I have heard and I’m sure you have heard that we only use 10% of our brain. The fact is that this is incorrect. This well-known myth has almost tricked people into believing that if we could harness the rest of our brain (the remaining 90%) we would suddenly be more creative, smarter…essentially the plot of the 2014 science fiction film Lucy.
Your brain is very active and by using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, a person is placed inside a scanner and different parts of the brain that are activated can be shown up on a screen. Positron emission tomography can also be used for the same purpose.
This myth was mentioned in the preface of Dale Carnegie’s How to win Friends and Influence People. In addition, William James, an American psychologist and philosopher mentioned that we “are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources” in The Energies of Men in 1908.
Furthermore, our brain tissue uses 20% of the oxygen we breathe in according to Segio Della Sala (neuroscientist).
Glial cells make up nine-tenths of the cells in the brain and they are support cells. They are also known as white matter as they provide nutritional and physical help for the other 10% of cells which is the grey matter.
In 1980, John Lorber, a British paediatrician, mentioned that he had patients with hydrocephalus who had hardly any brain tissue, but could still function. This further contributed to the myth’s popularity.
Some evidence against the myth includes:
- Slight damage to the brain can have detrimental effects; there is almost no area of the brain that could be damaged without the loss of abilities
- Brain cells that are not used will degenerate so if 90% of the brain was inactive, autopsies of adult brains would show this immense degradation
- Using the single- unit recording technique, neuroscientists insert a small electrode into the brain to monitor the activity of a single cell. However, if 90% of the cells were not used then it would have been revealed to us by this technique.
- Microstructural analysis: In the single-unit recording technique, researchers insert a tiny electrode into the brain to monitor the activity of a single cell. If 90 percent of cells were unused, then this technique would have revealed that.
Although not all 86 billion neurons are firing at once in your entire brain all the time, they do exist in a constant state of resting potential, electrically charged and ready to act when needed.