The rapidity of the rise and fall and are the actual individual realities known?

This is from a discussion I had on dhammawheel.

The issue is: In the “Discourse on Elements” (Dhatukatha) book, page XXVII it says commentary to Dhatukatha claims that 10^12 of cittas (a trillion! 1,000,000,000,000) arise per second. The sub-commentary raises the number to 10^15 cittas per second. I don’t dispute the claim. I wonder if the number is meant to be taken literal or not. I do not know.
Maybe this number was meant to be taken literal (the commentator thought that way) but in fact it
cant be taken literal because one cant imagine a trillion of xyz’s. [ see note at end of this post]


The numbers are literal (roughly, obviously). However, this is the understanding of the Buddha and the great arahats like Sariputta- it is not that each moment should or can be known by the run-of-the mill disciple.

Realities - the pancakhandha - are known by way of nimitta (the sign).

English translation of SN 35.80, “Abandoning Ignorance (2)”

As above down to: “But, venerable sir, how should a bhikkhu know, how should he see, for ignorance to be abandoned by him and true knowledge to arise?” “Here, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to.’ When a bhikkhu…

But, venerable sir, how should a bhikkhu know, how should he see, for ignorance to be abandoned by him and true knowledge to arise?”

“Here, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to.’ When a bhikkhu has heard, ‘Nothing is worth adhering to,’ he directly knows everything. Having directly known everything, he fully understands everything. Having fully understood everything, he sees all signs differently (note 43). He sees the eye differently, he sees forms differently … whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition … that too he sees differently.

“When, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu knows and sees thus, ignorance is abandoned by him and true knowledge arises

Bhikkhu Bodhi note 43 Spk: “He sees all
signs differently” (sabbanimittani annato passati): He sees all
the signs of formations (sarikhdranimittani)in a way differ-
ent from that of people who have not fully understood the
adherences. For such people see all signs as self, but one
who has fully understood the adherences sees them as
nonself, not as self. Thus in this sutta the characteristic of
nonself is discussed.

Now about the speed of the rise and fall.
Even during vipassanā ñāna, it is not that each moment is experienced, but the clear difference between nama and rupa is comprehended by wisdom, paññā.
And this paññā is taking the nimitta of the immediately fallen away realities of whichever realities are insighted. The nimiita is what is known and that nimitta is there because of many processes, not just one moment…

Note: of course the Commentary doesn’t use seconds.
They compare with a fingersnap.

(1) Uninstructed (1) p. 595 Samyutta Nikaya Vol 1 (translated by Bodhi)
But that which is called ‘mind’ and ‘mentality’ and consciousness’
arises as one thing and ceases as another by day and by night. Just
as a monkey roaming through a forest grabs hold of one branch, lets
that go and grabs another, then lets that go and grabs still
another, so too that which is called ‘mind’ and ‘mentality’
and ‘consciousness’ arises as one thing and ceases as another by day
and by night. [note 157]
[note 157: Spk: 'By day and by night (rattiyaa ca divasassa ca):
This is a genitive in the locative sense, i.e., during the night and
during the day. Arises as one thing and ceases as another (annadeva
uppajjati, anna.m nirujjhati): The meaning is that (the mind) that
arises and ceases during the day is other than (the mind) that
arises and ceases during the night. The statement should not be
taken to mean that one thing arises and some thing altogether
different, which had not arisen, ceases. “Day and night” is said by
way of continuity, taking a continuity of lesser duration than the
previous one (i.e. the one stated for the body). But one citta is
not able to endure for a whole day or a whole night. Even in the
time of a fingersnap many hundred thousand kotis of cittas arise and
cease (1 koti=10 million)


I can add a simple analogy.
Movies are filmed at about 24 frames per second - the number of frames is really minimal- and yet it appears to be a continuous playing.

If we explain to a 2 year old that the movie is made up of many frames, each one being replaced by a new one, they can’t grasp it at all.
For a 5 year old they can get a basic understanding, and a 10 year old can get it almost completely. If the 10 years has any doubts it can be demonstrated by watching a 5 minute documentary on youtube, so they see how each frame can be edited and whatnot. The movie engineer understands it deeply.

