Now here’s the longer answer. 🙂 This myth bothers me because it been proven wrong long ago but is still commonly passed around. It has my hackles up because I heard the quote recently from Morgan Freemaan’s character in the trailer for the new sci-fi movie Lucy starring Scarlett Johanson (Release datea of 7/25). In fact, based on the trailer, it seems like the entire premise of the movie is that Scarlett Johanson’s character, Lucy, gets enhanced in some way such that she acquires superpowers by using increasing percentages of her brain – what happens when a human goes from only 10% to 100%? Watch the fireworks!
While I love sci-fi, the entire premise that this movie is built upon is just dead wrong from the start. (Caveat: The movie is not out at the time of this blog and perhaps Lucy’s powers are better explained by some other process. Still, the trailer definitely repeats the myth).
Debunking the Myth
Not only have various studies of the brain using neuroimaging debunked this myth, common sense does as well. Think about it: why would we have evolved such large brains if we only used 10% of them? I mean, if we only used 10% of our brains, our brains would only need to be 10% the size they are! Why would nature create so much useless grey matter? It’s like, if we only ever needed two fingers, we wouldn’t have evolved ten!
Although the 10% use of our brain is a myth, what might be closer to the truth is that we use 100% brains at max capacity at any given moment. For instance, if I were to sit down and read a book in silence, areas of the brain associated with music and large muscle movements would be relatively inactive (at least not working at max capacity). However, when I stand up, walk to my radio, and turn on some music, those parts of the brain then activate while the areas associated with reading grow quieter. Given the diverse activities throughout any given day, it can be said that we basically use 100% of our brains on a daily basis.
Here’s another way to think about it: Does an artist use 100% of her paints all at once? Of course not! That would be tremendously inefficient and create a mess. However, at some point, she will use all the paints on her palette…or she wouldn’t have those paints to begin with! A professional athlete doesn’t use all of his muscles at once…not simultaneously at full capacity. He would go into convulsions or, at the least, not be able to direct the muscles efficiently. However, all of his muscles will most like come into play to some degree at some point during the contest.
So, please help dispel the myth that we only use 10% of our brains. Even though hearing this myth causes me to cringe, I’ll still probably see the movie Lucy if it has good reviews!