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Edison and EEG's.

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84442.  Tue Aug 08, 2006 5:54 am Reply with quote

Q: Why did inventor Thomas Edison have balls of steel?

A: To help him meditate and invent new ideas.

Thomas Edison believed that he was at his most creative when he sat in front of a fire, holding either ball-bearings or a big steel ball. The comfy chair and the fire would relax him - but if he started to nod off, he'd drop the ball/s and wake up.

Scientists believe that Edison was unwittingly getting his brain waves to access 'alpha theta', a state somewhere between 'very relaxed' and 'light sleep'. It's also known as the 'hypnagogic state' or the 'meditative state'. (The machine used to measure these brain waves are called an ElectroEncephaloGraph (EEG)).

Ironically, while Edison used ball bearings to achieve a dream state, ball bearings themselves were also created using a hypnagogic state:

James Watt, vexed as to how to make engine parts rotate smoothly, dreamt of molten metal fragments falling from the sky and, as they did so, forming into globes. Drop-cooling! Which is how ball bearings were first manufactured. The inventor Elias Howe dreamt of people bearing spears, each with an eye-shaped hole in its flattened point, which became the basis of his chain-stitch sewing machine.

Possibly because logic plays such a big part in scientific discoveries, they've more often come out of hypnagogic half-dreaming - when, in a light doze, rational thoughts carry on down to meet with the more fluid subconscious. August Kekule von Stradonitz, when attempting to discover the molecular structure of benzene, doze-dreamt of snakes swallowing their tails; thereafter, the "ring theory" of molecules revolutionized organic chemistry.

Albert Einstein, doze-dreamer extraordinary, called the process "combinatorial play," wherein complex formulas would float around in his mind until they fell into a pattern. Late in life, even Edison owned up to taking chair-borne naps whenever he needed to crystallize his thoughts. Holding a couple of large ball bearings, he'd wake when they clattered into a metal tray below.

5458 words
7 February 1999
Peter Martin

Other Sources:

How To Be Brilliant, Michael Heppell, Pearson


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