For understanding Dhamma it is not so easy. “We” are the world in the sense that there is nothing other than the khandhas. And the rise and fall is much faster than the frames of a movie.
This world that seems so solid is an ephemeral, complex concantanation of elements that fall away instantly, but the continuity makes it seem so lasting.

Without the teaching of the Buddha, going back to the analogy, we wouldn’t even be at the level of the 2 year old who has heard about the many frames of a movie. At least, though, we are in the fortunate position of having access to the Dhamma so that there is the possibility of seeing gradually into this matter.


C: What do you think of Ledi Sayadaw’s teachings on the swiftness of dhammas?

Ledi: The fleeting nature of phenomena is, therefore, aptly compared in the scriptures to a flash of lightning. However, the rapidity of the occurrence of mental phenomena is far greater than that. Their arising and vanishing may even be reckoned in hundreds of thousands of times within a flash of lightning. The rapidity is beyond human comprehension. Therefore, it is not advisable to make such subtle phenomena the object of one’s contemplation. Try as one might, these phenomena will not be comprehended even after contemplating for a hundred or a thousand years. The meditator who tries this will not gain a single ray of insight, but will be beset by more befuddlement and despair. The scriptures say that mental phenomena take place billions and trillions of times within the blink of an eye, a flash of lightning, or the snap of your fingers. Now, the duration of the blink of an eye itself is so fleeting that attempting to contemplate the occurrence of mental phenomena to the billionth or trillionth part of that duration becomes sheer folly. Therefore, one should be satisfied with comprehending the unreliable and transient characteristic of all phenomena, which, after all, is the main purpose.

As for the exact nature, i.e., the swiftness, of mental phenomena, the understanding of which is the domain of the wisdom of the All-knowing Buddha, one has to accept the authority of the scriptures. Any talk about contemplating the three characteristics of mental phenomena is mere humbug. It is never based on practice, but only on hearsay from the scriptures. If someone were to try it, it would be a far cry from insight. Manual Of Light

Basically I agree with him.
It is entertaining to read, as we sometimes do, of someone experiencing subtle vibrations, free flow and so on and equating that with knowing the rise and fall of phenomena.
As I mentioned before it is the nimitta of reality that is known and even at the level of vipassana it is not one or two moments - but many processes that are known. And the moments of vipassana are brief - not some lengthy experience where one is "doing vipassana’.

So it is not a matter of trying to catch or watch or experience subtle phenomena. It is all a function of panna to perform its job of understanding, no input needed from a self for that.

C: From what Ācariya said, it’s impossible and foolish to try to see the swiftness the Abhidhamma & commentaries claim. You agree?

That’s what I said. :slight_smile:
Of course there will be growing understanding that the rapidity of the rise and fall must be as stated in the Commentaries. But the one who sits down and thinks he can focus on any of the khandhas and see individual moments is going wrong IMO.

C: So whilst we can never reach such an understanding, for it’s the domain of a Buddha, it’s helpful to bear that in mind and this is part of right knowledge?

Yes exactly.
It has practical implications, as if realities really do fall away so fast then how could anyone ‘catch’ them, by focusing for example, or trying to experience them.

Hopefully it also informs in the sense of allowing development to occur at its own pace, letting sati arise when conditions coincide, knowing that no self could arrange such a ephemeral event. And then being patient, not expecting more.


C: I’m glad we agree. No one, except a Buddha, could fully capture such arising and ceasing of the dhammas. It has practical use, in that it removes the delusion that an “earth element” persists through time, which is the delusion of substantial existence (Dravyasat). Instead there is only the rapid rising and falling of “hardness” or “softness” when it comes to physical experience (restricting ourselves to the earth element here). I know you and I disagree on the ontology of such things, and the “free will” aspect, but that is fine.
This of course means that part of awakening is that everything we experience is really conceptual in some way, and so empty?

