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Does though have a speed?

  1. Nov 23, 2003 #1
    Does thought have a speed?

    Hello Everyone

    As most things are associated with speed I often wondered if thought (thinking) had a speed? I would appreciate your thoughts on this.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 24, 2003 #2
    suppose thought has speed. how do you propose to measure it:
    words/s, ideeas/s, (activated sinapses)/s [?] [?]
  4. Nov 24, 2003 #3
    Thought has a speed, but there are no individual thoughts, so they can't be measured in any of the ways that you suggest, Guybrush. The speed of thought would (basically) be a measure of how fast an input of information yields subjective awareness (IOW, how fast we process new information in our brains).
  5. Nov 25, 2003 #4
    If I had any idea how to measure it I would have the answer to my original question because I would have proven that thought does have a speed :-)
  6. Nov 26, 2003 #5
    Well, there's a time lapse involved, even when you're thinking isn't there? How fast do electrical impulses fire off in the brain? And how many of these impulses does it take to comprise one thought?

    On the other hand, let's say you were able to project your thoughts and ideas from one end of the universe to the other -- i.e., in the sense that you can travel there in your own mind. Now that would be pretty darn quick, wouldn't it?
  7. Nov 26, 2003 #6
    If thought has speed, then the size of a brain could effect the speed at which it thinks. Since thought is just electrical signals(I think), wouldn't the speed of thought be the same as the speed of light? mabye.
  8. Nov 27, 2003 #7


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    Electricity doesn't travel at the speed of light. And the synapses where the really interesting stuff happen slow things down a lot.

    I would think of this speed not as distance/time, but rather just as a signals processed/reaction time thing.
  9. Nov 27, 2003 #8
    I guess one way to look at this would to observe the reaction time of people who are performing an action that uses consious thought vs an action that is claimed to be automatic. It is said that actions that require consious thought take a lot longer than actions that are automatic, so that would suggest that thought (or the thinking process) would take time.

    What kind of thought are you talking about though? a "what did i do last week" recall kind of thought, or a problem solving thought, or a thought on your current musings, or "what do i want for dinner" kind of thought? all of these will have diffrent speeds related to salincy and how often you use them and how colplex it is etc. measuring them would be an interesting task, but you would have to set up a pretty specific task before you got the cat scan worked up.
  10. Nov 28, 2003 #9
    I have proof that thought has speed.

    In an argument my wife's thoughts fly at speeds I am unable to match. The problem is that this incredible velocity is also incredibly hard to control so her thoughts go in all kinds of wild directions usually leaving me at a spinning standstill due to the turbulence.

    but really,
    are you asking if the electric aspect of thought has speed or the ability of our mind to reason has speed. If so does intelligence affect speed?
  11. Nov 29, 2003 #10
    there's a joke from my friend
    my friend asked me; which one is faster, the speed of light or your thought? the answer is my thought because light about 8 minutes to go to the sun from here, but i just need less than 8 minutes to think about the sun.
  12. Nov 29, 2003 #11
    There are 2 kinds of thoughts. One which relates to speech, ie awareness and analytical, and other that relates to automatism, ie instinctive/intuitive. Latter one is hardly thought as process, its more like pattern matching/recognition. And that which relates to speech is pretty slow.
    Basically, you can't think faster than you can formulate the subject of thought, which implies ability to express it in speech. Any other kind will leave you with high probability of errors and misunderstandings.
  13. Nov 29, 2003 #12
    So then it seems like intelligence does affect the speed of thought.

    SO what determins or intelligence - determines our speed?
  14. Dec 1, 2003 #13
    Actually, Bernardo, it's quite the opposite: The speed of thought effects the level of intelligence.

