Do We Only Use 10% of our Brains? How much of our Brain is Wasted?

Do We Only Use 10% of our Brains? How much of our Brain is Wasted?

If you think about it, (using your whole brain of course), the theory that humans use only 10% of their brains is 100% wrong.

The persistent and widespread misconception that we use only 10% of our brains falls apart when logic is applied. As it turns out, we need all of our gray matter. Here’s why.

1. The brain is not made of muscle, though many people think it is. But if it were, and we used only 10% of it, it would quickly degenerate. The adage “use it or lose it” applies to muscle. The unused 90% of the brain would shrink to nothingness, giving new meaning to the term “airhead”.

2. What about brain cancer and wounds to the head? Victims would have a 90% chance that the tumor or bullet would lodge in the useless part of the brain. What a relief if that were true.

3. An organ that requires so much energy to maintain would not have evolved if it were mostly useless. The brain consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen and glucose. The time and energy required to develop the brain is responsible for the vulnerability of human infants and the remarkable length and difficulty of human pregnancy and childbirth.

4. If seeing is believing, look no further than PET, CAT scan, or MRI scan of the brain. All of these reveal there is activity throughout the brain, even during sleep.

The 10% myth began with some confusing information exchanged among scientists, and it gained traction with the false claims of advertisers, psychics, and questionable healers.

Throughout the 1800s it was understood that different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions. Scientists just weren’t sure which part matched which function, and that’s still partially true today. The idea that different parts perform discrete activities makes the idea of a “functionless” brain area inconceivable.

In the early 1900s, scientists used electricity to zap small parts of the brain to observe what it made people do, such as scream, blink, or lift an arm. The subject appeared to do nothing when certain areas of the brain where Zapped. These parts, called the “silent cortex”, were considered by some to be functionless. They are now known to be responsible for language and abstract thought.

Others pointed to the rare cases of lobotomy patients who appeared to act normally. Of course, no one had anywhere near 90% of their brain lobotomized, and lobotomy patients who functioned “normally” were usually those who had been operated on as children. Young brains, we now know, are able to rewire neural pathways to compensate for damage.

In the first half of the 20th century, scientists made vague claims about unused parts of the brain. This was taken up by psychics, mystics, cultists, and various religious leaders as evidence that their particular creed was the conduit to the brains untapped powers. The 10% claim became popular somewhere around mid-century in advertisements for healing centers and self-help lecturers. The myth is still popular in promotional ads for everything from airline companies to television series.

There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain, and these specialized cells enable us to do everything from breathing to reading. Although different parts of the brain specialize in certain functions, most activities require a complex synchronization of different areas. At any given moment, neurons all over the brain are active, even if not every single one is in use at that moment.

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