Your last sentence is almost correct I think.
Take touching something hard like a table: the experience of the hardness is well explained in the Commentaries. The actual touch moment is one in a process. And even then it is not just one moment that is known but many that make up the sign, the nimitta of hardness. Then so many mind door processes that know - this is table.

So before knowing Dhamma we lived immersed totally in concepts. The wise get closer to the actual realities but still it is the sign that is known.

Saying that “everything we experience is really conceptual in some way, and so empty?” is not quite right regarding the relationship of conceptual and empty IMO (I guess this is the difference you alluded to over ontology).
In one sense it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about concepts OR realities as there is absolute emptiness of self or anything belonging to a self. However it is realities, the khandhas, ayatanas, dhatus (elements) that are the object for understanding.
When the texts say "He sees all
signs differently” (sabbanimittani annato passati
) it is showing how the deep understanding is different from that of the normal person who is caught by the features and details:

Seeing a sight with his eyes, he doesn’t get caught up in the features and details.
So cakkhunā rūpaṁ disvā na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī. eg. Dutiyayodhājīvasutta AN 5.76

Because we live in a world of situations and concepts we miss the actual real and momentary elements - which are fully conditioned and behave according to their own nature - so we don’t see the anattaness . It is a magicians trick.
So even the wise see the shadow of the reality (the nimitta) but they clearly comprehend that; whereas the uninstructed worldling are naturally and instantly drawn in and the non-existant( beings, me, I, my wife, my friends) is seen as self-evidently true and never doubted, let alone investigated.

Samyutta Nikaya 95 (3) Lump of Foam
From the Samantapasadika (note 194 of Bodhi Connected discourses):

Consciousness is like a magical illusion (māyā) in the sense that it is
insubstantial and cannot be grasped. Consciousness is even more transient and
fleeting than a magical illusion. For it gives the impression that a person comes
and goes, stands and sits, with the same mind, but the mind is different in each of
these activities. Consciousness deceives the multitude like a magical illusion.

Thus the wise disciple understands,

whatever kind of consciousness there is, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near: a bhikkhu inspects it, ponders it, and carefully investigates it, and it would appear to him to be void, hollow, insubstantial. For what substance could there be in consciousness? 95 (3) Lump of Foam


One might wonder how paññā (wisdom) could understand the difference between nama and rupa (or anything about realities at all) if the khandhas are arising and passing away so rapidly.
Firstly it should be kept in mind that it is not that sati and paññā are something separate from the khandhas – there is not some special element sitting back watching. Sati and paññā arise together and pass away together, sankhara khandha.

The understanding is possible – as not just one process of cittas associated with paññā arise but many in succession.
Of course, the processes associated with avijja, tanha and dosa are far more common – this is natural as these elements have been accumulated greatly over many lives. And so, the moments with paññā don’t feature as much as them.
Ajarn Sujin gave an example of when one is bowing down in front of a statue of Buddha, as people in Thailand often do, and recalling the Buddha’s great virtues. Sometimes brief thoughts associated with worldly matters may intrude. This is the way things are- it is conditioned that way.

And in the same way at times thoughts with wisdom and even flashes of direct understanding can come in while performing daily duties.
The mathematician, and gymnast, Ronald Graham:

"You can do mathematics anywhere. I once had a flash of insight into a stubborn problem in the middle of a back
somersault with a triple twist on my trampoline ( in the “The Man
who Loved only Numbers”).

Paññā at the level of satipatthana is even faster than that as it is seeing dhammas directly (not merely
conceptualizing about them)

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Sasha_A wrote: Wed Nov 22, 2023 6:16 pm
And any such frame must last for some time in order to be visible. Something that lasts no time cannot be perceived, discerned and known, it cannot cause anything and cannot be the effect of anything - it does not exist at all in the most absolute sense, even theoretically.

Yes if something lasts no time it wouldn’t even exit at all. However, while dhammas arise and fall exceedingly fast they still exist, momentarily.

