(ORDO NEWS) — Everyone has heard the famous statement that we use only 10% of the brain’s resources. A physiologist at the University of Copenhagen explains to Videnskab how true this is. The brain really never fires all of its neurons at the same time. But does this mean that, having tried, you can sharply grow wiser?
This common myth has stuck in Hollywood movies and self-help books. But neglecting 90% of the resources goes against all the principles of evolution.
Our brains don’t look very impressive: a jelly-like piece of fat that weighs just under 1.4 kilograms.
But the brain, the main source of all our thoughts, feelings and actions, is called one of the most complex objects in the universe thanks to its network of 86 billion interconnected neurons. That is why he delights and fascinates us so much. We study neuroscience to understand why we are who we are.
Today we often make arguments related to the functioning of the brain when it comes to learning, personality, consumer behavior, and so on. But how much of this “popular knowledge” is really backed up by research?
Unfortunately, most of our beliefs about this are more fiction than fact.
Pop culture feeds myths
One of the oldest and most common myths is that we only use a small part of the brain and can actually develop exceptional cognitive abilities if we learn to use the “idle” parts.
Sounds great: most of us would probably like to improve our mental abilities by learning to use inapplicable potential.
Perhaps that is why this myth appears regularly in self-help guru teachings, in advertisements and in Hollywood films.
Where it originally came from is not known for certain, but many myths about the brain, obviously, are rooted in the misinterpretation of the results of real experiments.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists discovered that it was possible to remove most of the brains of experimental animals without significantly changing their behavior. This led the researchers to conclude that even a small part of the brain is enough for mental abilities to be realized as it should.
Today, there are doubts that the scientists of that time had sufficiently studied all the consequences that their experiments had on experimental animals. But their findings may have fueled the belief that much of the brain is still unexplored.
It is unlikely that we are so bad at managing the body’s resources
Modern clinical experience clearly contradicts the 10% myth: even damage to very small areas of the brain, for example, as a result of a stroke, can have catastrophic consequences for the mental capacity of patients.
Modern methods of observing and visualizing brain function also contradict this theory: they show that most of the brain is active during most tasks.
From an evolutionary point of view, the 10% myth is also not very reliable: the brain is very expensive for us. It consumes 20 to 25% of the total energy budget of the body.
If most of the brain was not really used, it could be called a flagrantly poor allocation of the body’s resources. With such a wasteful strategy, he simply could not withstand evolutionary pressure.
No secret “brain stores”
The brain really never fires all of its 86 billion neurons at the same time. But it is the balance between the cells that send signals and the cells that at the same time remain at rest that is critical to the brain’s ability to process information.
An uncontrolled mass activation of brain cells is called a seizure and is a serious medical problem, not a functional improvement.
It is also true that the architecture of the brain is somewhat redundant – for example, multiple connections may perform the same function, but this “safety mechanism” plays an important role in keeping our brains stable and flexible.
So alas – we don’t have any great unapplicable mental potential. We use the whole brain.
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