Towards a Quantitative Framework for Sudden-Insight Problem Solving and the Feeling of "Aha!"

Jerome Swartz, Robert DeBellis, Aileen Chou, Ryan Low, Julie Onton, Scott Makeig

Presented at Dynamical Neuroscience XVI symposium, Washington, D.C., November, 2008

Problem solving via sudden-insight has several qualities, notably the feeling of "Aha!" that distinguish it from more incremental, methodological approaches.  This subjective experience corresponds to neural activity and dynamics with properties different than other types of problem solving, as shown by recent studies using fMRI and EEG.  Using a mean-field "continuum" model of cortical dynamics, we demonstrate that a spatiotemporal resonance generated by the model supports the rapid rise of activity toward a threshold of conscious access, the crossing of which signifies the availability of an insight solution.  We claim that these brain processes occur largely without conscious awareness but are strongly modulated by attention and noise or distraction.  Because all problem solving is the result of a combination of both nonconscious and conscious brain activity, we propose a system to describe the relative contributions of each in different problems types based on difficulty and/or complexity.  Preliminary data from high-resolution EEG in a semantic, phrase completion task suggest that activity in the theta and alpha bands reflects activity corresponding to sudden-insight solutions.


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