One sometimes hears that humans use only about 10% of our brains. Some have suggested that this means that if only we could learn how to harness our brains fully, we could be geniuses. Others have used it to argue, somewhat desperately, that this limited utilization is the reason for god’s ineffability, because in the unused portions lies the ability to understand how god works and what his plan for us is.
But that 10% figure turns out to be a myth.
The myth’s durability, [Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine] says, stems from people’s conceptions about their own brains: they see their own shortcomings as evidence of the existence of untapped gray matter. This is a false assumption. What is correct, however, is that at certain moments in anyone’s life, such as when we are simply at rest and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains.
“It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time,” Gordon adds.
Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most are continually active over a 24-hour period. “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,” says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
There is a lot we still don’t understand about the structure and function of the brain however.
Another mystery hidden within our crinkled cortices is that out of all the brain’s cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function remains largely unknown. Ultimately, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.
Brain science is going to be one of the most fascinating areas of scientific research in the next decade, ranging from learning more about deep issues like consciousness and free will, to becoming better able to treat the numerous ailments associated with brain malfunctions.