Our brains are energy-expensive—we should use them more

Gram for gram, the brain takes a lot of energy to run. The average brains weighs about 1,300 grams and consumes about 20% of total body energy. (The pollution impact of all this energy consumption is that the average human body emits about 1 kg of CO2 per day.) The average adult weight is about 60 kg. So, the brain comprises about 2% of body weight and consumes 20% of body fuel.

We must use our brains to the maximum because they consume a lot of power and have a lot of power to do things. It is harder to use our brains (and our bodies) today because of Big Tech. The argument of Big Tech is: Don’t use your brain. Don’t use your body. Use technology instead. It’s easier. It’s more convenient. This is the business case and core strategy of Big Tech: Get people to use their brains and bodies less and use technology more.

There are indeed lots of things where it’s great to use technology to replace brain power and muscle power. There are lots of other areas where the answer is: “It depends”. For example, memory. Every day, computer memory is replacing human memory. In my life, I have found myself using a search engine when I should be searching my memory. I have gone from “I can’t remember” to a point where I didn’t even want to try to remember.

That’s not good for the environment. It’s not sustainable. I am wasting energy and materials just because I’m lazy. My brain is there consuming a lot of energy whether I use it or not. Not alone that. Wasted energy is potentially dangerous to the body because—among other things—it is stored as fat, and too much stored fat has serious consequences. Lack of physical exercise has multiple negative consequences.

As I watch all these young people racing around on their e-scooters, I feel sad that they are active participants in the destruction of their very own futures. Have they not heard about the truly revolutionary, truly innovative bicycle? A technology that gets you there and gives you exercise in the same process.

I think about how I can use my brain more. When I needed the information on average body and brain weight, I searched the Web instead of my brain. The page I found the information on used pounds instead of kilograms for weight. I’ve needed to convert lbs to kgs multiple times before, but I couldn’t remember how to do it. In fact, I didn’t even try to remember. My habit was to search. I need to break this habit. One kg equals 2.2 lbs. How hard is that to remember? One lb equals 0.45 kg. How hard is that to remember?

Give someone a search result and you solve an immediate problem. Teach them a method, a formula, a way of remembering, and you can solve that problem for a lifetime. I’ve calculated that a brain search can be up to 300 times more energy-efficient—and 300 times less polluting—than a Google search. Next time you need to search, search your memory first.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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