from the world's big
New study suggests we have 6,200 thoughts every day
fMRI scans show each new thing you think of as a "thought worm."
- The study passes on figuring out what we think, focusing instead on the frequency of thought.
- Consistent neurological signals identify the transitions between thoughts.
- fMRI scans tracked participants' thoughts while they watched movies and when they were at rest.
A new study from psychologists at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario reports observations of the transition from one thought to another in fMRI brain scans. Though the researchers didn't detect the content of our thoughts, their method allowed them to count each one. Referred to as "thought worms," the team says that the average human has 6,200 thoughts per day.
"What we call 'thought worms' are adjacent points in a simplified representation of activity patterns in the brain," said senior study author Jordan Poppenk. "The brain occupies a different point in this 'state space' at every moment. When a person moves onto a new thought, they create a new thought worm that we can detect with our methods."
The study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
Billion Photos / Shutterstock
Not so much the 'what' as the 'when'
There's been a fair amount of research devoted to understanding what a person is thinking based on observations of brain activity. However, the only way to know what a particular pattern of brain activity means would be to recognize its similarity to a brain-activity template known to represent that type of thought. Few such templates are available thus far, and they're time-consuming and expensive to produce.
Poppenk and his MA student Julie Tseng went another way. "We had our breakthrough by giving up on trying to understand what a person is thinking about, and instead focusing on when they have moved on," said Poppenk. He adds, "Our methods help us detect when a person is thinking something new, without regard to what the new thought is. You could say that we've skipped over vocabulary in an effort to understand the punctuation of the language of the mind."
A thought, says the study, is generally viewed by researchers as a mental state, a "transient cognitive or emotional state of the organism." Poppenk says that since such states are relatively stable in terms of brain activity — sustained attention being most closely associated with the angular gyrus — it's possible to identify transitions between one state and another using fMRI data from individual participants. "We argue that neural meta-state transitions can serve as an implicit biological marker of new thoughts," the study reads.
The researchers verified their hypothesis using fMRI scans from two groups of participants: some who were watching movies, and others who were in a resting state. "Transitions detected by our methods predict narrative events, are similar across task and rest, and are correlated with activation of regions associated with spontaneous thought."
"Being able to measure the onset of new thoughts gives us a way," explains Poppenk, "to peek into the 'black box' of the resting mind — to explore the timing and pace of thoughts when a person is just daydreaming about dinner and otherwise keeping to themselves."
The use of fMRIs is key, he adds. "Thought transitions have been elusive throughout the history of research on thought, which has often relied on volunteers describing their own thoughts, a method that can be notoriously unreliable."
Spontaneous thought and attention regions distinguish transitions from meta-stability
Image source: Poppenk, et al
Have you thought your 6,200 thoughts yet today?
While we average 6,200 thought worms a day, Poppenk anticipates further research tracking the manner in which the number of daily thoughts an individual has may change over the course of a lifetime. Likewise, he's interested in investigating potential associations between how quickly a person jumps from one thought to another and other mental and personality traits. "For example," he says, "how does mentation rate — the rate at which thought transitions occur — relate to a person's ability to pay attention for a long period?"
In addition, the researcher wonders if "measures of thought dynamics serve a clinical function? For example, our methods could possibly support early detection of disordered thought in schizophrenia, or rapid thought in ADHD or mania."
"We think the methods offer a lot of potential," Poppenk says. "We hope to make heavy use of them in our upcoming work."
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.
Is CRISPR the solution?
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic cripples the economy and kills hundreds of people each day, there is another epidemic that continues to kill tens of thousands of people each year through opioid drug overdose.