Take the example of knowing “that is a rose”. In fact that quick recognition is composed of many, many moments.


Not only the “taking up” but also the “making” and the “remembering” of marks may be relevant to all cases of perception if it is understood as follows: What really happens in a simple act of perception is that some features of the object (sometimes only a single striking one) are selected. The mental note made by that perception is closely associated with those selected features; that is, we attach, as it were, a tag to the object, or make a mark on it as woodcutters do on trees. So far every perception is “a making of marks” (nimittakaraṇa). In order to understand how “remembering” or “recognizing,” too, is implied in every act of perception, we should mention that according to the deeply penetrative analysis of the Abhidhamma the apparently simple act of seeing a rose, for example, is in reality a very complex process composed of different phases, each consisting of numerous smaller combinations of conscious processes (cittavīthi), which again are made up of several single moments of consciousness (cittakkhaṇa) following each other in
a definite sequence of diverse functions. Among these phases there is one that connects the present perception of a rose with a previous one, and there is another that attaches to the present perception the name “rose,” remembered from previous experience. Not only in relation to similar experiences in a relatively distant past, but also between those infinitesimally brief single phases and successive processes, the connecting function of rudimentary “memory” must be assumed to operate, because each phase and each lesser successive state has to “remember” the previous one—a process called by the later Ābhidhammikas “grasping the past” (atīta-gahaṇa). Finally, the individual contributions of all those different perceptual processes have to be remembered and coordinated in order to form the final and complete perception of a rose.

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Sasha_A wrote: Thu Nov 23, 2023 9:28 pm
So what you’re saying is that if a person sees, say, a beautiful woman and feels desire for her, in order to get rid of the desire, he switches his vision to the ‘microscope’ mode, as a result of which he doesn’t see a woman, but rapidly appearing and disappearing dhammas, and so he gets rid of the desire for that woman, right?

Robert: There are 4 types of clinging (upadana): clinging to sense pleasures (kam’upadana), clinging to views (ditth’upadana), clinging to precepts and rituals (silabbat’upadana), clinging to a doctrine of self (attavada’upadana). I would say the first, second and last - the views, the silabata’upadana and self clinging that should be given priority - as these are the three that the sotapanna eradicates.
Thus sense desire clinging is eradicated much later. Even a sotapanna can look at a beautiful woman and have sense desire.

Nevertheless the method of analysis does indeed reduce sense desire.
Remember the story of tissa

Mahatissa Thera. He lived in Cetiyagiri, and one day, while on his way to Anuradhapura, saw a woman who was leaving her husband, having quarrelled with him. She was beautifully dressed, and seeing the Elder, smiled at him, in order to show her perfect teeth. The Elder looked at her, and acquiring the perception of “the foul” through thinking of the bones of her teeth, became an arahant. The husband followed his wife and asked the Elder if he had seen her. The Elder replied, “I know not if it was man or woman, but I saw a lump of bones.” Vsm.20f., 19 4

Robert: However, a “switch vision to the ‘microscope’ mode” is not the way I see the development.
The understanding of the rapidity of the rise and fall at the level of pariyatti, the intellectual level, doesn’t have the force needed to break attavada’upadana. It is, though, a prerequisite for deeper understanding.
When reflecting on Dhamma this is valuable, and can condition sati and panna that directly understand the object.

Majjhima Nikāya
146. Advice from Nandaka

the venerable Nandaka told the bhikkhunīs:
“Sisters, what do you think? Is the eye permanent or impermanent?” —“Impermanent, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?”—“Suffering, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’?”—“No, venerable sir.”

“Sisters, what do you think? Is the ear….the nose…the tongue…the body…the mind permanent or impermanent?”—“Impermanent, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?”—“Suffering, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’?”—“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because, venerable sir, we have already seen this well as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘These six internal bases are impermanent.’”

“Good, good, sisters! So it is with a noble disciple who sees this as it actually is with proper wisdom.

