How Many Thoughts Could a Woodchuck Chuck If A WoodChuck Could Chuck Thoughts All Day? (Okay. Scientists Can’t Answer That, But They Can Tell You About Humans.)

The Busy Brain

I don’t know how they have done it.

I want to ask them:  How do you count something like thoughts?

With their brain scans and electroencephalograms, MRIs and sleep studies: Experts have measured and have come up with the fact that the average person thinks 3000 thoughts per hour.  That’s about 50 thoughts per minute; roughly one thought per second.

The research on the data the brain is taking in while it is busy thinking is astonishing.  See if you can keep up with it: From what we see to what we hear to what we feel, smell and taste, our brains are ravenously taking in 11 million pieces of unconscious data per second.

Oh.  You want to know what the number is for conscious data?  That drops to forty.  Yep:  Only 40 pieces of conscious data per second.  (Neuroscientists refer to the data we are conscious of as only a little retention pond compared to an ocean of unconscious data.)

Data is not just sitting there.  No.  With the 100 billion nerve cells in the brain and its’ trillions of connections, we transmit up to 1,000 impulses per second.  We are moving data around while we are taking in new data.

In the meantime, the conscious part of our brains munch on all of the data we have taken in and are taking in then spit out something we call thought.  (Funny how we do not refer to that as waste.)  Researchers tell us that a good portion of our time is spent thinking about what we just thought about.  Oh, my.  Is your forehead cramping right now or is it just me?

What is Thinking?

How does a bunch of cells called the brain think?  Is it happening in the cells of the brain only?  Or do other cells join in the fray?  While scientists are busy teaching us that the mind extends to every cell in the body, they tell us the center of thought-processing happens to take place in the 3.5 pound universe we call the brain.

As it turns out, the brain is nothing more than a special organ able to process and transmit human consciousness that includes thought.

It’s a super sophisticated radio transmitter doing the central processing at the highest level.  Yet, somehow, every cell of our bodies still counts: every cell is involved in thought and consciousness.  Without external stimuli reported from cells remote from our brain, thought would not (could not) happen.  Neuroscientists are hard-at-work to discover what roles different types of cells play in the human experience of thought and consciousness.  Why?  Information Theory.  We can’t make robots if we can’t understand what we are trying to reproduce.  We can’t find solutions for incompetencies if we don’t know what to qualify as normal or achievable. We can’t make the most of what we have if we don’t know what we have.

Great Thinker?

You might think someone with a high IQ and pedigree from the greatest academic institution is blessed with the ability to have a higher number of thoughts per second than the person of average intelligence and education.  We all know someone who brags about being able to think about stuff.  And we all can name the great thinkers of various fields.  The question is: Do great thinkers think more thoughts or higher quality thoughts than the rest of us?

Researchers report that we – of just below to far above average intelligence – are all having the same number of thoughts per second.  What does vary is the perspective we have about incoming information; the quality of the information we are thinking about; the way we are processing it.  Discipline and Choice are important words in high quality thinking, that point to a quality called self-awareness.  It turns out we can train the brain to be great at thought, if we are willing to be aware.  More importantly, the funny thing is that research points to the fact that the person most able to reduce his or her thoughts per second is the one who seems to be able to improve self-awareness and have the highest quality thoughts.

Higher Number of Thoughts per Second = Lower Quality Thinking

Lower Number of Thoughts per Second = Higher Quality Thinking

Reducing the number of thoughts per second is called many things; most commonly: Meditation, Mindfulness, Contemplation or Stillness.  It seems to be a prerequisite to the faculty called self-awareness.

Love Thyself

In terms of clinical studies, people who reduce the number of their thoughts per second are found to have developed parts of their brains that lead to higher levels of contentment and satisfaction with life (regardless of the external circumstances), and a higher regard (appreciation and love) for themselves. 

It seems the people who do not decrease their number of thoughts per second are destined to not only feel stressed, but suffer more troubled feelings about themselves.

Thinking:  Past and Future

Thought is the process of taking in and reviewing data to compare past to future; future to past.  By its’ nature, it is the ongoing encyclopedia of future desires and fears or past regrets and guilts.  Of course, it’s exhausting!  There is so much, so much, SO much…compare and contrast, compare and contrast, compare and contrast.  The problem is, thought without stillness is an electromagnetic circus without a ringmaster.

The Ringmaster

Sages, philosophers, prophets, mystics and great teachers over time have urged us human beings to do one thing, above all:  Be still.  It is within the quiet inner space of the human experience that we are able to witness or observe ourselves living; to hold ourselves above the wavy surface of so many ongoing thoughts per second.

If there is one skill you commit yourself to master, let it be reducing your thoughts per second.  Regardless of how you get there, it is where you will fill yourself up with energy, vitality and love.


Your Takeaway Concepts:

Lower Quality Thinking:  Thoughts that age the human body and mind, stress the system and lead to fatigue and disease.

Higher Quality Thinking:  Thoughts that maintain the human body and mind, support the system and lead to health and wholeness.