Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The "We only use 10% of our brain" myth.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about humans with extraordinary abilities such as Scott Flansburg, the so called "human calculator".  Casually he said, "Well, they say we only use 10% of our brain, I guess we could all do it if we could figure out how to use the rest".

This myth has been part of pop culture for as long as I can remember.  According to snopes, "one reason this myth has endured is that it has been adopted by psychics and other paranormal pushers to explain psychic powers."

Perhaps another reason is the prevalence of the sci-fi/fantasy genres in TV and movies.   The idea that we all have some hidden unlocked potential to do superhuman things makes for some good stories and most people are a lot more exposed to these genres then they are to the pseudoscience community.

More obvious, as one of the articles below points out, is that there are people who want to sell you something, either secret information or a pill, that will unlock this hidden potential.

Whatever the reason for this meme's continuance, there is now available, via this amazing new invention called the internet, plenty of science articles to refute it.  Since it is usually best to go to an expert when you want to know something about a particular subject, I had bookmarked two articles that I thought were pretty good.  The first one is by Barry Beyerstein, who prior to his death was professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, and the second by neuroscientist Steven Novella.  Bellow are links to the articles but here are some highlights.

"Why would a neuroscientist immediately doubt that 90 percent of the average brain lies perpetually fallow? First of all, it is obvious that the brain, like all our other organs, has been shaped by natural selection. Brain tissue is metabolically expensive both to grow and to run, and it strains credulity to think that evolution would have permitted squandering of resources on a scale necessary to build and maintain such a massively underutilized organ." - Beyerstein

"What is more, observing the effects of head injury reveals that there does not seem to be any area of the brain that can be destroyed by strokes, head trauma, or other manner, without leaving the patient with some kind of functional deficit." - Beyerstein

"The past hundred years has seen the advent of increasingly sophisticated technologies for listening in on the functional traffic of the brain...Despite this detailed reconnaissance, no quiet areas awaiting new assignments have emerged." - Beyerstein

"No one claims that the entire brain is working at maximal capacity all the time, or even at any time. A certain amount of the brain is working just to be conscious, and then different parts of the brain, collaborating in different networks, will become active during specific tasks. But you cannot do a complex mathematical problem, compose a poem, engage in abstract reasoning, listen to music, identify an odor, and examine a complex visual puzzle all at the same time. But that’s what it would take for most of your brain to be active at one moment." - Novella

"Do we really use only 10% of our brains?". Barry Beyerstein.

"Reviving the 10% myth". Steven Novella.

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