This blog post muses over the mathematical formula that compares the possible states of the human mind to the number of atoms in the universe. No wonder our brain feels overloaded from time to time. It’s like we have too many tabs open!
The statistics about the human body blow my little brain. There’s a lot of blood and guts packed into this little frame.
For example, if all your arteries, veins, and capillaries were laid end to end, they would stretch nearly two and a half times around the Earth. As far as the gut goes, the intestines, if unravelled, would fill half a football field. And during a lifetime we produce enough saliva to fill two swimming pools. Yuk.
BRAIN VERSUS UNIVERSE
Who do you think would win in a contest between the brain and the universe? A contest, that is, to see who has the greatest number of components? Atoms for the universe or states of mind for the brain? Read on.
By the way, don’t be put off by the upcoming scientific jargon. I don’t really get it either. But I want to make a point about the brain’s busyness. Bear with me.
The brain contains, among other things, around 100 billion neurons. (Take a moment to let that one sink in.)
Neurons are nerve cells.
They communicate with each other by hooking up at a junction called a synapse. It’s not like each single neuron has only one, two or three hook-up options. Oh no. Each of these 100 billion little babies selects from 1000 available neighbours, to form a pathway in the brain.
(Obviously neurons don’t need Tinder or any other online dating site)
Mathematicians express the number of potentialities you get when one billion neurons each have 1000 different ways of connecting as “ten to the millionth power”.
I remember hearing something about that expression from school … probably while I was gazing out the window wondering what to wear to the next party.
Ten to the millionth power looks like a ten followed by a million zeros. It quantifies the endless variety of unique pathways created by limitless combinations of neurons. At any one moment, I guess.
“Who counts all the neurons?” my husband asks. He’s like that. Actually not bad at maths but a little sketchy on advanced concepts.
By the way, ten billion neurons joined end on end would stretch for one billion meters- about three times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Let’s get back to the mathematical formula that compares the possible states of the human mind to the number of atoms in the universe.
(All for the sake of my point about the busy brain- I’m getting there).
The possible number of atoms in the universe (yes Universe) is ten to the eightieth power. ONLY 80 ZEROS. Compare that to A MILLION ZEROS, the possible states of the human mind.
In other words, our brain can come up with more ideas, or have more useless thoughts, than the number of atoms in the universe.
The brain wins. Point made. Now we can move on and consider the repercussions of all those zeros.
A HEAD FULL
Now I understand why my head often feels full to popping point. It’s a no-brainer. There’s a constant processing, reconfiguring, and reconnecting of trillions of neural connections in each moment.
Of course, certain neural systems work to filter the content, screen out the jumble, minimise the overload, create some sense of the maze. They do an average job and are challenged by the brain’s greed for information, for novelty, for choice, for entertainment.
I’m reminded of the Zen expression “the ten thousand things”, referring to the mind’s habitual preoccupations. And that’s exactly what overload (or just plain old daily life) feels like: ten thousand things clamouring for attention, impinging from all sides.
No wonder Zen praises Mindfulness so highly.
A MINDFUL SOLUTION: STOP AND LOOK
One of my life’s tasks (you might have noticed) is to find ways to slow down the jumble, the overwhelm. There’s quite a few ideas elsewhere in this blog.
One of my top favourites is Mindful Seeing.
When really busy, my mind is zooming off in all directions, I don’t even see what’s in front of me. It’s only when I slow down again that I notice the pumpkin vine I’ve been walking past several times a day has quadrupled in size.
So I can reverse that situation and use seeing itself as a slow-down mechanism. Stopping and looking, intentionally seeing what is in front of me, helps bring me out of my head when life is spinning too fast. It delivers clarity.
I love the moment when I ‘stop and look’, stop and see again. The fresh whiff of sanity is almost intoxicating in its simplicity.
The neurons might be hooking up as madly and promiscuously as ever, but mindfully connecting to my senses has a power that brings my mind back home.
I’ll leave you with one last brain stat. People who practice mindfulness are more likely to have increased gray matter in key calmness centres of the brain and less gray matter in stress spots. Gray matter holds most of the brain cells. The more gray matter, the more connectivity. More connectivity, more performance power. (Read more here)
As a dedicated meditator, that one sends me over the moon.
copyright Shakti Burke 2017
Rick Hanson, Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom
The statistics about the blood vessels etc comes from the Franklin Institute, a science museum in Philadelphia.
The size of the digestive tract is still under contention
Read Swimming pools here
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