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.

The Madness of Reefer Irrationality

Rationality has surpassed reason as the rarest of commodities in this country. The once common ability of Americans to hold intelligent, fact-based, discussions of our differences has gone the way of cursive writing and fundamental education.

Nothing exemplifies this phenomenon more than trying to have a reasoned discussion over the need for reevaluating the criminalization of marijuana.

Marijuana, like any drug, has benefits and risks. Yet, despite the scientific evidence which supports this, we insist on making possession of this drug a crime.

We accept the argument that alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine for that matter, used with restraint provide a benefit to the user despite the associated health risks. Some would argue we do this out of resignation to the reality of the widespread demand for these substances. Others would argue that we recognize the long cultural use of such substances. In either case, we recognized that controlling the use through rational regulations is the correct approach.

Why is it with marijuana we ignore such reality?

My time as a police officer taught me certain things. Drug abuse is a health issue, not a criminal issue. Every aspect of human life is subject to abuse; alcohol, gambling, eating, sexuality all cause addiction within a certain percentage of the population.

In these matters, we target the behavior of the individual not a blanket indictment of the means.

The science on marijuana being a “gateway” drug is nebulous at best and, in my anecdotal experience, wrong. The only thing criminalizing marijuana did was create generations of individuals with criminal records and foster an industry of privatized prisons.

Now I am not for one instant advocating the blanket decriminalization of marijuana. Much like the use of alcohol and tobacco, we need to defer to an individual adult’s right to determine the risk vs. benefit of using such substances. But we do this with associated laws that control the distribution and sales of such items.

One of the strongest arguments against “legalizing” marijuana is the effect it has on the adolescent brain. THC and other substances can affect the still developing circuitry.  As does alcohol and tobacco. Yet we have managed to find a rational way to minimize access to these substances.

The war on drugs failed, the war on people succeeded. If our goal through criminalizing the use of marijuana was to prevent its use, we failed. Need proof? There is not one zero-tolerance high school in this country where one cannot get marijuana. This is because we cannot control the distribution system. Keep in mind 49% of Americans have tried marijuana. Your gonna need more prisons to deal with that number.

If the goal of keeping marijuana illegal is to protect people from descending into the world of addiction than there must be some verifiable numbers which support this. I can find few scientifically based studies that show the use of marijuana increases the likelihood of addiction any more than the consumption of beer leads to alcoholism.

Despite the common perception by many who do not understand addiction, alcoholism is a well-established medical condition. Why would we treat any other addiction differently? Addictive behavior is a complicated matter.

Every alcoholic started with the first drink. Every drug addict started with that first high. Correlation is not causation. The process of developing an addiction includes a myriad of conditions and contributing factors.

I find it interesting that, despite the widely accepted number of more than 21000 suicides per year by firearms, no one considers that an equally egregious risk to society.

See somebody lighting up a joint, call the cops. See someone loading a gun, defend to the death their right to possess it.

Before the NRA and others get their panties in a bunch, I am not advocating taking away one’s right to own a firearm. I am just pointing out that someone loaded on a joint is less of a risk to society than an angry person with a firearm.

If we are willing to accept the fact that more than 21000 of our fellow Americans will kill themselves next year, I think we can find a way to accept the fact that several million Americans will get high on marijuana during the same period and do nothing more threatening than increase the sale of Cheetos.

In this election cycle, the hope for a return to rationality is nil. We’ve lost Pandora’s Box. I do hope that, before I leave this mortal coil, I will witness a return to an age of reason.