Monthly Archives: May 2011

Where’s the rest of me?

What does it mean to use only 10 percent of our brains?“They say we only use 10 percent of our brains,” my barber said as he was pruning back two months worth of my hair.

I hear that statement periodically, but you don’t stop to think seriously about what it really means until someone is employing sharp instruments so close to your brain.

What would be the implications of using 100 percent of our brains, of being able to do everything we do now — only more of it?

If  we were using all our brains, could we remember everything — even where we dropped our keys?

Could we do two completely different things at the same time, say landscape painting while changing our engine oil?

Would we all be good at math?

Would we all be chess masters? Could we play polyrhythms? Order in French?

And would we be able to rent out space in our brains to others?

The idea that we only use a tenth of our brains seems to mean that we live falling short, that we die unfulfilled, guilty of some moral weakness — “He was such a promising boy, but he only used 10 percent of his brain, so what do you expect?” Such disappointment.

We can take some comfort in the fact that the 10 percent idea isn’t true. As early as 2004, Scientific American published a debunking article,   “Do we really use only 10 percent of our brains?” Perhaps the magazine forgot about it, because in 2008 it published another article, “Do People Only Use 10 Percent Of Their Brains?

The answer to both questions seems to be no. But I’m not sure I want to tell my barber that.

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Filed under popular culture, psychology