Elias Howe: The creation of the sewing machine

Elias Howe is in a pickle. He had apprenticed at a textile factory and a couple of years later, he had apprenticed at a master mechanic who worked on fixing precision instruments. And perhaps because of that, the king had challenged him to create a sewing machine within 24 hours. Or else he would be executed.

Howe tries and tries. But is unable to make an efficient sewing machine with a needle. When the thread goes into the hole at one end of the needle, and the cloth is sewed from the other hand, you need a hand to guide the needle in and out. Creating a mechanical machine imitating the hand movement was beyond his capabilities.

He had given up and was just about to be taken to be executed. When Howe notices something peculiar: the soldier’s spear was pierced at the pointy end. 

And that’s when Howe has his eureka moment. He realizes that the needle’s eye has to be near the needle’s pointy end! He asks for one more opportunity but unfortunately his time is up!

And then he wakes up!

Yes, Elias Howe dreamed up the solution to building the sewing machine. 

Converting dreams to creativity

Howe is not the only one who came up with a solution while dreaming. August Kekule dreamt the structure of benzene in his dream.

But there are two people who elevated the dreaming to a consistent creativity generator. And they couldn’t be more different than each other. Salvador Dali from the field of art. And Thomas Edison from the field of science!

Dali would sleep by slouching on his chair, with a key in his hand. He would place a metal plate underneath. As soon as he would go into deep sleep, he would drop the key onto the plate. The noise would wake him up and he would start painting whatever was on his mind!

Edison would take power naps once or twice a day – with two balls in his hand. Before he would sleep however, he would ask a question to himself. And as he would fall asleep, the balls would fall on the ground and he would wake up – usually with a solution to his pressing problem that he would be working on!

“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” – Thomas Edison

Taking inspiration from Edison, researcher Delphine Oudette decided to test the idea out in a lab. 87 participants were given a math puzzle with a hidden rule to solve it much quicker. After they had worked on the puzzle for a little while, they were asked to relax on a reclining chair with a glass in their hand for 20 minutes. If the glass fell, they would be asked for what their last thought was.

All the participants’ brain, eye, and muscle activity was also constantly tracked to check how wakeful they were. After the 20 minutes were up, the participants continued on the math problem.

A total of 63 participants drowsed and dropped the glass. Out of them, 37 folks had just entered the first stage of sleep. But 26 of them had gone to the deeper stage of sleep.

Those 37 folks who had just entered the first stage of sleep were 3 times as likely in solving the math problem than the ones who didn’t sleep at all. And whats more, they were 6 times more likely in solving the problem than those who had gone into deeper stages of sleep!

The results clearly showed that there is a window to creativity just before falling asleep. But how does it all work?

The brain beast

Avi Mendelsohn published a ground breaking study on hypnotism. 25 participants were shown a 45 minute movie. And after a week, under fMRI scanner, these participants were hypnotized and asked to forget the details of the movie. They were also given a cue that would make them remember the movie again!

The participants were then given a quiz about the movie, and indeed their brain scans showed that they didn’t remember the movie at all! On being given the remembrance cue, their visualizing parts of the brain again started lighting up when asked for the details about the movie!

Whats going on here? There are two parts of our mind. The conscious and the subconscious. But why is the brain divided as such?

Our brains are a beast. And their main job is to maintain a steady state in our bodies. Regulate our body temperature, and make our hearts beat without effort. So that we don’t go crazy, our brain filters a lot of information out.

But that information is not deleted. It seeps into the subconscious part of the brain! And if you can access that part of the brain, your creativity lights up! The filters are given a rest and your brain connects more dots!

And just before we fall asleep, there is a window to access our brains subconscious minds!

If you cross over that window, your conscious brain forgets everything again! 

Action Summary:

  • Take power naps. With a question in mind. And a noise making widget in your hands.