An “organising insight” is a realisation that makes other things make sense. Think about the Harry Potter series. When we find out that Snape is acting on Dumbledore’s orders, and is doing so because he still loves Lily Potter, the reader’s perspective of past events changes. Examples abound in science too. A law is discovered or a theory is proposed that creates order out of chaos, that makes things that were out of place have a place. But perhaps my favourite example is one which occurs in our own minds.
Often, I’ll make a string of random, disconnected observations. These observations take on a tangible shape and swirl around in my mind, lodging themselves there for no apparent reason. And as I poke, probe and play with them, I hit upon an organising insight. I stumble upon an angle that gives some sense and structure and relevance to all of these previously un-connected entities. It’s like groping around in the dark and finally finding the switch that illuminates the whole room. The difference is profound, the moment itself almost blissful.
Of course, the discovery of organising insights is periodical. For an organising insight to arise, there has to be things in need of organising. Which makes me think that the intellectual life of a human being undulates between phases of addition and subtraction, and organisation. We are destined to fluctuate endlessly between expanding our understanding of reality and clarifying it.