Something very strange happened in the evening on December 8. Walking between the subway and my home - a 10-minute walk - I had an epiphany: a really great research idea. It might very well be the most novel and the very best research idea I've ever had. I woke up that night and had to spend an hour in a feverish state of creativity, exploring and developing the idea step by step while/by writing down notes in a document and simultaneously feeling intense joy over all the mini-discoveries and mini-breakthroughs I had while developing the idea in writing (notes).
I repost my Facebook update from the following day (below) and then comment on it some more. Some weeks have now passed and I can look at it all in a slightly more detached way than back then, when it happened.
--------------- Facebook update from December 9 (morning) ---------------
I created a "Life event" here in Facebook yesterday for the first time ever and had to invent a new category for it, "intellectual breakthrough".
I had an epiphany - I think I was struck by a Really Great Idea while walking home from the subway yesterday evening. And that actually says something as I feel I've had a number of really great (but still smaller) ideas during the last 1-2 years (most are still in the pipe). Thinking about this new idea for no more than five minutes I had to call [my colleague] Elina Eriksson and talk with her for another five minutes just to check if the idea was as strange, weird, complex and interesting as I thought it was (she was at the meeting earlier that day that later led me to have this idea). I'd say she took it well and sort-of confirmed that this might indeed be "a thing" although it's so complex and strange we weren't really sure what to do with it in that 5-minute conversation.
Now I've sat down and have written down two pages of notes and that process has in itself led me to develop the idea *and* to have a series of mini-epihanies while doing it. I'd actually like to ask Elina NOT to share the idea with others for now. I'd like to lead her through a line of reasoning that will allow her to let the idea "unfold" and that step-by-step allows her to "discover" the implications of the idea. Preferable in the coming week (Fri Dec 15 or earlier) or at the latest the week after that. And I want to record the process in some way in order to develop both the idea itself as well as the process of presenting the idea. Recording the process (perhaps video?) of leading Elina through it, I could then ask her to reflect upon this process and of how to introduce it to others.
I know this sounds both secretive and weird but I truly think I might be on to something and want to develop this at a suitable (slow) pace *and* think through every step of the process methodically. It might take a year or two to develop the idea and write a scientific journal article about it and I will keep a low profile about this from now on. But I won't forget it and I'm pretty sure I will write about it again here on Facebook a year or two from now. In the meanwhile it will be recorded as a "life event" of the type "intellectual breakthrough" here on my Facebook profile. I know I'm way to secretive for this to make much sense and for me to pick this up and write a blog post about it - it just wouldn't make sense to write a longer text about this without saying *anything* about what the idea itself is about. Or I might just take this Facebook status update and develop it just a little to turn it into a blog post. Yes, I just might do that.
Feeling supremely creative!
When I wrote the text above, I was just a little bit too much in love with my own internal process of discovering and developing The Idea. I don't any longer think it's necessary to document or record everything. I do however still think it's a Great Idea.
The last weeks of the term turned out to be way busier than I thought they would be so I still haven't talked to Elina about this idea yet. That's still the next step and I expect we will then spend some time discussing and developing The Idea further. We will then recruit at least one more person who can help us develop The Idea further (I have a few possible candidates in mind). But I don't feel I'm much of a hurry any longer. The idea, while hard to discover, is not particularly hard to understand as ideas go. It's a new way of looking at things, but it's not a difficult idea in itself, so I will continue to be secretive about it for now.
While I didn't write anything about it in the Facebook update, I think the process of discovering The Idea is interesting in itself. It started with a brainstorming session earlier that day. There was a drawing on the whiteboard that was almost-but-not-quite symmetrical and I was thinking of that drawing while walking home from the subway. I was wondering why the drawing wasn't symmetrical and what the implications would be if I somehow made it symmetrical - if I added what was missing to the left side of the drawing. That was basically it, that was how The Idea came to me. I thought of a symmetrical image and tried to interpret what those additions would mean. Even as I turned that idea around in my head and saw something new, I still didn't understand the implications at first. That came hours later, when my mind had had some time to think it through. The mind does indeed work in mysterious ways.
I realize this blog post is very secretive, vague and fuzzy but I still want to post it so that I have a written record of this "intellectual breakthrough". This blog is my public academic/professional diary and it will be nice to be able to trace The Idea back to its roots when it has been developed and written up (perhaps sometime in 2019).
Since this blog post is published on Christmas eve, I guess it's possible to say that this exciting idea was an early Christmas gift to myself this year.