“Sisters, what do you think? Are forms…sounds…odours… flavours…tangibles…mind-objects permanent or impermanent?” —“Impermanent, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?”—“Suffering, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’?”—“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because, venerable sir, we have already seen this well as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘These six external bases are impermanent.’”

“Good, good, sisters! So it is with a noble disciple who sees this as it actually is with proper wisdom.

“Sisters, what do you think? Is eye-consciousness… … ear-consciousness…nose-consciousness…tongue-consciousness… body-consciousness…mind-consciousness permanent or impermanent?” —“Impermanent, venerable sir.”—“Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?”—“Suffering, venerable sir.”— “Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’?”—“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because, venerable sir, we have already seen this well as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘These six classes of consciousness are impermanent.’”

“Sisters, suppose a skilled butcher or his apprentice were to kill a cow and carve it up with a sharp butcher’s knife. Without damaging the inner mass of flesh and without damaging the outer hide, he would cut, sever, and carve away the inner tendons, sinews, and ligaments with the sharp butcher’s knife. Then having cut, severed, and carved all this away, he would remove the outer hide and cover the cow again with that same hide. Would he be speaking rightly if he were to say: ‘This cow is joined to this hide just as it was before’?”

“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because if that skilled butcher or his apprentice were to kill a cow…and cut, sever, and carve all that away, even though he covers the cow again with that same hide and says: ‘This cow is joined to this hide just as it was before,’ that cow would still be disjoined from that hide.”

Notice how some of the elements mentioned are material and some mental. But all are stressed as being impermanent and not self.
The way, as I see it, is breaking down what we took as “something”, into what is really present. And what is present is merely these elements. Without the Dhamma we are always immersed in a world of concepts, things that seem to last.

This intellectual understanding grows and one can see, occasionally, how life is really exactly that, and only that.

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[Sasha_A] What if you take a microscope with a higher magnification, where you can’t see the cells anymore? For example, at what rate do dhammas change - 10^15 per second? That’s how many times slower than 6.2⋅10^34? 19 orders of magnitude? Doesn’t this mean that whatever these dhammas are, there is something that changes even faster, something more fundamental than the dhammas, and therefore the dhammas don’t exist either?

[Sasha_A] So in the end we have this:
Firstly, the doctrine of the composite nature of the objects of the world and their rapidly changing nature is quite ordinary and common knowledge. Moreover, since a Buddha is not needed to discover such knowledge, it is completely wrong to say that this is the kind of knowledge that only Buddhas can discover and teach, i.e. that such knowledge is Dhamma. Do you agree?

[Sasha_A] Secondly, since even from the point of view of mundane knowledge, the stated rate of change of the dhammas is many tens of orders of magnitude, not even many times, lower than the known threshold of rate of change known from the same physics, it would again be wrong to say that the dhammas are the only thing that exists because there is something that changes faster. Do you agree?

Robert: I don’t know the latest figures - but it is interesting that you find the rates cited in the Commentaries are an underestimate. I get the feeling other posters in this thread thought the opposite.
I said to my 10 year old recently that I have always been impressed that science was able to develop models - the various depictions of ‘atoms’ - that align in some ways with what the Dhamma says about material phenomena. We learn about electrons and neutrinos and what not, and how atoms are incredibly tiny: the concepts of physics taught in school. It does sound similar to kalapas…

But science still thinks these atoms while changing still last, they have a permanence, a rather long one.

From A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson:
“Atoms, however, go on practically forever. Nobody actually knows how long an atom can survive, but according to Martin Rees it is probably about 10^35 years”
Yet, according to the Theravada kalapas arises and falls away instantly. They are utterly gone. They can condition the next and so there is a continuity but still even the kalapas that make up what we call a block of concrete are replaced each moment.

So in Theravada doctrine, this entire world, the universe, only exists right at this moment. What was there a split second ago has disappeared, never to return.

Accepting this at the intellectual level is only a start: there must be deeper levels that comprehend more about causes and conditions and see directly the nature of world. Still even the intellectual level brings some detachment. It is hard to take the problems in life too seriously or dwell on past misfortunes knowing this. It naturally shifts interest to the present moment as this is where the objects for direct understanding are.

