William Perry’s Creative-Sleep Experience

William Perry, the US Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration, had an unusual experience years before while working on his PhD. Here’s how Politico and he described the event in a recent article:

Perry had been brooding over the question for a year. It was in the early 1950s, he was still in his 20s, and the subject was partial differential equations—the topic of his Ph.D. thesis. A particular problem had been absorbing him, day in and day out, hours and hours on end. Then, out of nowhere, a light came on.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, and it was all there,” Perry recalled. “It was all there, and I got out of bed and sat down. The next two or three hours, I wrote my thesis, and from the first word I wrote down, I never doubted what the last word was going to be: It was a magic moment.”

There again is that moment of creativity, one might even say discovery, coming from deep within. You might call it an alchemical moment. Perry describes how the unconscious mind can be working a problem we give it even while our waking mind is no longer overseeing the activity. I would argue that a faith in the process is helpful and even the ability to look for the solved problem within our own mental processes.

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