Better than sex? Imagination can trigger the brain’s reward network creating a deep sense of pleasure and purpose.
“It’s better than sex…Don’t tell my wife I said that.”
The scientist who confessed that to me was describing how it feels to make a breakthrough, to have an epiphany—a sudden realization, a deep insight. It is knowing that you are seeing something that has never been seen before.
And it’s more thrilling than sex. Sounds like such a ripping good time that we should all become research scientists. It is a climactic, satisfying moment, but it is rare. So, why is it better than sex?
An epiphany only comes through work, diligence, study and luck—being in the right place at the right time – or Kairos.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is time as sequence—Wednesday follows Tuesday; August follows July. It is the root of the word chronology. Kairos is the opportune time, the propitious moment. For the Greeks it originally had two contexts: archery and weaving.
In archery, it is the moment when the bow string is drawn tightly enough to drive an arrow into the target. In weaving, it is when the shuttle can be passed through the threads.
Through the centuries, kairos has come to mean time as the manifestation of the divine, described by Christian theologian Paul Tillich as the “fulfillment of time,” the resolution of “all the ambiguities of being, life and history.”
Kairos is all time collapsed into one moment, an all-consuming moment when nothing appears to matter or even exist outside of the epiphany. According to legend, Archimedes, the Greek mathematician, leaped from his bathtub, buck naked, and ran through the streets of Syracuse shouting “Eureka!” (“I found it” in Greek.)
Why should it feel so good that it surpasses post-bath shivering, water dripping and ego embarrassing?
It is the moment of kairos—the powerful harmony of past, present and future. The union of your past work with your future, the fusion of fulfillment and prophecy.
Kairos time is similar to the state of flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where you are fully absorbed into a task, losing track of time, place, and sometimes self. These are moments when you feel most alive, valuable to yourself and to others.
The epiphany that draws you into kairotic time is rare—maybe once in a lifetime. Not every idea sets you running down the street naked. But, even simple ideas give you pleasure; imagination can trigger the brain’s reward systems.
But, if you achieve that moment—well… It’s better than sex.