Thursday, June 14, 2012

Do we really use just ten percent of our brain?

We can now see inside the working brain.
Rufus Opus (Head for the Red) and Jason Inominandum (Strategic Sorcery) are kicking around a list of five things that western occultism needs to rethink (it is time to retool). For the most part, I agree with their comments (after all, they did hit one of my pet peeves).

And to their list, I would add a sixth item--"We only use ten percent of our brain."

This explanation for why we can perform magic, have ESP, and generally do the unexplainable annoys me. The reason it annoys me is much the same reason that people talking about the Observer Effect and the Uncertainty Principle annoy me; the people who use it take the sound bite and forget the context that the original statement was made in. Anyone who uses it to explain the existence of ESP and magic is using a false reason. It would be just so much better if they just shrugged their shoulders and admitted that they did not know why ESP and magic actually works.

(Personally, I lean towards a kabbalah reason--it is called a soul.)

The statement that we only use ten percent of our brain comes out of the early days of modern brain studies. And much like the parts of Quantum Physics that people use to prove New Age concepts, the ten percent rule is about an lack of proper equipment and sensors to see what was going on.

The original statement was about the fact that the equipment that early modern brain scientists were using could only detect what was going on (activity) in ten percent of the brain. None of the scientists involved believed (to the best of my knowledge) that only ten percent of the brain was being used--no, they merely could not detect what was going on inside of our skulls.

What we have learned in the last ten, twenty years with better imaging equipment and sensors is that no part of a normal person's brain is completely unused. Parts switch on and off as needed, but there is not ninety percent of it just sitting there completely unused. In fact, unused parts of the brain either get rewritten or disappear--there is no unused real estate in your skull. The only people with unused parts of their brain have suffer some form of brain damage. We use all parts of our brains.

Yet people still trot out the ten percent all the time as an explaination...when really we should be more concerned about the brain rewiring that is happening during our practices...but that is a post for another time.

1 comment:

Scott Stenwick said...

Actually, the quote is not from the early days of brain scanning. It's almost a hundred years old (!) and is either attributed to psychologist William James or a badly misquoted Albert Einstein. Essentially, it's from the days before there even was such a thing as modern experimental psychology.

Source: Barry Beyerstein, Whence cometh the myth that we only use ten percent of our brains? in Sergio Della Sala (ed.), Mind-myths: Exploring Everyday Mysteries of the Mind and Brain ( New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 1999), 3-24.

So there's no scientific basis to it at all. Any sort of brain scanner, even the early ones, shows that every area of the brain fires in the course of normal cognition. It's just the firing rate that varies between regions. I'm totally with you that this one needs to go away, the sooner the better.