THE 10 PERCENT BRAIN MYTH

The idea that we only use a very small percentage of our brain is a myth. The popular media and some very influential thinkers have endorsed this misconception. Statements that humans only use a fraction of their brains have been wrongly attributed to physicist Albert Einstein and anthropologist Margaret Mead. The canard then became famous through Dale Carnegie’s best-seller “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” and through psychic superstar Uri Geller, who explained his “spoon magic” by asserting better usage of the brain. A generation of “positive thinking” gurus have talked about the brain’s untapped potential and gradually “10 percent of our potential” morphed into “10 percent of our brain.”

The advertising industry is equally guilty of using the idea to sell their products. This innuendo is found in connection with certain new-age brain jogging products, which promise the access to huge unused brain areas- but the ones to actually gain most from these products are their sellers!

The 10-percent brain usage legend is one of those hopeful shibboleths that refuses to die simply because it would be so nice if it were true. I’m sure none of us would turn down a mighty increment in brainpower if it were attainable, and a stream of factitious schemes and devices continues to be advanced by quacks who trade on the myth.

Always on the lookout for a “feel-good” story, the media have also played their part in keeping the myth alive. A study of self-improvement products by a panel of the prestigious National Research Council, Enhancing Human Performance, surveyed a collection of the less far-fetched offerings of the “brain booster” genre and came to the conclusion that there is no reliable substitute for one’s practice and sedulousness when it comes to getting ahead in life.

This unwelcome news has done little, however, to dissuade millions who are comforted by the prospect that the shortcut to all their unfulfilled dreams lies in the fact that they just haven’t quite found the secret to tap this vast, allegedly unused cerebral reservoir. According to the believers of this myth, if we used more of our brain, then we could perform super memory feats and have other fantastic mental abilities – maybe we could even move objects with a single thought, just like Yuri Geller. Or achieve thought transmission, extremely high intelligence, as well as telekinesis.

Why would a neuroscientist disbelieve 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.

While the brain only weighs 2% of the total body weight, it uses 20% of the whole energy. Thus brain tissue is metabolically expensive both to grow and to run, and it seems absurd to think that evolution would have permitted squandering of resources to build and maintain such a massively under utilized organ. In simpler terms, from an evolutionary point of view, it is unlikely that larger brains would have developed if there was not an advantage to man from them.

Arguments against the myth are fueled by a lot of evidence from clinical neurology. Losing far less than 90 percent of the brain to accident or disease has horrific consequences. 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 any other manner, without leaving the patient with some kind of functional deficit. Likewise, electrical stimulation of points in the brain during neurosurgery has failed so far to uncover any dormant areas where no percept, emotion or movement is elicited by applying tiny currents. Remember, this can be done with conscious patients under local anesthetic because the brain itself has no pain receptors !

Even during sleep, no brain area is completely inactive. On the contrary, lack of activity in certain brain regions would be indicative of a serious malfunction.

All told, the foregoing arguments suggest that there is no cerebral spare tire waiting to be mounted in service of one’s grade point average, job advancement, or one’s invention of Time Machine.

Imagine the following horror scenario: a masked man holds his gun onto your forehead and menaces: “Give me your money or I will shoot!” According to the 10% myth, you would placidly refuse his order, as the chance that the bullet hits a brain area, which you actually use, lies only at 10%. But reality is different: Nobody would risk such an injury. No brain region can be damaged without leaving a person with mental or physical deficits.

But there are stories about people who lived for years with a bullet in their brain or who completely recover from a stroke. The fact that these people are able to lead a more or less normal life is due to an extraordinary capacity of the brain: its plasticity. The brain is extremely good in compensation. Other nerve cells are able to take over the tasks of damaged nerve cells, like in a soccer game: If one player gets the red card, the other players take over his role and recompense his absence. But the entire team of eleven has to be there and contribute actively in order to win. Ditto with the brain!

