Ever wondered where good ideas come from? This thought clearly has been keeping Steven Johnson awake, which resulted in a very interesting TED talk. People often think of an idea as something that emerges instantly at a specific moment: a brilliant archaeologist gazing at some old stones and all of a sudden, EUREKA, he brings the past to life! Well it turns out that it doesn’t work this way at all. Steven Johnson likes to see ideas as a network, like a small event that is born in the brain and triggers other parts of the brain through electric signals. The initial idea can be lingering in the brain for quite a while until it matures and cascades to dominate one’s mind, at which point golden words of wisdom are often put on paper by a new genius.

Steven Johnson argues that the networks we see in the outside world actually mimic those network patterns in the brain. He is interested in finding out what characterises these spaces in the outside world in which new ideas emerge. He calls this “The liquid network”, an environment where ideas and problems get together and that breeds innovation. It would be great if we could identify such spaces and promote hunches to limit their incubation periods.

For all of you out there who want to come up with the next big thing, here is what you need to do: give ideas that might be lingering in you brain time to develop and constantly try to get different peoples’ ideas together. Apparently we should spend more time trying to connect ideas rather than protect them. “Chance favours the connected mind”.

PS: thanks to Irad Malkin for bringing this video to my attention.


2 thoughts on “EUREKA?!?

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  1. Dear Tom,

    First of all really like your blog and the work you are doing on archaeological approaches to network theory and analysis. I am also applying network theory in my own PhD research about networks of the Pre-Contact Caribbean.
    Anyway, just wanted to point out to you that a variant of the idea (interaction aids innovation) by Johnson has been around for quite some time in archaeology in the form of “interaction sphere theory” (Caldwell 1964, Interaction Spheres in Prehistory, Hopewellian studies, vol. 12). I also really like the work by Levinson and Enfield on this matter (e.g. Levinson and Enfield, 2006, Roots of Human Sociality, Berg Publishers).
    Keep up the good work and hopefully see you at the Southampton Connected Past symposium (I will be sending in an abstract for that).

  2. Hey Angus,

    Thanks for this, I will definitely look into it! Could you recommend a good introductory article? Any chance you could point me to some papers where I can read about your own work?

    Looking forward to reading your abstract 🙂


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