This question has so many angles.
“Penny for your thoughts” has been mentioned by multiple people. I never imagine this question being asked of someone who appears to be doing advanced math in their head. It’s used when a person appears to be deeply contemplative, or possibly depressed.
The word thought seems pretty straight forward. But what is thought really? Is a deep state of meditation thought? In some forms of meditation, you are doing nothing more than observing and being aware of your surroundings. You are not really thinking about the things you sense around you. You observe them, take note of them, and maybe file them away. Mostly it’s pure awareness and observation.
When you are totally immersed in a performance, like a movie, play, or sports, can you simply watch and listen without thinking or analyzing what you are observing?
I remember as a child, laying on my back in the grass, on a warm summer day, just watching the puffy clouds floating by. It was highly contemplative. I’m sure I thought about something, but it was more a free flow of “something” that might be described as thought, but it was not a rigid analytical type of thought.
So what is the value? That’s like asking what is the value of life. Rather than putting it in terms of thought, I usually put it in terms of time. Time is the most valuable thing we have in life. Time is our most valuable currency. Once we spend that currency we can never get it back.
Literally everything we do in life is spending the currency called time. We might not know how rich we are in this currency called time, but we know it’s finite. We can’t have thoughts without spending that currency. We can’t do activities without spending that currency. Then when it’s gone it’s gone. How can you put a value on that?
Of course I could mention that I made a living for many years creating intellectual property. I’d venture to say that the number of others who get paid for creating IP is in the hundreds of millions. I got paid to think, and to record the results of those thought in a way that can be used by others.
So how much were those thoughts worth? For some people, it’s pure money. Some people don’t care what they do, as long as it pays well. I need to like what I do, and like the environment that I work in. Because the payoff is not just money. Enjoyment has value. My coworkers have value. Most importantly, I am spending the currency of time, which has the most value of all.
I have to trade the one currency for the others. I have to decide if an acceptable balance is being met. I spend the currency of time, and in return receive money, enjoyment, friendship, satisfaction of a good challenge, satisfaction of learning things and experiencing the cool things life has to offer.
Thoughts – time – life. They are all part of the same thing. When you spend one, you spend the others.
Value? I don’t know. I only know that the tradeoff is worth it. It’s worth continuing.