NPR Science: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False
ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
If you went to the movie theater this weekend, you might've caught the latest Scarlett Johansson action movie called "Lucy." It's about a woman who develops superpowers by harnessing the full potential of her brain.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCY")
SCARLETT JOHANSSON:I'm able to do things I've never done before. I feel everything and I can control the elements around me.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN:That's amazing.
WESTERVELT:You've probably heard this idea before. Most people only use 10% of their brains. The other 90% of the basically dormant. Well, in the movie "Lucy," Morgan Freeman gives us this what-if scenario?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCY")
MORGAN FREEMAN:What if there was a way of accessing 100% of our brain? What might we be capable of?
DAVID EAGLEMAN:We would be capable of exactly what we're doing now, which is to say, we do use a hundred percent of our brain.
WESTERVELT:That is David Eagleman.
EAGLEMAN:I'm a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine.
WESTERVELT:And he says, basically, all of us are like Lucy. We use all of our brains, all of time.
EAGLEMAN:Even when you're just sitting around doing nothing your brain is screaming with activity all the time, around the clock; even when you're asleep it's screaming with activity.
WESTERVELT:In other words, this is a total myth. Very wrong, but still very popular. Take this clip from an Ellen DeGeneres stand-up special.
(SOUNDBITE OF STAND-UP SPECIAL)
ELLEN DEGENERES:It's true, they say we use ten percent of our brain. Ten percent of our brain. And I think, imagine what we could accomplish if we used the other 60 percent? Do you know what I'm saying?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOMMY BOY")
DAVID SPADE:Let's say the average person uses ten percent of their brain.
WESTERVELT:It's even in the movie "Tommy Boy."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOMMY BOY")
SPADE:How much do you use? One and a half percent. The rest is clogged with malted hops and bong residue.
WESTERVELT:Ariana Anderson is a researcher at UCLA. She looks at brain scans all day long. And she says, if someone were actually using just ten percent of their brain capacity...
ARIANA ANDERSON:Well, they would probably be declared brain-dead.
WESTERVELT:Sorry, "Tommy Boy." No one knows exactly where this myth came from but it's been around since at least the early 1900's. So why is this wrong idea still so popular?
ANDERSON:Probably gives us some sort of hope that if we are doing things we shouldn't do, such as watching too much TV, alcohol abuse, well, it might be damaging our brain but it's probably damaging the 90 percent that we don't use. And that's not true. Whenever you're doing something that damages your brain, it's damaging something that's being used, and it's going to leave some sort of deficit behind.
EAGLEMAN:For a long time I've wondered, why is this such a sticky myth?
WESTERVELT:Again, David Eagleman.
EAGLEMAN:And I think it's because it gives us a sense that there's something there to be unlocked, that we could be so much better than we could. And really, this has the same appeal as any fairytale or superhero story. I mean, it's the neural equivalent to Peter Parker becoming Spiderman.
WESTERVELT:In other words, it's an idea that belongs in Hollywood.
“Science, then, is not like the onion in the often used analogy of stripping away layer after layer to get at some core, central, fundamental truth. Rather it’s like the magic well: no matter how many buckets of water you remove, there’s always another one to be had. Or even better, it’s like the widening ripples on the surface of a pond, the ever larger circumference in touch with more and more of what’s outside the circle, the unknown. This growing forefront is where science occurs… It is a mistake to bob around in the circle of facts instead of riding the wave to the great expanse lying outside the circle.”—
I was reminded of this quote, which sums up the driving force of the scientific process better than just about anything I’ve ever read, today after watching the latest Vlogbrothers video, in which Hank Green channels his inner Socrates:
"I know one thing, that I know nothing."
Watch Hank admit to being a towering mountain of ignorance (something we should all admit) below…
Before the explanation part of this post, I need to say this so it will be in posts that are shortened by a reblog: More than anything I ask that you reblog this post so that kind millionaires more people will see it and more support can be given. All the Amazon wishlists and blogs are linked below the read more link!
As the new school year approaches, we are obviously in denial teachers are mentally figuring out what materials we need for the school year, what will be provided by the school or families, and what we will buy with our own money as we shop sales (if it is in our budget). Several members of our #education community on tumblr dealt with unexpected family deaths, weather disasters, or more happy (but expensive) life achievements like getting married or having a baby. Our pockets have been hit hard, and I think you’d be surprised how much of our own money we spend on classrooms each year.
Many of us teach in areas where our students’ families cannot help with school supplies. In fact, as I began working on this project, every teacher I contacted to include that came from a more affluent community declined being included so that classrooms in greater need could be helped. I am in awe of the teachers in this community. After the jump is a list of teachers and their classroom wish lists for the upcoming year. If you are able to, please consider supporting a teacher via their wishlist. If you’d rather make a donation to their supply fund or send a gift card, I’m sure you could contact them and they wouldn’t turn you down.
