Mind Blowers

Recently when discussing mindfulness to a blue collared workforce it became apparent that the current strategies were not for everyone. So how can we achieve a state of mindfulness without focusing on the breath or for that matter relying on our senses as a guide? 

To me, mindfulness is not only focusing on the present but it is also not focusing on the future and the past. So instead of the approach of cultivating mindfulness by focusing on the present, what if we could cultivate mindfulness indirectly by shutting down attention to thoughts of the future and past. Enter mind blowers. 

Mindblowers is the concept of overwhelming your mind to the point that it needs to let go of any other current thought and bring its whole attention to this novel mind-boggling information. My favourite example of a Mindblower so far is the following description by Scott Czepiel on the number 52! (https://czep.net/weblog/52cards.html)

The number of possible permutations of 52 cards is 52!. I think the exclamation mark was chosen as the symbol for the factorial operator to highlight the fact that this function produces surprisingly large numbers in a very short time. If you have an old-school pocket calculator, the kind that maxes out at 99,999,999, an attempt to calculate the factorial of any number greater than 11 results only in the none too helpful value of "Error". So if 12! will break a typical calculator, how large is 52!?

52! is the number of different ways you can arrange a single deck of cards. You can visualize this by constructing a randomly generated shuffle of the deck. Start with all the cards in one pile. Randomly select one of the 52 cards to be in position 1. Next, randomly select one of the remaining 51 cards for position 2, then one of the remaining 50 for position 3, and so on. Hence, the total number of ways you could arrange the cards is 52 * 51 * 50 * ... * 3 * 2 * 1, or 52!. Here's what that looks like:


This number is beyond astronomically large. I say beyond astronomically large because most numbers that we already consider to be astronomically large are mere infinitesimal fractions of this number. So, just how large is it? Let's try to wrap our puny human brains around the magnitude of this number with a fun little theoretical exercise. Start a timer that will count down the number of seconds from 52! to 0. We're going to see how much fun we can have before the timer counts down all the way.

Start by picking your favorite spot on the equator. You're going to walk around the world along the equator, but take a very leisurely pace of one step every billion years.  Make sure to pack a deck of playing cards, so you can get in a few trillion hands of solitaire between steps. After you complete your round the world trip, remove one drop of water from the Pacific Ocean. Now do the same thing again: walk around the world at one billion years per step, removing one drop of water from the Pacific Ocean each time you circle the globe. Continue until the ocean is empty. When it is, take one sheet of paper and place it flat on the ground. Now, fill the ocean back up and start the entire process all over again, adding a sheet of paper to the stack each time you’ve emptied the ocean.

Do this until the stack of paper reaches from the Earth to the Sun. Take a glance at the timer, you will see that the three left-most digits haven’t even changed. You still have 8.063e67 more seconds to go. So, take the stack of papers down and do it all over again. One thousand times more. Unfortunately, that still won’t do it. There are still more than 5.385e67 seconds remaining. You’re just about a third of the way done.



It is a humbling brain activity and if you are like me your probably had a brief moment of pure mindfulness as your brain struggled with any other information and had to just focus on the here and now. This is an area that I am interested and I am only hypothesising benefits of such Mindblowers and will need further research to investigate the characteristics of the Mindblower in its ability to bring a sense of mindfulness.