I've written before about How To Tell If You've Had An Idea in which I described how my own (regrettably rare) 'lightbulb moments' feel like a mild electrical shock in the brain.
Now a wonderful New Yorker article from July 2006, sent to me by Johnny Cleaver, sheds some scientific light on the question.
It's largely an interview with Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, who has spent 15 years studying exactly what is happening in the brain at the 'moment of insight.'
His observations include these:
1 Solving problems with insight uses a complete different part of the brain than solving problems with analysis
2 The sensory areas of the brain go quiet just before an insight, as the brain diverts its considerable computational powers to focusing on the problem
3 Insight nearly always follows a feeling of impasse, comes suddenly, and is preceded by a massive spike of electrical activity
Does this tally with what it's like for you? And I'm curious to know how many times a day/month/year do you experience this moment of insight?
You can read an extract of the article here, maybe the whole thing if you register.