What is the speed of our thinking

The speed of thought

[263]
The speed of thought.
By W. Wounds.

It is a common belief that thinking happens very quickly. We talk about the flight of thoughts, and thought-quick is the proverbial name for everything that is faster than we can measure. But it will be permissible to pose the question: what justifies us to say that thinking is so fast? That ordinary opinion considers thinking faster than anything else is of course not the slightest proof, for the scientific observer has already experienced a hundredfold how vastly the ordinary opinion about things tends to differ from a correct knowledge of them. In fact, nothing can be more false than our conception of temporal and spatial relationships, as soon as these are above or below the limit which is set for our immediate intuition. As little as we can form an idea of ​​the millions of miles which the heavenly bodies are distant from one another, just as little can we think of them when one speaks of a hundred, even tenth, of a second.

We are inclined to regard periods of time as infinitely small or at least immeasurably small, which in reality can still be measured quite well, indeed, the size of which turns out to be very important in comparison with many other temporal processes that can also be measured. An instructive example in this respect are precisely those processes which are closely related to the formation of thoughts and which precede it in the development of the soul - the processes of sensation and the conduction of movement in the nerves.

A short time ago even physiologists thought of the sensation that occurs on the outer end of the sensory nerves that it propagated to the brain with immeasurable speed; Likewise, it was believed that the impulse to move, which is exerted on the end of the moving nerve in the brain, at the same time already causes the muscles to contract. And yet nothing is more incorrect; Precise measurements have shown that the speed of the nerve principle can only be called a very moderate one in comparison with many other processes. While light travels 42,100 miles in a second, and electricity in copper wire 62,000 miles, the process of sensation and movement in the nerve of living man has only this Speed ​​of 61½ meters per second, d. H. it is 5 million times slower than light and 7 million times slower than the electricity that moves in copper.

According to this, however, if one takes into account the length of the nerves in the human body, the time which a sensation needs to reach the brain or spinal cord varies from about 1/600 of a second and less to 1/68 of a second. The impression on the skin of the foot takes more than ten times the time it takes for the light impression on the eye to reach the brain before it reaches the spinal cord. But if the impression on the skin of the foot in the spinal cord has also reached it, it is not yet raised in consciousness; for this it must first have propagated along the entire spinal cord to those central organs in the brain to which the expressions of consciousness and voluntariness are bound. If the conduction velocity of the sensation in the spinal cord were only as great as it was found in the nerves, a period of 1/40 to 1/30 of a second would have to elapse before the impression on the skin of the foot really became conscious. But it can be said with certainty that a much longer time will elapse. The spinal cord is by no means a mere collection or a common trunk of those nerves which arise from it, but it is an independent central organ, similar to the brain, which is independent of the brain in certain peculiar functions. When lower vertebrates are beheaded, in which a deeper intrusion is not so easily fatal by disturbance of respiration and blood circulation, certain activities continue which must be regarded as the lowest stages of physical activity. For when the animals are stimulated by scratching or etching their skin, they make simpler or more intricate movements, which seem to have the purpose of removing the stimulus. These movements are called Reflex movements. The speed with which the impressions propagate in the spinal cord can only be determined by determining the time which elapses from the occurrence of a sensory stimulus to the occurrence of a reflex movement. This measurement has been carried out and has shown that the nerve principle in the spinal cord does not move at the same speed as in the trunks and branches of the nerves, but experiences a very considerable deceleration. The conduction of sensation and movement in the spinal cord takes about twelve times the time it takes for the same processes to propagate in the nerves, so that the nerve principle in the spinal cord does not travel more than about 5 meters in a second.

The external impression, which must first be conveyed through the whole spinal cord to the brain, would therefore require up to a third of a second or more in adult humans before it is perceived; and a comparatively just as long time undoubtedly occupies the conduction of the impressions in the brain. One can convince oneself of this slow movement of the nerve principle in the central organs in the simplest way by observing how people are frightened. If the kettledrums suddenly come in during a concert, or if there is unexpected shooting in the theater, the ladies' start up regularly a noticeable time after the sound has been heard. Such time differences, however, which we can still perceive directly with the senses in this way, cannot be less than 1/5 second at the most.

If we see the simple processes in the area of ​​the nervous system, which consist solely in the conduction or transmission of sensations and impulses of movement, take up a very noticeable length of time, then this is certainly to be presupposed in the actual activities of the mind, in the formation of ideas , of thoughts. Compared to the mere conduction of sensations, these are already very complicated processes that are built up from a multitude of simpler processes. Take e.g. For example, a facial image, we see it initially emerging from a larger or smaller number of light impressions on the eye, which require a certain speed of propagation up to the brain. Here, however, the light impressions are first collected by apprehending the colors and the outlines of the object seen. The image of the object created in this way is finally inserted into the general scheme of the ideas we are familiar with at the appropriate point and thus raised into consciousness. Even when ideas are already familiar to us, several successive processes are always necessary before the idea can really come into consciousness. The situation is completely different when our soul is enriched by new stimuli from the senses with notions or ideas that have not yet existed in it. We know very well that a new thought often shoots up in us like a lightning bolt, which may be able to put a previously dark area in the brightest light in one fell swoop. We then think that the idea is also part of it one Blow arose in us, and we do not think of the silent preparation that often preceded that sudden light-up, and which sometimes, without [264] that we knew about it, occupied the whole mechanism of our thinking. This silent preparation cannot be subject to any temporal measure, because we do not know where it begins, we only know where it ends.

If it is a question of comparable measurements of the speed of thinking, only familiar ideas or ideas that are linked to one another in a certain order can be selected. But there is one more restriction to be made. It is easy to observe in oneself that the speed of thinking and imagining varies greatly depending on one's mood and external drive. If we count without a certain speed in counting being prescribed to us, then we count now quickly, now slowly, either for a certain reason, but sometimes without knowing why. Counting is the juxtaposition of one number conception to the other; in this particular case the speed of counting is the speed of thinking. But it would be of no value here to simply measure the speed, since what is measured once does not prove to be valid for another time. On the other hand, there is one thing that can be measured and used to a comparable degree. Everything that can move at different speeds has a certain speed limit beyond which the movement can no longer be accelerated. As is well known, a steam wagon can go slowly and quickly, but at a speed gives it which he will never surpass in the existing construction of the machine. The same thing must also be valid for thinking. For every single person there has to be a certain speed of thinking which, given the nature of his mind, he can never get beyond. But just as one steam engine goes faster than the other, so the greatest speed of thought will probably not be exactly the same in all people; The spiritual organizations are as different as the construction of a machine can be, yes, with the same people the speed of thinking may change, because the human spirit is never the same as it has already been.

The mind knife.

How is it now possible to change the time of the quickest thought to eat? - I have found a method by means of which this measurement can be carried out very easily and in the shortest possible time. The aids that are needed for this are so simple that everyone can easily obtain them and observe the speed of thought in himself and in others. Any larger clock pendulum can be used for these measurements. Let the end of the pendulum pass before a divided circle. Approximately in the middle of the pendulum, attach a horizontal metal rod (like a thick knitting needle), which, when the pendulum swings towards it, strikes against a small glass or brass bell attached to the side. This bell is suspended from a hook at the top so that the end of the rod can only just touch it, so immediately after it is struck it shrinks back without offering any significant resistance to the movement. You can move the bell up and down so that the observer never knows at which moment of the movement of the pendulum the sound is actually occurring.

The remarkable result is that the pointer of the pendulum, which swings in front of the divided circle, is never seen at the moment of the sound of the bell in the place where it actually passes while it strikes the bell, but always reverses several parts of the scale removed from it. With casual observation I usually see the pointer, before I hear the pendulum beating, so the pendulum seems to me to strike the bell at a position where in reality the rod is still considerably removed from it. But if I turn my attention primarily to the sound of the pendulum swing and at the moment when it occurs I try to read the position of the pointer, then I only see it, after this I heard the sound, about as much later as I had seen it earlier, the pendulum seems to strike the bell at a position at which the rod has again moved considerably away from it. All that matters is the nature of your attention, whether you see first and then hear, or whether you hear first and then see, and so, when you have learned to direct your attention at will, you are able to see a considerable constant difference between to produce his own observations.

These observations on the swinging pendulum now immediately reveal the absolute amount of time which the fastest thought needs to arise and disappear, for the speed of the pendulum in every single part of its path can very easily be calculated from its period of oscillation, and it can be calculated In this way, from the path which lies between the position of the pendulum, where the sound actually took place, and the position of the same where it was heard, we can determine exactly the time which elapses from becoming conscious of the sound impression to becoming conscious of the visual impression. But this is immediately the shortest time in which two ideas can follow each other, or the time of the fastest thought.

The experiments carried out in the manner described show that 1/8 second as the mean time for the fastest thought can be viewed. This period is a little smaller than the fastest counting, because with the fastest counting there is 1/5 of a second on the individual number, but it is considerably longer than the time we need to separate the impressions of one and the same sense. With the lowest notes of the musical scale we are still able to distinguish the individual sound vibrations through the ear, and we can also separate from one another noises which follow one another with great speed; In this way, under favorable conditions, the individual perceived divorced impression can be limited to a duration of 1/60 of a second. But time has no relation to the activity of our mind, for the vibrations of a tone or the jolts of a noise are always only parts of a single idea.

The time we have found for the rapidity of thought is by no means immutable; the time of 1/8 of a second can only be regarded as the mean of a large number of observations. But one sees this time subject to small fluctuations in one and the same person. The main reason for this seems to be that we are by no means always able to keep our attention evenly tensed. In addition, however, increasing practice in such observations is of the greatest influence, it causes the observations to be sharpened more quickly at the beginning and only very slowly later, and it seems that in doing so one is only ever approaching a certain limit of fineness, which one never fully approaches reached. It is true that one finds constants in different people individual Differences.

These individual differences in the time that elapses between hearing and vision are of the greatest interest. In them we are first given a direct measure of the speed of thought of individual people. By [265] Our method of investigation, which is easy to establish, decides here in the shortest possible way whether someone slowly crosses the bridge of thought connections or whether he jumps over it with a bold swing. Here the simple means of testing is found, with which everyone can be told instantly, up to a thousandth of a second, how quickly his time is moving - whether the ponderous course of his ideas only gradually conquers small areas, or whether the easy flight of his thinking in moments lets him overlook a world ...

Another important fact emerges from our observations. Aristotle asked whether we can think two things at the same time. But he was not able to decide this question with certainty, and so it has remained pending for two thousand years. Although hypotheses have been put forward in this regard and systems have even been founded on the hypotheses, decisive evidence for one or the other view has been lacking. We have now succeeded in proving this. Because if we could imagine two things at the same time, we should see the pendulum at the same moment as we hear the pendulum beating. But the consciousness always grasps only one single thought, one single idea. Where it appears that we have a majority of ideas at the same time, a very rapid succession deceives us. Consciousness is not an unlimited space in which a multicolored mass lies next to one another, but rather well ordered on a single thread, moving now slowly, now faster through the line of thought.One after the other is pulled up from the dark room of the unconscious soul and disappears again at the moment when his successor has stepped into the light. In that dark room of unconsciousness, there, of course, there is an infinite amount of things that we have not the faintest idea, there is the true thought factory,

Where the little ships shoot over,
The threads flow unseen.

But when the masterpiece, the thought, comes ready before the eye, then it is a whole, on which no one will count the threads from which it is woven together. -