Thoughts of Thoughts

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He sets down his drink. It’s a watery gin and tonic, light on the gin. The ice clinks in the small glass as the liquid sloshes about, muffling the much softer sound of the glass touching weathered, stained wood. The lights are bright, the music loud, the wafting fumes of cigarette smoke near overwhelming.
So he turns his head.
Both motions seem easy in principle, involving a few quick muscular changes. The triceps, for instance, is relaxed at the start of this whole narrative, but that simply won’t do for the purpose of setting down a glass. As a result, acetylcholine floods the muscle, binding to receptors on long chains of muscle cells.
From here, it’s all a rather big commotion. Those receptors, you see, open up ion gates in the muscle fibers, and that’s what the sodium ions have been waiting for. They hop the fence into the muscular cytoplasm, which in turn convinces a whole load of calcium ions to also flow into the cytoplasm, all while potassium ions decide that the neighborhood has gone to the dogs and take their leave.
All this changing of the ions leaves some proteins rather flustered. Tropomyosin in particular takes great offense to all this calcium and stops doing its job. This leaves myosin quite free to do its favorite thing, which is grabbing its friend actin, pulling it down over and over again, and shortening the sarcomeres in our hero’s triceps.
And if you think that’s a bit much, this is happening in all sorts of places in all sorts of muscles at varying rates depending on the needs of the load of bland G & T. 
It might not seem like it, but it takes a rather monumental amount of effort. For instance, that glass was wet and slippery, covered in the condensation from a hundred breaths of the strangers around him. It was only thanks to the decades of hard practice of picking up and setting down glasses of liquid and uncountable mistakes of unsuccessfully putting down said glasses that he was able to pull off this hare-brained maneuver at all. And that’s not even addressing the turning of the neck!
It’s a lot to think about, and quite frankly, it only gets worse.
We’ve glossed over quite a bit, really. It’s easy to say “He sets down his drink” as if the decision was as simple as a rock continuing to be a rock for millions of years, but the computational mechanism that led to him setting down his insipid drink is so utterly and mind-numbingly complicated that to even begin to express the intricacies of one-millionth of a second of action between a small cluster of cells too small to be seen is not even worth attempting to describe with less than a disproportionately massive quantity of words and is something that the vast majority of us lack the time or space or, ironically, brain capacity to successfully handle.
Muscles, complicated though they may be, are absolute peanuts compared to neurons. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, they’re not just little convenient wires looped around the bodies relaying ones and zeros. Each of them contains a massive quantity of nonlinear dynamics. Steady states and chaotic systems rule every thought, and neurons synchronize and desynchronize with very little consideration to how difficult they are to comprehend, and there are billions upon billions of them all interacting. You would sooner count the number of stars in the Milky Way than you would the number of neurons in the average McDonald’s kitchen, and they’re all communicating with each other in their own unique ways.
But why? Why did he set down the glass? What spiraling bit of electricity sparked a series of neurons that sparked another group in turn, jumping through this lobe and that wrinkle to turn into the decision to give up on the limeless travesty?
The more pessimistic among us will say it was bound to happen; that the universe is so specifically and tragically governed by a certain set of rules that what has happened was always to happen, what will happen will always happen, and that if you started us all over a dozen times we’d be exactly where we are today.
But somewhere, someone disagrees. Somewhere, some poor postdoc has just fallen asleep on their laptop, an open yet unread textbook to their left, a rapidly cooling vanilla latte wasting away on their right, and though their drool will make their ‘G’ key function poorly tomorrow, they dream of a world governed by quantum mechanics. In their world, nothing is certain, and particles are simultaneously in a hundred locations until you look at them, and God really does play dice.
And in that world, well, who’s to say? 
Maybe it was an action predetermined by the precise placement of a certain proton three seconds after the Big Bang that makes him set down his drink and turn to leave the bar..
Maybe it was an improbability born of a particular electron probability density that makes him pause as something catches his eye, makes him walk into the crowd instead of leaving, and makes him say, “Hey. Can I buy you a drink?”
Who’s to say?


About the Author: 
I make great use out of my B.S. in physics by writing short stories for reddit's /r/WritingPrompts as well as longer works on
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