It is a popular misconception that we humans use only 10% of our brains…..imagine what we could do with the other 90%! Many people from all walks of life like to roll out the 10% line, whether they are motivational speakers, crack-pot mystics and psychics or businesses trying to sell pills to increase brain power. The 10% story is, however, totally false.
The brain is a complex piece of hardware. It can generate a torrent of emotions, solve difficult equations and draw out memories from years ago. Even getting up to make a sandwich requires the brain to fire off neurons across brain pathways, activate lobes and cortexes, a labyrinthine task beyond our conscious understanding. To us making a sandwich is an easy task, but we are unaware of the vast amount of brain activity needed to actually do it. Given how much the brain can accomplish it is understandable that some people may have questioned how much more the brain can be capable of. But when did the 10% myth come to prominence?
Evidence points to the birth of the myth in the early 1900s, with researchers possibly misunderstanding neurological research. Philosopher and psychologist William James must take some of the blame for this urban legend profiligating, writing in his 1908 book The Energies of Man, ‘We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources’. Considering that in the 1900s research into brain functioning was still at a basic level in comparison to the resources we have today, it would have been hard to prove the 10% assertion to be wrong. Add into that a respected psychologist’s endorsement of our low level of brain usage and it’s easy to see how the 10% myth took hold. With psychology as a science still in it’s infancy, the locked 90% of brain functioning became an alluring tale, one that will have added to psychology’s burgeoning popularity among philosophers and scientists.
However, it’s clear now that we use almost every part of our brain almost all the time. Neurological evidence clearly debunks this urban legend. The brain is a hefty piece of equipment weighing on average three pounds, and uses 20% of the body’s energy. What would be the point of having such a large brain if we didn’t use it, especially if so much energy were concentrated on only a small portion of it? It just goes against the theory of evolution, as surely if such a large brain were not required the brain would have evolved into a smaller piece of apparatus.
Every region of the brain, if damaged by a stroke or accident, will be affected. If only 10% of the brain was at use you would only have a one in ten chance of suffering any consequences if you received a serious head injury. Brain imaging scans such as MRI have shown that large areas of the brain are in use for even the most simple task, and brain mapping studies have yet to find an area of the brain that serves no purpose. At points in our life we do just use 10% of our brain, such as when we are at rest or thinking mundane thoughts, but that doesn’t mean that the other 90% isn’t available to us – it’s just not being used at that moment.
People may have been so accepting and unquestioning of the 10% myth as it’s a wonderful story to believe in. Imagine how fantastic it would be to unlock the power of the rest of your brain, have skills and abilities beyond everyone elses and reach a higher level of consciousness. For those people who like to dream about furthering themselves mentally it’s like the Holy Grail. Although the 10% conception is a myth that’s not to say it is impossible to reach a higher level of consciousness, it’s just that it won’t be reached by lighting up the 90% of the brain that is supposedly dormant.