Inspiration of Pauling, Helmholz, Russell, and Poincaré


There are partial evidences which are recognised by us in our ordinary lives. For instance, I mentioned before, these moments of inspiration. Somebody like Pauling, the American chemist who made a number of discoveries in a long life, which many scientists don’t do. They make one discovery at the beginning and then they live on the fame of that for the rest of their lives.  But he was consistently productive, like Helmholz who was another one. Pauling said: “When I am confronted with a problem that defeats me, I deliberately make use of my subconscious mind. I concentrate intensely on it for at least three weeks and then I deliberately dismiss it. That’s not so easy but I dismiss it. And then sometimes weeks or months later, as with the structure of alpha-keratin, suddenly the answer pops into my head from nowhere”.

If we read biographies we shall see how often these things happen. They are documented in the case of famous artists and writers and scientists but as a matter of fact nearly everybody has had some experience like this and it can’t be accounted for in the ordinary way and it’s uncomfortable. Bertrand Russell, who was a great philosopher of science, he had such experiences. He describes in his autobiography he had to give a series of papers and he couldn’t see how to fit his material together and he was getting desperate because the deadline was approaching. Then he became exhausted.  He went for a walk and said: “As I came in through the door, suddenly the whole thing was clear, how it should be arranged. I don’t say it was perfect, but it was far better than anything else I could have done at the time.’ Russell says: “Well, to account for this, I suppose I sowed the seeds by my concentration on it, and then the seeds came up. This is not a very intelligent remark for such a brilliant man.

Poincaré, he speaks of these experiences but he points out that it is a new order that comes out. It is not just sowing seeds. When you sow seeds you know what’s going to come out, no new order comes out. Poincaré says: “The problem is that it is possible to imagine that the subconscious, as it was called then, simply tries many combinations.  But the point is, there is something which evaluates them and presents one of them as the solution, and it is something entirely new and unforeseen. This means that there is something in my subconscious which is more intelligent than I am. I should hate to admit that.”  And he sought to get round that by saying: “Well, it is possible that beauty is an index to truth, and that this subconscious entity can evaluate beauty and select it on that basis.

At least he saw the problem and faced it. Russell doesn’t. Russell says: “I sowed the seeds”.  But it is as if he was sowing seeds of blue, white and red at random, because he says that there was no order in his mind and then he came back, with his moment of inspiration, and it was as though the seeds had come up in a Union Jack.  It was sown at random but something underneath the soil has brought them into order. Russell didn’t see that. Poincaré saw that – much more intelligent at that point.

Now, there are these experiences which otherwise can’t be accounted for. They’re common, they’re embarrassing, if you are a materialist – but they happen and the Yoga says this is a partial, but only partial, evidence of this light of intelligence which is beyond our conscious mind as we know it now. They have it in science but it is not an inspiration for everyday life. Pure concentration in science makes the clarity, cleans the instruments of prejudices and preconceptions and then it can come out, but not in everyday life.  And as we see with, for instance, Einstein, he had these wonderful inspirations very, very early in life, but he spent the last 30 years of his life fighting against the implications of them which he didn’t care for. So it’s a partial indication and a hint, but it is not a full account of inspiration.

Yoga says we must try periodically to clear the mind so that this light will shine through, and the clouds to clear away.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The source of Inspiration

Part 2: Our personalities can be purified

Part 3: Thoughts come from the Karana-Sharira

Part 4: Clear the mind and light will shine through

Recap of Inspiration of Pauling, Helmholz, Russell, and Poincaré

Recap of meditation: Sit on a hilltop under the blue sky


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