noticed that the water level rose as he got in.

He figured that the submerged crown would displace an amount of water equal to its own volume. By dividing the mass of the crown by the volume of water displaced, he could find the density of the crown. He knew that the density would be lower than that of gold if cheaper and less dense metals had been added.

Well, he was so excited at this epiphany, that he completely forgot about putting clothes on, he ran out on the streets of Syracuse, shouting,

“Eureka! I’ve found it!”

When he performed the experiment, he found that the swindler goldsmith had mixed it with silver.

Next time you need a “eureka” moment, try taking a step back, or a bath.

c. 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment