Mental Miles Per Minute

Cue the person in the background, riding by on a bicycle.

Listen to the timbre of a person’s voice. Take note of the words, their order and how they emit from a person’s lips.

Watch the plates as they are set on the table at what speed and the volume/intensity of the contact with the table.

Count how many sugar packets — either individually or as a group — are torn before being transferred to the cup of coffee. See if the person adds milk, how long they take to stir it with which hand and how many fingers and see if they leave the spoon in their beverage as they sip from the ceramic. 

I could go on, but these are a few examples of what I could and have paid attention to. It’s important to me a person, writer, improviser/actor, friend or romantic partner. At the same time, looking and being distracted is not the greatest for establishing or building a relationship.

What flower makes a particular person sneeze? What dessert/snack does this person tend to go for? What’s their comfort food and why?

Needless to say, I’m usually thinking about something. I babble on like a mad man in my mind. If my mouth were to run at the same speed, people would be telling me to shut up.


What is the speed of a thought?

(Well, what’s the best most convenient way to look something up? Google it.) This is what pops up:

In the human context, the signals carried by the large-diameter, myelinated neurons that link the spinal cord to the muscles can travel at speeds ranging from 70-120 meters per second (m/s) (156-270 miles per hour[mph]), while signals traveling along the same paths carried by the small-diameter, unmyelinated fibers of the pain receptors travel at speeds ranging from 0.5-2 m/s (1.1-4.4 mph).
Increasing the number of neurons involved in a thought means a greater absolute distance the signal needs to travel – which necessarily means more time. … Further, more neurons mean more connections. Most neurons are not in physical contact with other neurons. Instead, most signals are passed via neurotransmitter molecules that travel across the small spaces between the nerve cells called synapses. This process takes more time (at least 0.5 ms per synapse) than if the signal was continually passed within the single neuron. … In truth, even the “simplest” thoughts involve multiple structures and hundreds of thousands of neurons.
(Professor Tim Welsh, June 2015)

This excerpt was found at EarthSky, in the article “What is the speed of thought?” by Welsh, a professor of kinesiology and physical education at University of Toronto. (It was originally published at the independent academic news site The Conversation and titled “It feels instantaneous, but how long does it really take to think a thought?” and this is where that quote is referenced.)

It’s been about 14 years since my last formal biology/human physiology class. Some retained information came from out of the mental shadows while reading this, which is good. Personally, this still being fascinating is also a good thing. I recommend reading the article. It’s interesting, even if it’s enjoyed as a bathroom read.

What I also found interesting: Welsh also says, “trying to identify one value for the ‘speed of thought’ is a little like trying to identify one maximum speed for all forms of transportation, from bicycles to rockets. There are many different kinds of thoughts that can vary greatly in timescale.”


A month or so ago, a friend pointed out and asked about my being really quiet. It was after an improv show, so my brain was coming off of the performance high,. The question resonated, because it’s not the first time — nor will it be the last — someone has pointed it out.

Interjection: To paraphrase guilty pleasure pop punk band The Wonder Years (song “There, There”) so it’s to this update’s advantage, I mentally “babble on like a mad man. I know how it seems when I’m always staring off into nothing. I’m lost in my head again.”

(The lyrics go on to say, “I’m awkward and nervous.” Needless to say, if you’ve met me, this is a given.)

My quiet tendencies, which can be designated as shortcomings, are interesting to me. Some people say I’m not quiet, and I’ll disagree to a point; others will say the opposite, of course, albeit there are moments where physical or mental exhaustion will get the upper hand, including those post-improv shows.

A mind is a difficult thing to turn off, and it hinders meditation — something I’m actively working on. This also takes a toll on sleeping, too, but that topic is for another time.

So I apologize now for the past and the future instances of zoning out. I’m forever present and in the moment, paying attention regardless of what ideas are popping in and out of my head. Just have to flick my ear, clap really loud in front of my face or just crack my head open to let the pressure air out.

Please. Not literally.




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