"I've got an idea!"

A recent television ad paid for by KEEP (Kentucky Equine Education Project) and favoring casino gambling in Kentucky was presented as a silent movie (and may well have been excerpted from one) in which a bewildered and befuddled character is hit on his head four times with a large wooden mallet. He then smiles and says, "I’ve got an idea!"

The ad, of course, was meant to be clever but fails in its suggestion that ideas have to be banged into people’s heads. In the traditional literature on ideas, they either are stimulated by what is seen (perception) or what emanates from within the mind (insight). In his short, classic book, "The Mirror and the Lamp," M .E Abrams discusses these two approaches to understanding reality as they develop in Western civilization. Reality is reflected from without or projected from within.

In either instance, the serious idea, even if it seems to occur in a flash, is defined and refined by considerable thought. Thomas Edison put it famously when he said that "genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration." The character in the TV ad just described was made to show that ideas require neither thought nor sweat, just a little firm prodding.

It has been said that the best university commencement address ever given was the shortest when a late 19th century divine addressed the graduating class thusly: "Go home and tonight get on your knees and pray to God that you have one original idea during your lifetime."

Such supplication is certainly worth the effort. However, four raps of a mallet, like being "taught to the tune of the hickory stick," will produce no ideas, just pain.