Every once in a great while, someone comes forward with an idea so practical, so appealing, so compelling in its simplicity, that it almost automatically changes human history. The wheel. The use of wind and rain for power. Moveable type. Simple ideas, but powerful.

Yoko Ono thinks she's got another one. It is one of the more poignant cases of mistaken identity. This week, she spent better than $25,000 to take out a full- page advertisement in The New York Times to deliver her brainchild: an international "Surrender to Peace," starting in America. A key element of her idea is "a Nationwide Peace Poll to vote for peace versus nuclear holocaust of any size. The poll should be clearly independent from nuclear disarmament and/or gun-control issues for now, as many of us feel a strong need for nuclear defense while regarding gun control a nonpriority cause. . . . The poll should be authorized and organized by the Congress as a national undertaking . . ."

The idea is at least as simple as some that have changed the world and, at one level, it has the requisite universal appeal. Who, given the stark choice between "peace" and "nuclear holocaust of any size," could choose other than peace? But what does it do for us to register that preference? The widow of former Beatles star John Lennon offers this: "What the Peace Poll will do is (1) show us where we stand in terms of individual and collective commitment to world peace and (2) inspire the rest of the world to follow."

As a matter of fact, it would be nice if there developed a strong movement for peace, beginning, perhaps, with the nuclear freeze idea. A lot of us--perhaps even a majority--have come to doubt that our increased ability to destroy the world through nuclear warfare enhances our security. Some formulation of the nuclear-freeze question was on the ballot in nine states and the District of Columbia last November, and lost in only one state. The latest Washington Post- ABC News Poll reveals that a majority of Americans believe the administration's military spending proposals are excessive, that President Reagan should hold a summit meeting with new Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, "even if Reagan believes nothing important can be accomplished," and that the United States should not proceed with development of the MX missile.

But even the minority of respondents who felt otherwise about these issues still would prefer peace to holocaust. Sadly, Yoko Ono's simplicities, to the extent that they become confused with more rational peace efforts, are likely to hurt more than help the cause of arms reduction. The question isn't whether but how to achieve peace and avoid the holocaust. It's a point Ono seems to have missed, perhaps because her mind is operating on a different plane.

The otherworldly young woman, noting that she has "not slept well since John died," recalled an earlier effort to sell universal allegiance to "a conceptual country called Nutopia," a country whose body would be "the airfield of our joint thoughts," whose constitution would be "our love," whose citizens would all be ambassadors and whose flag would be "the white flag of surrender . . . a surrender to peace." The idea, she admitted in the Times ad, "did not go down too well." But she remains hopeful. "It is time for you to rise. It is you who will raise the flag. I feel that John and I, as a unit, have done our share. The rest of my life belongs to our son, Sean. It is your effort. Your flag. . . . Surrender to peace. I love you."

She imagines that she has proposed something profound and appealing. In fact, she is talking gibberish. I almost wish the Times hadn't taken her money.