How does the ‘eureka moment’ happen? Who are the people that create a ‘eureka moment’ and what are their characteristics? What are the stories behind some of the inventions that have become an integral part of modern life? These are the fascinating questions that Gavin Weightman explores in his revelatory new book, Eureka: How Invention Happens, leading him to observe that the sense of ‘eureka’ as a moment of inspiration is very different from the concept of the ‘eureka moment’ and the actual point of scientific breakthrough.
In this four-part series for the YaleBooks blog, Gavin answers some intriguing questions about invention, and the innovation that now form a part of our everyday lives.
An Interview with Gavin Weightman – Part Three
Y: Eureka examines the inventors themselves, and looks closely at their backgrounds and personalities to determine how the ‘eureka moment’ happens. Are there characteristics that the inventors in your book have in common?
GW: My book is really about the long process of invention. It might begin with a Swedish chemist discovering a new element which turns out to have special properties which are exploited by others long after his death and then combined with other discoveries to make possible a “eureka moment” when for the first time pictures are transmitted by wireless. That achievement is the work of many scientists and inventors whose biographies I sketch out in my account of how television came about. It would be surprising, therefore is such a rich cast of characters should have a great deal in common. However, those who have the foresight to make the final breakthrough–with the telephone, or wireless, or the personal computer–have a gift of imagination combined with a practical turn of mind. I think that is the reason they tend to be outsiders and amateurs unattached to established industries. They are all, of course, hard working.
Gavin Weightman is a journalist, historian, and former documentary filmmaker. He has published more than twenty books, including The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story and Children of the Light: How Electricity Changed Britain Forever. He lives in London.
Eureka: How Invention Happens by Gavin Weightman is available from Yale University Press