The Thought Counts


I found myself wondering recently if it was possible to measure the number of thoughts that a person could think in a day. This turned out to be a more elaborate thought exercise than I expected.

On the one hand, it is safe to assume that human intelligence is finite within an individual and that thoughts exist within time. The amount of time in a day is constant. The amount of intelligence in a human is variable, of course, but is likely to fall within a certain range. So with these two assumptions it is safe to say that the quotidian of an individual’s thoughts should be finite and measurable.

On the other hand, what counts as a thought? How many thoughts can be handled at once? Should conscious thoughts be weighted differently than perception or, say, pulse regulation? Are global activities such as performing music a single thought or a string of many? How does attention play in? Does one think more thoughts when concentrating or when letting one’s mind wander? Do memories count as thoughts even when we’re not activating them? Etc.

I think the only thing that it is safe to say about human thought is that they just never stop and are not so much finite as they are irrational the way that pi simply keeps going into the realm of the unobserved and unobservable: we will run out of lifespan before we run out of thoughts and pi.

The idea came up a few weeks ago when I found myself walking back to my van after a long day of classes wondering whether I was even close to reaching the limit of my thinking capabilities. At the end of a long day it certainly felt like it, but I wondered how it compared to last semester during production when I was working just as hard but on completely different tasks requiring completely different skills and energies. I was curious to know, even in a general way, how my thought volume varied from semester to semester.

It occurred to me that I would probably never know. It occurred to me that thought measuring was as much an element of philosophy as it was of science and as such probably remains undiscovered territory.

It occurs to me now that I ought to give my thinker a rest. Its technically after midnight, but I’m on a perfect streak of writing everyday and I’ll be damned if I break it with only two days left to go.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on January 30, 2015.

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