 

Allegedly

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adverb; according to what has been said against someone or something

Synonyms : supposedly

Ample

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; affording an abundant supply; more than enough in size or scope or capacity; fairly large

Synonyms : copious, plenteous,

Asserting

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; relating to the use of or having the nature of a declaration

Synonyms : declarative, declaratory

Assortment

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a collection containing a variety of sorts of things; the act of distributing things into classes or categories of the same type

Synonyms : potpourri, motley,

Calamitous

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; (of events) having extremely unfortunate or dire consequences; bringing ruin

Synonyms : black, disastrous

Canard

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a deliberately misleading tale

Synonyms : rumour

Dissuade

Contextual Meaning(s) : Verb; turn away from by persuasion

Synonyms : deters

Dormant

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; inactive but capable of becoming active; in a condition of biological rest or suspended animation

Other Meaning(s) : of e.g. volcanos; not erupting and not extinct;

Synonyms : inactive, hibernating, torpid

Elicited

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; called forth from a latent or potential state by stimulation

Synonyms : evoked

Endorsed

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; formally supported especially by public statement

Synonyms : approved

Factitious

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; not produced by natural forces or artitiual or unreal

Synonyms : fake, unauthentic

Fallow

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; undeveloped but potentially useful;

Other Meaning(s) : left unplowed and unseeded during a growing season; noun cultivated land that is not seeded for one or more growing seasons

Synonyms : uncultivated, barren

Feats

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a noteworthy or extraordinary act or achievement, usually displaying boldness, skill

Other Meaning(s) : noun; accomplishments

Synonyms : a specialized skill, profession

Increment

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; the amount by which something increases; a process of becoming larger or longer or more numerous or more important

Synonyms : increase, growth

Innuendo

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; an indirect (and usually malicious) implication

Synonyms : insinuation

Jogging

Contextual Meaning(s) : Verb; serve to stimulate

Other Meaning(s) : noun running at a jog trot as a form of cardiopulmonary exercise

Synonyms : activating

 

Legend

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a story about mythical or supernatural beings or events;

Other Meaning(s) : brief description accompanying an illustration

Synonyms : fable, caption

Myth

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a traditional story accepted as historically true; serves to explain the world view of a people

Synonyms : legend

Misconception

Contextual Meaning(s) : noun; a mistaken idea or view resulting from a misunderstanding of something

Synonyms : misunderstanding, mistaken belief

Morphed

Contextual Meaning(s) : verb; to cause something to change its outward appearance completely and instantaneously, or undergo this process

Synonyms : alter, modify

Placidly

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adverb; in a placid and good-natured manner; in a quiet and tranquil manner

Synonyms : calmly, quietly

Preposterous

Contextual Meaning(s) : Adjective; incongruous; inviting ridicule

Synonyms : derisory, nonsensical

Psychic

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a person apparently sensitive to things beyond the natural range of perception

Other Meaning(s) : adjective; outside the sphere of physical science; affecting or influenced by the human mind;

Synonyms : clairvoyant

Perpetually

Contextual Meaning(s) : adverb; forever, or for a very long time, repeatedly at very short intervals, and so appearing to be continuous

Synonyms : everlastingly, eternally

Quacks

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; unqualified persons pretending to be physicians.

Other Meaning(s) : Adjective; medically unqualified people; verb- the sound made by a duck.

Synonyms : charlatan, mountebank

Recompense

Contextual Meaning(s) : Verb; compensate; make amends for; pay compensation for

Other Meaning(s) : noun the act of compensating for service or loss or injury; payment or reward (as for service rendered); verb make payment to;

Synonyms : compensation, compensate, indemnify

  • Reservoir

 

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; a supply or source of something.

Synonyms: Stock, hoard, store.

Sedulousness

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; the quality of being constantly diligent and attentive

Synonyms : diligence

Shibboleths

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; slogans or a cathourds or mottored

Synonyms : slogans, catchwords

Squandering

Contextual Meaning(s) : Noun; spending resources lavishly and wastefully

Synonyms : wasting

Telekinesis

Contextual Meaning(s) : an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to influence a physical system without physical interaction

Synonyms : Psychokinesis

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