As I stared incomprehensibly at the DC metro last weekend, a stranger approached and asked me if I needed a penny to help my thoughts. After a brief conversation, we parted ways. The idiom a penny to your thoughts stuck. It was a lingering thought that I couldn’t help but wonder if the idiom could be economically redeemed not only for my musings, but also for the thousands of internal thoughts that flood my brain each day. How rich would I become if I could get a penny for each thought I had?
Here’s a brief history of the expression “A penny for you thoughts”
The phrase “A penny for my thoughts” was first used by Sir Thomas More, an English statesman. He uses the phrase to describe a penitent vagabond on a pilgrimage in his text.
“As it frequently happeth, that the very face sheweth that the mind walks a pilgrimage in, in such wise, that other folk suddenly say,’ One penny for your thought .'”
These texts were actually written in England when a penny was a significant sum. It would be about 1.6 pounds today, 2.50 USD if adjusted for inflation.
Unfortunately, the idiom of today is not adjusted for inflation. In our hypothetical scenario, one dollar (in 2016 dollars), per thought is still available.
Calculating thought income
We humans have barely scratched the surface on the science behind our thoughts as of 2016. It is not known how many thoughts we have per day, or what constitutes a “thought”.
There are a few estimates, but the University of Southern California’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging has the best. The lab performed some basic experiments using student subjects as well as electrophysiological monitoring to find that the average person thinks about 48.6 times per minute.