BrainStorm: The Spark of an Idea


Do you ever wonder where ideas come from? Or how some people look at problems and arrive at elegant, and often simple, solutions without effort?

I do. It is what my writing compels me to do. I get ideas often out of thin air. I listen to the voices in my head and, instead of acting on them, I write about them and put them in other people’s heads.

I wonder, whenever I come across something that strikes me as a great idea, why didn’t I think of that?

Where do ideas come from?

The average adult brain weighs about 3 pounds yet burns 327 calories per day (out of 2000 for an average adult male.) In general, vital organs make up only about 5-6% of our total mass but 60% of our total resting energy expenditure (REE).

You really can get exhausted just thinking!

A significant amount of the energy is in the form of electricity. The human body, at rest, generates on average 100 watts of electricity. Remember the Matrix and its dependency on the power of the human brain?

So there really is a “spark” of an idea.

The mechanism for such a spark, the so-called “molecular unit of currency,” is ATP. Adenosine Tri-phosphate. Now, at the risk of resurrecting the nightmare of high school or college biology classes, it is important to know without ATP (and the way too complicated for this article process that controls it) we wouldn’t be able to think any of the estimated 70,000 thoughts per day scientific research would suggest we all have.

How they arrived at such a number is a mystery. My guess is they hired former IRS Tax auditors to come up with these things. (A joke, just a joke for any IRS employees reading this. No need for an audit this year.)

You would think, pun intended, if the estimated number of thoughts per day per human is correct, there would be an abundance of innovative ideas floating around. The evidence would suggest otherwise.

The exciting thing is the minimal amount of energy needed to set off a single synapse to get the process of an idea started. One ATP molecule releases about 18 to 18.2 kj (kilojoules) of energy. What is a kj you might ask?

A kj is an Australian term for measuring the amount of energy in food, similar to calories. A kj is a kilojoule, 1000 joules. Now I am not sure, but that does not sound like very much energy to generate an idea or to think. By comparison, the nanojoule (nJ) is equal to one billionth (10−9) of one joule. 160 nanojoules are about the kinetic energy of a flying mosquito. Don’t you just love scientific notation?

The next logical question is, what is a joule? I defer to the oracle of Google and the goddess Wikipedia for the answer.

“The joule (/dʒuːl/); symbol: J), is a derived unit of energy in the International System of Units.[1] It is equal to the energy transferred to (or work done on) an object when a force of one newton acts on that object in the direction of its motion through a distance of one meter (1-newton meter or Nm). It is also the energy dissipated as heat when an electric current of one ampere passes through a resistance of one ohm for one second. It is named after the English physicist James Prescott Joule (1818–1889)”

Study this. It WILL be on the test!

So why is it that our world is full of old outdated ideas, prejudices, misconceptions, anger, hatred, and distrust when all we need is such a tiny amount of energy to think?

I fear we are not taking full advantage of the human family joules.

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