Trouble Thinking

July 19, 2010

Do You Use 10% of Your Brain?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , — Durandal @ 2:52 pm

Here’s something you’ve heard. “Well, you know humans only use 10% of our brains. Imagine what we could do if we starting using all of it!” Followed by either pop psychology, or someone claiming to have psychic powers.

I will make this short: you might use 10% of your brain because a horrible accident left you with nothing but a barely functional brainstem (in which case I’m impressed you’re reading this), but humans use all of their brain. Not 10%, not 60%, 100%. I don’t know precisely how this started. One explanation is that Einstein joked about humans only using 10% of their brain on an average day, and people were so dumb they took that as gospel thus retroactively making it one of the most epic burns. However it got started, after a long enough time of being repeated mindlessly at parties, it’s now gospel. It is also staggeringly, obviously wrong.

“But Trouble Thinking” you whine in that high, reedy voice of yours that so infuriates the right-thinking people of the world “what about all those images I’ve seen of fMRIs? Only a few places are lit up!”

An fMRI takes a picture of a moment in time. Look at an image of a person doing… well, anything.

Say, being a sex machine

Now, what muscle groups are they using right then? A good portion less than 100% of them, that’s for damn sure. If they were using all of their muscles at once, nothing would be getting done. Certain muscles push and pull at certain times in the proper sequence in order to make controlled movements happen.

The brain isn’t all that different. In order to perform any cognitive task, certain things need to happen in certain areas at certain times. Your brain isn’t a single undifferentiated mass of thinking goo.  If every neuron is firing all at once, the current task is a Grand Mal seizure, not goddamn telekinesis.

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