    Anyway, there is a book called The Cerebral Code, wherein William Calvin develops a selectionist idea of thought and consciousness, and his idea requires that the most minimal of "thinking" operations is the synchrony of interneuron firings in a hexagonal shape at distances of about 0.5mm. If this is true, then we have the discreetest unit of "thinker" (the "stupid demons" of Dennett's hypothesis, as presented in Consciousness Explained), and can thus (I think) discover what the "speed of thought" really is. It's a step in the right direction anyway, IMO.
  15. Dec 1, 2003 #14
    The problem, Bernardo, is that we don't have a clear definition of what thought is (in a quantitative way), and in turn no a clear idea of how one would measure it's speed. Mentat's post does touch on this and posit a kind of definition, but until those two aspects - definition and how it's measured, are addressed this question is basically meaningless. i.e. A qualitative question asking for a quantitative answer about a poorly defined action/event.
  16. Dec 1, 2003 #15
    True enough, radagast. I appreciate that you refer to "thought" as a "action/event" rather than a thing. There are no individual "thoughts", but there is the process of thinking. Of course, this fact makes it that much more difficult to present a working definition of "thinking", but I still think it'll be possible someday.
  17. Dec 1, 2003 #16
    I wrestling with this one.

    So thought is an action.

    Our speed = our intelligence.

    All electrical impulses in our bodies travel at a set speed( electrical & synaptic)

    so what I'm wondering is the speed of thought like a cognative reflex? The amount of time it takes to respond to an idea because once this 'reflex' responds the speed of the message is biologically set.

    (man I wish this site had a spell check! sorry just venting.)
  18. Dec 1, 2003 #17
    Given a good definition (and I rather liked the more concrete version you gave), I agree. I've always been a little irked at the phrases that say 'traveling at the speed of thought', as if it were some extreme speed. These authors have obviously never practiced a martial art. Thought can seem pretty damned slow when it's preventing you from getting hit, and god help you if you try to intersperse it with a little analytical thought. =:-0
  19. Dec 1, 2003 #18


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    Hmm.... I seem to remember some where reports that brain waves exhibit a sort of harmony - ie. certain neurones fire in a sort of repeated oscillation, at regular time intervals. Maybe we can use this to get a sort of clock speed for the brain?

    Alternatively, neurones that have just fired require a short time to reset themselves to fire again. This recovery time, averaged over brain cells, might be a good indicator...
  20. Dec 2, 2003 #19
    That's what William Calvin deals with in the book I mentioned (The Cerebral Code), the harmonic self-stimulations of interneurons within triangular arrays. In his theory, the most discreet unit of the thinking process (the Hebbian cell-assembly) is the hexagonal collection of stimulated interneurons, each from a different triangular array.
  21. Dec 3, 2003 #20
    for all we know, thought processes are completly different from person to person. how could you mesure thought? the means are difficult at best to even comprehend, and the ends are unmeasurable as the conclusions of deep thinking are partially unconcious. i would just like a clarification of whether ur question is just about synapse responses. even if it was, we dont know if there is a different efficiency for each person. too many unknowns.
  22. Dec 3, 2003 #21
    Seeker03, yes synapse response would change from person to person, depending on the resting level of each "thought" as it were (oh, do the cognitivists have a lot of really really bad logic for these kinds of memory models!!!!!!!!!!!). But if we are taking thought to be brain movement (yes, it does seem that this would suppose a materialist approach, NOT commenting on this being good or bad) then the measurement of a thought would be through timing of synapse firing.

    BUT as you say, it would vary greatly from individual. So the "thought" that you measure would have to be a fairly uniform one, (is there such thing as a uniform thought?). You would also have to know exactly where in the brain this thought lies. Which requires a very specific accurate memory model, based on physiological states, one that we do not have any clue of right now. (I believe the cognitivists are holding us up on that one)

    So yes, too much we don’t know to do this kind of testing RIGHT NOW. But in the future? I think its possible. If we do have specific cells and specific neuronal conjunctions that perform very specific encoding tasks, then we will easily be able to measure thought. As for some of the processing being unconscious, a physiological model of memory and thought would eliminate this problem... if you are simply looking at neuronal function, the issue of consciousness is meaningless, for surely one cant suppose that just because a thought is unconscious it is therefore not just a different Patten of neuronal firing.
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