So after the jump are the blogs and corresponding wishlists from Tumblr’s teachers — most of the educators on this list I have personally interacted with and know them to be dedicated to their students.
A new school year is rapidly approaching here in the U.S. and sadly, many families simply won’t be able to provide their children with the school supplies that they need to succeed.
Likewise, many schools are so underfunded that teachers must dig into their own (extremely underpaid) pockets to provide educational materials. Last year, 99.5% of teachers reported spending their own money to provide supplies for their classroom, at an average of $485 per year.
If you are able, I urge you to check out these wish lists from teachers (complied by PPT) who are active in Tumblr’s #education community. And if not one of these teachers, consider helping a teacher in your local community by donating money or supplies through a charity such as AdoptAClassroom.org.
My friend Caren teaches at one such underfunded/high poverty school here in Austin, and I can report first-hand that even the smallest donation can help make the difference in whether a student gets the classroom experience they deserve, and most importantly, the education they so desperately want.
Do you think it’s a question of how much you balance that drive to achieve with being present and enjoying the moment?
You know, it’s funny because I frequently get emails from young people starting out and asking, “How do I make a successful website or start my own thing?” And, very often, it’s tied to some measure of success that’s audience-based or reach-based. “How do you build up to seven million readers a month or two million Facebook fans?” But the work is not how to get that size of an audience or those numbers. That’s just the byproduct of what Lewis Hyde calls “creative labor,” which is really our inner drive. The real work is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on those numbers—on that constant positive reinforcement and external validation. That’s the only real work, and the irony is that the more “successful” you get, by either by your own standards or external standards, the harder it is to decouple all of those inner values from your work. I think we often confuse the doing for the being.
If you’re curious why I just posted an article about the biology of the sarlacc that lives in the pit of Carkoon on Tatooine, written from the perspective of an interplanetary naturalist based on Earth… trust me, there’s a good reason.
Today, I’m taking part in a blog carnival all about the science of Tatooine in the Star Wars universe! Several superb science writers have posted awesome articles about Tatooine-related science, from climate to ecology to megafauna, on great blogs all over the web. Go check ‘em out:
Diary of An Interplanetary Naturalist - The Sarlacc
C-3PO: “You will therefore be taken to the Dune Sea and cast into the pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the all-powerful sarlacc.”
C-3PO: “In his belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering, as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.”
It was twenty years ago that I came into possession of that protocol droid. I was its fourteenth owner, although it would not disclose any information on the thirteen previous ones. By the time it entered my possession its body’s brass plating was almost as thin and timid as its AI. For the first year after I purchased this tarnished, golden droid from the district auction, this memory recall occurred without warning, at first daily, then weekly, then, for some reason, scarcely at all.
Owing to this unpredictable glitch, I was never able to make use of the C-3PO unit as a translator or a cultural mediator, not that I ever really needed it considering the advancement of modern neural AI embeds. But C-3PO’s terror, its obsession stuck with me.
It’s a fool’s errand to project free will or desire upon even the most sentient of droids, but there was something about this recall, its intensity, its pain… its fear, so unlike anything I had ever heard uttered in digital voice, that called like a Siren to my curiosity. Never could I have imagined how a droid so distressed would guide my journeys.
What did it mean? What is the “sarlacc” this droid spoke of?
Historic records from the time of the Galactic Rebellion are sadly incomplete thanks to the Great Cyberwar, but even a child would turn rapt at the mention of the legendary Han Solo, and from that very first mention I knew I must uncover more.
What I, an interplanetary naturalist, have observed in my lifetime of exploration and study, may top the list of “horrible ways to die in the known universe”, this thousand-year psychotorture, this eon of agony. I present here my natural observations of the sarlacc.
I meet many people offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime…What they wish to be true, they believe is true.
Only 9 percent of Americans accept the central finding of modern biology that human beings (and all other species) have slowly evolved by natural processes from a succession of more ancient beings with no divine intervention needed along the way.
Look on the bright side! Since Carl wrote these words in 1995’s The Demon-Haunted World, support for human beings evolving solely by natural processes has risen to a whopping 32%!! Although, I must admit, I don’t know where that 9% number comes from.
Some of you may have noticed that I posted three videos this week to the OKTBS YouTube channel, and if you’re good at math, you realize that is exactly two more than I normally post in a week.
That’s because this week’s videos were part of a special series all about how our bodies evolved to look the way that they do! You know, why you have a brain-filled head on top, a spine down the back, a belly full of guts, and some interesting differences (and similarities) between left vs. right.
If you’d like to watch them all together, I’ve collected them in a playlist, which you can watch below:
Sometimes a subject like this just won’t fit into a single video (or at least a video that isn’t 20 minutes long). I’d love to hear your feedback. Would you like to see more of these multi-part series in the future?