An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance“) is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe breakthrough scientific, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.
Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally following a process of significant thought about a problem. Often they are triggered by a new and key piece of information, but importantly, a depth of prior knowledge is required to allow the leap of understanding. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’s discovery of a method to determine the density of an object and Isaac Newton’s realization that a falling apple and the orbiting moon are both pulled by the same force.
The word epiphany originally referred to insight through the divine. Today, this concept is used much more often and without such connotations, but a popular implication remains that the epiphany is supernatural, as the discovery seems to come suddenly from the outside.