Alice has a problem and she goes to Bob for some advice. She pours her problems out to him, unaware that he isn't paying attention, but by the end of their "conversation" she's figured out the answer to her problem and thanks Bob for his help. On the other hand, Bob may be all set to give her some advice, but before he can get a word in, Alice comes up with a solution and runs off, thanking him, and leaving Bob bewildered, though he'll still probably say, "You're welcome." If Bob contributed anything at all, it was simply to serve as a catalyst for Alice to re-state (and thereby re-think) her problem.
In short, this is when a character has a Eureka Moment
without being inspired by the other character, but acts like the other character gave them just what they needed or thought they needed. Sometimes the other character isn't actually listening in the first place - they're asleep, or they've left the room, etc. Sometimes it's an animal, a person who they share no languages with, or The Silent Bob
. A common variation is for a character to be visiting their therapist, who doesn't say much more than "hmm," and "I see," yet they leave the session feeling much better
(in fact, psychoanalysis
that the therapist say as little as possible, partly to prevent them from putting words in the patient's mouth and partly to encourage the patient to talk themselves).
Also known as Rubber Ducking
IRL. At the other extreme we have Glad I Thought of It
. Compare Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!
for another situation where the act of describing the situation leads a character to a (much less helpful) understanding.
- Some of Hermione's I-think-I-just-had-an-epiphany-I'm-off-to-the-library moments in Harry Potter were like this. Lampshaded by Ron at least once (he hates it when she figures something out and then leaves without telling them what it was).
- Rin, in Shannon Hale's Forest Born has the gift for helping people this way, due to her quiet and accepting nature.
- Momo, by Michael Ende. Momo is a little girl who basically solves everyone's problems by simply listening to them. She never gives any advice at all, but the people who talk to her suddenly come up with ideas and solutions.
- One of the many reasons Sherlock Holmes keeps Watson around; explaining his cases to someone with less understanding often gives him just the brainstorm he needs.
- Psmith's relationship with Mike as his "confidential secretary and adviser" seems to embody this. Psmith is constantly praising Mike for his "invaluable" intelligence, despite the fact that he rarely lets him even get a word in edgewise; the truth is he likes having an audience.
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency addresses the first example listed under Real Life below; computers are logical, but lack common sense. As such they make an excellent substitution for a particularly dimwitted student; by breaking down a process into simple logical steps that a computer can understand, you are bound to understand the process better yourself. Very much Truth in Television.
- Lampshaded in Jingo by Lord Vetinari, who thinks that when people go ask other people for advice it isn't because they want their help. They just want someone to be there while they talk to themselves.
- Black Books, Bernard and Manny visit the same psychiatrist, and both of them experience (temporary) epiphanies. The shrink never says a thing, and gets showered with money for her trouble.
- Happens in the Castle episode "Punked". Alexis asks her dad how to know if she's in love, but before he can give her any advice, she rambles on about it, coming to her own conclusion, but thanking him as if he gave her the answer. Quoth Castle as she runs off, "Glad we had this talk."
- Frasier, when Frasier asks for his brother's advice, he basically uses him as a Straw Therapist while he diagnoses himself.
- This sometimes happens with Charlie's interactions with his therapist in Two and a Half Men. Sometimes he tries to make it happen in order to reach his preferred conclusion, usually with little success.
- Monk, as well, at least once each with Dr. Kroger and Dr. Bell, as well as a time or two where he used a non-therapist as a wall off of which to bounce ideas.
- The therapist Maddie talks to (or rather at) in the Jonathan Creek episode "The Scented Room".
- The second episode of Scrubs did this, where first J.D. and then Elliot did this with Dr Cox. This cemented Dr. Cox as the guy people (especially J.D.) came to with problems, much to his annoyance (especially when it involved J.D.).
- Doctor Who: With the Doctor around, this is almost a given. He'll be talking to his companion and then he'll explain what he had figured out. His companions will still wonder what he said!
- House, usually at least Once an Episode. Sometimes House and Wilson will be in the same room and talking, but having two entirely different conversations, and something Wilson says or does causes House to get up and leave, generally without explanation. One time when both his team and Wilson were unavailable, House commandeered a passing janitor to be his sounding board; apparently he's physically incapable of being brilliant without someone there to witness it.
- In Once Upon a Mattress, the Queen asks the wizard to help her think of a test to give Princess Winifred, but ends up just complaining without letting him get a word in edgewise. She ends up coming up with the idea all on her own, but still calls the wizard "a genius" for it.
- The therapist in Phantasmagoria 2 had surprisingly little to say about Curtis's various revelations: everything from being dressed as a girl by his horrifically abusive mother, to his attraction to both his female co-worker and male best friend, to his interest in bondage. You'd think there would've at least been a comment of note. Oh well, Curtis seemed pleased with the sessions.
- An Absent-Minded Professor mage in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim can be asked about her research, and she'll tell the player about problems she's having. If instead of admitting to having no idea what she's talking about you respond with random gibberish ("Uh... Seven?") she'll filter it through several layers of Bat Deduction and come to a breakthrough, thanking you for your insightful advice.
- In Legendary Frog's flash video "Kerri's Big Invention", Kerrigan asks a monkey for advice, which responds to her in generic monkey noises. Kerrigan admits that she has no idea what the monkey said, but is now somehow inspired. She then immediately gets back to tinkering.
- There is an old academic advice that basically says, if you want to understand what you're learning, find someone who knows even less than you to explain it to. In other words, in the process of breaking down an idea for someone else to understand you also get a better understanding of it (this is very much a truth; even if you thought you got it before, it can reveal a lot of mistakes or parts that you have skipped.)
- In software development, "teddy bear debugging" is a well-known technique where you try to fix a problem by describing it to a coworker, friend, or even a stuffed animal. The mere act of putting it to words often allows you to figure it out on your own.
- The ELIZA program, a "psychoanalytic" computer program where people would type in their problems (for instance, "People don't like me") and it would just throw their statements back at them in the form of questions ("Why do you think people don't like you?"). The majority of users said the program helped them feel better.