You know that feeling when you are stuck despite racking your brains to find a solution to a problem, but to no avail!? Out of exasperation you drop it, and carry on with life rather than obsessing with the problem…and then suddenly when you’re least expecting it, perhaps when you’re doing something as innocuous as washing your hands, a solution permeates your mind, and the pieces begin to fall in place! When you disengage the conscious problem-solving mode, you open yourself to serendipity, and serendipity is a wonderful thing…!
Some of the hardest problems in the world have solved themselves in this way. The story of the molecular structure of Benzene was one such, which played a pivotal role in our understanding of organic chemistry and laid the foundation of future research and discoveries. Kekulé was a German chemist who was grappling with this problem, and the solution came to him in a sort of daydream/reverie state, where he saw a snake eating its own tail, the mystical symbol of the ouroboros. This, of course, was a big clue to the answer, inspiring him to think of the ring-like structure of Benzene!
Another life-saving discovery that has saved millions of lives is the antibiotic penicillin. Alexander Fleming famously came back from holiday to find that one of his Petri dishes which contained disease-causing bacterial cultures showed inhibited growth. Some mould that had begun to grow had secreted some sort of ‘juice’, which was miraculously causing this! Isolating this strain eventually resulted in the family of antibiotics, which continue to remain a mainstay of modern medical science.
This is not to say that knowledge and hard work are optional, they are necessary but not always sufficient conditions for success. Some, or in fact, most problems require stepping out-of-the-problem mindset, especially after the mind has spent sufficient time marinating in its complexities. And then, just like that, serendipity kicks, and the veil drops, revealing what was almost within plain sight! So, when you feel stuck, take that walk, or bake that cake you’ve been meaning to, and who knows, the universe may just find a way of revealing its mind to you!