What is it about human beings that enable them to intuit insights from hum-drum events?
Take Archimedes, a Greek thinker who merely wanted a bath before dinner.
As he stepped into his bath, however, he noticed that his weight displaced an equal weight of water which slopped over its bath’s rim.
Now, a careful man might have deplored the waste while an obsessive-compulsive type might have cringed at the mess.
But no, not Archie who grasped its logic instinctively. The yet-unwashed thinker was so excited by his insight that he leapt out of the bath and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse screaming Eureka (Greek for “I have it.”)
He’d understood that the volume of irregular objects could now be measured precisely through its displacement of water. Actually, there would be a lot more gleaned from his original observation including a theorem that would forever bear his name.
At the time, however, the male citizens of Syracuse were unimpressed, pointing out that they, too, had it.
Eventually, however, Greek trend-spotters acknowledged that he had begun a global movement that would culminate in the 1970s as the “streaking” phenomenon.
Indeed, Archimedes continues to resonate. His word of choice Eureka has crept into the lexicon as the widely-used “Aha” or “Alamak,” its slightly more apologetic Malaysian variant.
A later aspirant to serendipitous logic was Isaac Newton. Sometime in the 17th Century, we have him sitting in contemplative silence under an apple tree in the gardens of Cambridge. It was in such drowsy, sun-dappled conditions that an apple fell rudely on his head.
It must be noted that, at this point, scientists are generally grateful that there weren’t any coconut palms In England then. A coconut would have rendered Sir Isaac insensible or worse. The march of science could have been irreparably retarded. So we have much to be thankful for.
Or, other outcomes might have prevailed. A suitably peckish man might have eaten said apple. Meanwhile, a comfortably drowsy fellow might have leapt up in rage and renounced all forms of religion with immediate effect.
But Sir Isaac’s head was hardier. He realised that the force that propelled said apple onto his head was the same that kept the moon from falling on us, or Earth, from plunging into the Sun.
In a word, gravity, which can be explained as the Law unlike, say, Evolution, which is only a theory.
Steven Wright put it graphically: “It’s a good thing we have gravity, or else when birds die, they’d just stay right up there; humans would be all confused.”
But it’s the simple things that really warrant a Eureka moment. Julius Caesar, for example, was already famous for having invented the Caesarean.
But he’s chiefly remembered for a less complicated offering. History will record that in 48 BC the emperor had been wondering if Brutus was out to praise or bury him when his eye fell on some romaine lettuce next to a block of Parmesan cheese.
A religious, more pious, man might have been moved to exclaim: “Lettuce pray” and fall to his knees.
A more indolent thinker might have idly nibbled the lettuce, even sampled the cheese. But JC was made of sterner stuff and rose to the occasion in a Eureka moment that future generations would forever bless.
The former gynaecologist roused his chef and ordered him to assemble the lettuce together with some croutons. He then dressed the offering with the cheese, lemon juice, egg, Worcestershire sauce and topped the creation off with garlic and black pepper.
It was the world’s first Caesar salad and may have been JC’s outstanding contribution to humanity.
Cassius didn’t think so but, if you notice, no one’s put up a statue to him anywhere.