Biology

Putting a price tag on brainpower

A University of Leicester student estimates that a penny purchases 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought
A University of Leicester student estimates that a penny purchases 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought
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A University of Leicester student estimates that a penny purchases 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought
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A University of Leicester student estimates that a penny purchases 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought

If you offer someone "a penny for their thoughts," how good a deal might you be getting? A study conducted at the University of Leicester has sought to shed some light on the value of our brainpower, finding a single penny to be worth to precisely three hours, seven minutes and 30 seconds worth of thinking.

Osarenkhoe Uwuigbe, a Natural Sciences student at the University of Leicester’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, used a number of assumptions about the brain and the economics of thinking to arrive at this final figure. Based on the fact that the average human body produces around 100 watts of power, Uwuigbe calculated that the power required by a human brain to generate thoughts to be around 20 percent of this, or 20 watts.

Uwuigbe used English pennies for the currency and when calculating the cost of power, he used the price per kilowatt hour (kWh) offered by UK energy providers as a reference point. He chose 16 pence per kWh because it lies within the range normally charged by these companies.

Now comes the maths. Assuming that all the power consumed by the brain is used on thinking, 20 W, or 1/50 kW is what it takes to keep our minds ticking. So if a penny buys 1/16th of a kWh and if you can speak as fast as you can think, this works out to (1/16) ÷ (1/50) = 3.12 hours, or 3 hours, 7 minutes, and 30 seconds.

This makes for a very long, but affordable monologue.

"This model is likely to be an underestimate as power required for the brain to operate does not necessarily translate to power used in thought," says Uwuigbe. "The brain has several autonomic functions it carries out during thought processing and as a result thought processing could not take 100 percent of the power consumption of the brain. Furthermore, it is unlikely that it is possible to think as fast as you speak due to delay caused by biological constraints such as conduction velocity of nerves carrying the signal from the brain to the mouth, the release of Ca2+ ions during muscle contraction of the tongue and lips and so on."

The study was published in the peer-reviewed student Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics.

Source: University of Leicester

3 comments
wright
Putting effort and putting the brains in the thought is different. According to the accepted theory that 20 percent of the power produced by the body is used by the brain. It also not always necessary that there is 100 percent output resulting from the though process. Still, according to the studies it would be a wise decision to think upon it on monetary basis.
piperTom
This is a lot like basing the value of a car or a home from the price of the various raw materials and ore that went into it. Nuts!
Neon
The calculation is very simple, in fact insultingly simple, but I bet this student got a prize for his project. It fails to take into account efficiency of energy conversion, the cost of electrical energy is different to chemical, investment in the person's education and development to a point where the quality of thought is good enough to solve problems/come up with ideas. It assumes a person's brain is worthless, instantly acquirable, usable, free, and it only requires electricity with no other running costs. In addition usable conscious thought can not be harnessed 24hrs/day, there is down time and rest, so I could imagine a first world's "developed country" brain with a undergraduate qualification would have a net cost of aprox £5-7/hr
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