AND FINALLY: A penny for your thoughts? That’ll be 20 watts, please

bright idea brain light bulbThe olde English phrase, ‘a penny for your thoughts’ is commonly used today to mean ‘What are you thinking?”

It was coined – to coin a phrase – in 1552 by Sir Thomas More – when a penny was much more valuable than it is nowadays, so much so it was sub-divided into ha’pennies and farthings.

But now a university student has calculated that – at today’s electricity prices – a penny (1p) could purchase more than three hours worth of human thought.

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, student Osarenkhoe Uwuigbe investigates how much power is needed to produce thought.

For simplicity, the study examined the power necessary for the brain – which consumes roughly 20% of the body’s energy – to run as being the power necessary for the production of thought.
Given that the average power consumption 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% of this – 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 20W 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)÷(1/50)=3.125 – or 3 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds of thought.

Dr Cheryl Hurkett
Dr Cheryl Hurkett

Dr Cheryl Hurkett from the University of Leicester’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science commented: “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.”

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