[Sasha_A] it would again be wrong to say that the dhammas are the only thing that exists because there is something that changes faster. Do you agree?

No, I think the Theravada are correct and there is nothing other than dhammas

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Sasha_A wrote: Sun Nov 26, 2023 4:48 pm

Let’s take the rose and take it apart. Or better yet, instead of a rose, let’s take something that is much easier to visualise and discuss in parts - a car, for example. Let its individual parts, like wheels, pistons, bolts, etc. - these will be the ultimate and indivisible parts.

What do you think, if we take all the components of a car and just pile them up, is this pile of parts a car or a pile of parts?

Can you give a definition of a car at the level of parts?

Robert: In the Sutta Pitaka they give the analogy of a chariot, but of course ‘car’ works just as well.

5 10 Vajira
“Then the bhikkhunī Vajirā, having understood, “This is Māra the Evil One,” replied to him in verses:
“Why now do you assume ‘a being’? Māra, is that your speculative view?

This is a heap of sheer formations: Here no being is found.
“Just as, with an assemblage of parts, The word ‘chariot’ is used,
So, when the aggregates exist,
There is the convention ‘a being.’

“It’s only suffering that comes to be,
Suffering that stands and falls away.
Nothing but suffering comes to be, Nothing but suffering ceases.” — The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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[Sasha_A] If a person is just a marionette made up of components, how can he do actions, how can he do kamma? In the case of a marionette, how can we even talk about kamma, skillful and unskillful choices, application of effort, diligence, training, intention, and so on?

And how can a marionette deny its marionette nature without affirming the opposite? How can one claim the absence of ownership and control over oneself when the very fact of such a claim implies the presence of that ownership and control?

Robert: In fact there is no person having ownership or control. There is absolute voidness of any self, suññatā. These elements you mention effort, intention, are simply conditioned mental factors that perform their various functions, no need to invoke a self who does this. … wayof.html
Within there is nothing called a soul that robes itself. According to the method of exposition adopted already, only by the diffusion of the process of oscillation born of mental activity does the act of robing take place. The robe has no power to think and the body too has not that power. The robe is not aware of the fact that it is draping the body, and the body too of itself does not think: “I am being draped round with the robe.,” Mere processes clothe a process-heap, in the same way that a modelled figure is covered with a piece of cloth. Therefore, there is neither room for elation on getting a fine robe nor for depression on getting one that is not fine

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phone refresh rates “frame rates” are now at 120 hz as very well discernible,
but we also have sound going on at the same time.

However, we should also understand that we are seeing wavelengths and hearing sound oscillations. This number grows even more when we think of it in this way.

Smell and taste too.
Try to take a sip of something through a straw. How do you taste. How fast? There is constantly a stream of taste coming in, the tongue and mouth is also processing touch sensation at the same time. Movement is happening too.

When we multiply these together, the number gets a little bigger.
Then we have all of the nerves which are active in our body all at once.
Lastly the mental processing that understandings these phenomena as they occur in real time. I might argue that the body door is the most active for the physical senses and the mind is obviously the fastest of all six senses.

Ask anyone who knows about robotics and AI and they will tell you how complex the human machine is and how far away were are at equaling it.

Artificial intelligence is still trying to mimic a human. Yet how much of the processor is being used for that?

James Newton-Thomas

Masters AppSci in Artificial Intelligence & Software Engineering, RMIT University (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) (Graduated 1999)Author has 60 answers and 5.5K answer views1y

The human brain performs near to an exaFLOP on about 20 watts. This is therefore the upper bound of your answer as this is what is required to have human level intelligence.

Current supercomputers take about 20 MEGA Watts to achieve the same number of Flops so are using about a million times more energy to match the computational throughput of the brain. We certainly have a lot of room for improvement although it must be realized that supercomputers are designed to do the sort of computations we are bad at, and lots of them, not to be like us. Therefore this comparison is slightly unfair.

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