The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Thinking Fast


So John Paul's loving sister Chesney (age 5) says today,

"Daddy do the little messages from our brains to our fingers move faster than the sun."

I blinked. "Uh, yeah, I'm pretty sure they do. Most electrical things move much faster than large bodies, even fast ones."

"So there's something in us that moves faster than the sun," she says.

That's pretty flippin' awesome. I've never thought about the relative speed of body processes to celestial processes.

Sadly, turns out I totally mislead her. I would have thought nerve impulses went about as fast as other electrical signals (a bit slower because of the wetness, but still). After all it only takes the postassium channel membrane like 2 milli-seconds (0.002 seconds) to switch polarities and return. (link) And lightening can move at about the speed of light.

However, it looks like the sun beats nerve impulses by a huge margin. 220 km/s (NASA) vs. 130m/sec (OHSU).

Still, it's the validity of her reasoning and the creativity of the line of thought that counts, not my false--but, I maintain, rationally justified--premise I supplied.

I still wonder if there isn't *something* electrical in our nervous system which approaches the speed of light.

4 Comments:

At Monday, December 11, 2006 4:54:00 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

"I still wonder if there isn't *something* electrical in our nervous system which approaches the speed of light."

Is my wit located somewhere in my nervous system?

 
At Monday, December 11, 2006 6:59:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

The question is: Is your wit located?

:P

 
At Monday, December 18, 2006 9:41:00 AM, Anonymous Conan DeWitt said...

"I still wonder if there isn't *something* electrical in our nervous system which approaches the speed of light."

Not to go totally nerdy or anything, but the actual electron transport between the chemical species probably approaches the speed of light. It's the chemical diffusion that slows the whole thing down, since the charge carriers are (relatively) large, ionically stabilized atoms that have to fight against concentration gradients, etc.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_of_magnitude_%28speed%29) says electron transport in a vacuum is 10^8 km/h...even if you account for scattering and attentuation from the charge carriers, I bet the actual-honest-to-God movement of electrons in your body is orders of magnitude faster than the sun.

 
At Monday, December 18, 2006 1:43:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Nerds rule! I'm glad to count electrical engineers among my friends!

 

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