How much is your time really worth? Student paper evaluates the economics of thought

August 13, 2015, University of Leicester
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Image by Sam Rohn, flickr.com/photos/nylocations/

Big thinkers may wish to re-evaluate their rates, according to a student study at the University of Leicester, which tested the popular idiom 'A penny for your thoughts' by working out how much of a person's thought could theoretically be purchased with a single penny.

The study suggests that a penny could, in theory, purchase 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought according to Natural Sciences student Osarenkhoe Uwuigbe from the University of Leicester's Centre for Interdisciplinary Science.

In a paper published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University of Leicester's Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, the student first investigated how much is needed to produce thought.

For simplicity, the study examined the power necessary for the brain โ€“ which consumes roughly 20 per cent of the body's energy - to run as being the power necessary for the production of thought.

Given that the average of a typical adult is approximately 100 watts, the student calculated that the power necessary to run a human brain and produce thought is roughly 20 per cent of this โ€“ or 20 watts.

To apply monetary value to thought, the price per kilowatt hour (kWh) charged by UK energy companies was calculated, settling on 16 pence per kWh, which is within the range of prices typically charged by UK energy companies.

Assuming that it requires 20 W or 1/50 kW to produce thought, charging 16p per kWh means that one penny can purchase 1/16th of a kWh. Therefore the length of time (in hours) a penny can purchase thought for is (1/16)รท(1/50)=3.125.

Assuming that it is possible to think as fast as you can speak, the student suggests that 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought and speech can be bought with a penny.

Student Osarenkhoe Uwuigbe said: "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. The brain has several autonomic functions it carries out during thought processing and as a result processing could not take 100% 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 constrains 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."

Dr Cheryl Hurkett from the University of Leicester's Centre for Interdisciplinary Science said: "An important part of being a professional scientist (as well as many other professions) is the ability to make connections between the vast quantity of information students have at their command, and being able to utilise the knowledge and techniques they have previously mastered in a new or novel context.

"The Interdisciplinary Research Journal module models this process, and gives students an opportunity to practise this way of thinking. The intention of this module is to allow students to experience what it's like to be at the cutting edge of scientific research.

"The course is engaging to students and the publishing process provides them with an invaluable insight into academic publishing. It also helps students feel more confident when submitting future papers. I find it a very rewarding module to teach and I am always pleased to see my students engaging so enthusiastically with the subject. I encourage them to be as creative as possible with their subject choices as long as they can back it up with hard scientific facts, theories and calculations!"

Explore further: How much of the Amazon rainforest would it take to print the Internet?

More information: The full student paper 'A Penny For Your Thoughts' is available here: physics.le.ac.uk/jist/index.ph … /article/view/113/75

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10 comments

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ThomasQuinn
5 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2015
This has to be among the silliest, most pointless 'studies' I've ever seen. This kind of thing leads to the discrediting of science amongst lay people.
docile
Aug 13, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2015
This has to be among the silliest, most pointless 'studies' I've ever seen.

C'mon. It's a bit of fun stuff knocked out by a student in an afternoon (the paper is barely a page long). Don't read too much into it.

JIST is a journal set up to teach students how to publish, peer review and edit - not to be a source for excellent primary research..
http://www2.le.ac...graduate journal expressly

Hardly any students are taught how to publish during their years at university - but this journal is a rather neat idea to get them to know how to from all the angles.
ab3a
not rated yet Aug 13, 2015
Ding ding ding! We have another IgNobel Prize candidate...
axemaster
3 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2015
Yeah seriously guys, this is a freaking student learning how to publish. Get over yourselves. Students/scientists aren't your slaves, born only to work endlessly to give you a new iPhone... which your stupid ape hands will then drop and crack the screen, "stimulating" the economy by paying someone to fix it (though of course it actually damages the economy because you're spending money to restore value that you destroyed), just so you can drop it AGAIN...

/morningrant

Besides, it's often these sorts of papers that stimulate a lot of more interesting ideas, by making us think down new directions. So there is value in it, probably quite a lot in fact.
docile
Aug 13, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Bongstar420
not rated yet Aug 13, 2015
The value of the output of a brain is like that of a computer...some computers do more and produce better results on less energy.

Coco the Chimp's thoughts do not have the same value as Albert Einstein's even at parity for energy use. Heck, Einstein could use 100x more power than Coco and still have more valuable thoughts.
spryde81
not rated yet Aug 13, 2015
The argument is circular.

The price of energy used in the calculation also in part derives from people's time and thoughts.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2015
In the end we have to acknowledge: This kid has, with this one paer, already done more for the advancement of human knowledge science than all the conspiracy theorists, cold-fusion nutcases, personal-intuitive-TOErs, 'Truthers', religious fanatics, and all the other anti-science loons on this site ever have done (and ever will). Combined.

So if anyone has an issue with this: Publish a paper first (i.e. "put up or shut up") - and then we'll see.
Ryan1981
not rated yet Aug 17, 2015
Interesting followup would be what the impact in terms of technological advance this 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds could have :P In my case probably a waste of money ;)

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