cc licensed flickr photo shared by Zach Dischner

Did you ever have one of those experiences where you were struggling with a problem, and somehow your mind completely flipped it around to a solution you could never see on the first side? It’s more than a light bulb going off, it’s like turning your brain inside out.

How does that happen? What is it in our minds that we can keep dogging the same side of the problem and turn it around?

Sometimes it happens when someone else sees the situation differently. I had a miniscule, puny, example this weekend that got me thinking about it. It seems even smaller just writing about it.

It’s my mailing address. You see, I live in a small town where the post office does not deliver mail to the house; I have a community mailbox area, so my postal mailing address is a box number. But if I get deliveries to my house, e.g. from USPS or FedEx, then I have to give my physical address. And when I order Amazon, you don;t know the shipping method in advance, so it gets messy as to what address I use– box number or physical address?

So on Sunday I was visiting a local friend, and somehow we were talking about this, and she said (here is the mind flip) “I just put both addresses, that way they can pick the one that works”.

I never saw that even though it seems obvious.

My mind flipped (a tiny backflip, scored low by the Russian judge).

Okay, a more famous flip?

The most famous mindflip might have been chemist Friedrich Kekulé who claimed to have figured out the structure of benzen (a ring) after having a dream of a snake eating its own tail. It seems almost magical- the frustrated scientist, unable to solve the problem, has a metaphorical dream, wakes up, and says “Eureka”!

It seems almost magical, though a number of scholars have cast doubt on what might be a science lab urban myth.

That’s too bad, that story has such a lovely visual to it.

(sidebar- there was a group of advanced chemistry nerds in my high sch0ol that formed a “gang” as it were called… “The Benzene Ring”).

But more to my wondering, how to you make this for a possibility in your own lives/works? I know that getting out of the office/house can help, doing something physical, but are there other ways to get our brains to jump out of a rut to the other side.

How do you do mind flips?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. “Mind flips” sound very similar to the wonderful (and all-too-rare) moments writing a poem when one finds the word or line or phrase that is unexpected but somehow fits just right. It’s a bolt out of the blue, pure honey of inspiration. I might get lucky and experience it one time in twenty…

  2. I know exactly what this feels like (although I feel it far too infrequently). I have to admit that one of my reactions to these moments is to “look away.” When I have a serious flip/breakthrough moment, sometimes the power of what my mind is thinking through is almost painful to consider.

  3. My best ‘mind flips’ always happen when I’m taking a shower. I can’t tell you how many eureka moments I’ve had there. I think that it has something to do with being enclosed in a small box unable to leave (until I’m done washing anyway).Trapped with a mindless task to complete, my mind often wonders. Often I’m not even consciously thinking about a problem I’m just there and a random thought appears in my head that may solve a problem, or lead to something creative. It’s such a great feeling when the puzzle pieces come together. If you ever needed a reason to shower (besides the very important one of staying clean) there it is.

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