The Realm of Finite Thoughts

Noise field by A.G. © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

I have read that people have roughly 50,000 thoughts per day. It would appear that many of these thoughts are duplicates on a day to day basis. Even so, if we take this value of 50,000 thoughts per day, then in a space of ten years I will have had 182,625,000 thoughts (counting extra day in leap years). My question is: How big is the realm of All Possible Thoughts?

Let us posit that thoughts exist in Neural Space. The Neural Space is the realm of all possible thoughts, the realm of all possible configurations of Neural Space. I want to argue that the number of possible thoughts, or configurations of neural space, is FINITE. I think the number of possible thoughts is a massively huge number, but still finite. If we took all of the individual thoughts of all human beings since the beginning of time, we would have a huge number of unique thoughts, but still a finite number.

Let us for example take a super simplified model of the human neocortex. Let us say that it is a n x m matrix of 256 pixels by 256 pixels, each pixel having a possible value of either 1 or 0 (a bitonal image). This matrix, or image/picture then has 2^65,536 possible configurations of pixel values (“two-to-the-power-of-sixty-five-thousand-five-hundred-and-thirty-six”) This is a huge number. It is a number with 19,729 decimal digits. (Note that it is estimated that the there are between 10^78 to 10^82 atoms in the known, observable universe. We’re not even close!).

The human brain, though, has many more possible connections than we find in our simplified model of 256 pixel by 256 pixel value configurations. Therefore, it could be said that the number of possible configurations of Neural Space is an even more massive number. It means that in one’s life, one only has a very small number of all possible thoughts. Given that a large number of thoughts are duplicates, this limits even more our own individual realm of all possible thoughts.

Let’s look at it in another way. In modern history, the number of published books is 129,864,880 (Google says so). If we took each book as being at least 100 pages long, we might be capable of calculating the number of “thoughts” potentially contained in each book, and all of the books taken in the aggregate. This could give us a measure of all thoughts written down, a poor substitute for knowing all possible thoughts, but we can’t know what all the thoughts are that humans have ever had, so it is a good surrogate. Even if each book had 1000 unique thoughts, that would make the maximum number of thoughts in every book ever written at 129,864,880,000. That’s still a very small number compared to all possible configurations of Neural Space.

What I am trying to do is find the limits of human thought. As I said, I believe that the total number of possible configurations of neural space is a finite number. It’s a massively huge number, but finite nonetheless. And at 50,000 thoughts per day, humans only cover a very small number of thoughts in their entire lives. If I lived 100 years and had 50,000 thoughts per day, I’d end up having 1,826,250,000 thoughts, that’s close to 2 billion thoughts. That’s not even close to the number of possible configurations of neural space.

Another question is, how many of these thoughts are fully formed thoughts? Most of them are likely to be pseudo-random thoughts like What time is it? or Where did I leave my keys? These are thoughts, but not the same as having say fully formed philosophical concepts. If we move from the number of thoughts to the number of fully formed concepts, we limit the number even more. Humans end up being rather poor philosophers. If we limit the number of concepts to the number of books one has read, and the number of thoughts one has had about said books, we get a rather small number of concepts.

Perhaps we can speak of Concept Space, the space of all possible concepts. It would be instantiated in Neural Space, and be a subspace of all possible configurations of neural space. At this point, if a supercomputer were to go through every possible configuration of neural space at a rate of one million or one billion thoughts per second, it would still take a very long time before it got through all possible configurations. It might be longer than the age of the universe. It might actually be impossible to go through all possible thoughts. That shows how big the number is, but it’s still finite I must remind you.

A.G. © 2017. All Rights Reserved.