NPR Science: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False
- ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
- If you went to the movie theater this weekend, you might've caught the latest Scarlett Johansson action movie called "Lucy." It's about a woman who develops superpowers by harnessing the full potential of her brain.
- (SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCY")
- SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I'm able to do things I've never done before. I feel everything and I can control the elements around me.
- UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's amazing.
- WESTERVELT: You've probably heard this idea before. Most people only use 10% of their brains. The other 90% of the basically dormant. Well, in the movie "Lucy," Morgan Freeman gives us this what-if scenario?
- (SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LUCY")
- MORGAN FREEMAN: What if there was a way of accessing 100% of our brain? What might we be capable of?
- DAVID EAGLEMAN: We would be capable of exactly what we're doing now, which is to say, we do use a hundred percent of our brain.
- WESTERVELT: That is David Eagleman.
- EAGLEMAN: I'm a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine.
- WESTERVELT: And he says, basically, all of us are like Lucy. We use all of our brains, all of time.
- EAGLEMAN: Even when you're just sitting around doing nothing your brain is screaming with activity all the time, around the clock; even when you're asleep it's screaming with activity.
- WESTERVELT: In other words, this is a total myth. Very wrong, but still very popular. Take this clip from an Ellen DeGeneres stand-up special.
- (SOUNDBITE OF STAND-UP SPECIAL)
- ELLEN DEGENERES: It's true, they say we use ten percent of our brain. Ten percent of our brain. And I think, imagine what we could accomplish if we used the other 60 percent? Do you know what I'm saying?
- AUDIENCE: (LAUGHTER).
- (SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOMMY BOY")
- DAVID SPADE: Let's say the average person uses ten percent of their brain.
- WESTERVELT: It's even in the movie "Tommy Boy."
- (SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOMMY BOY")
- SPADE: How much do you use? One and a half percent. The rest is clogged with malted hops and bong residue.
- WESTERVELT: Ariana Anderson is a researcher at UCLA. She looks at brain scans all day long. And she says, if someone were actually using just ten percent of their brain capacity...
- ARIANA ANDERSON: Well, they would probably be declared brain-dead.
- WESTERVELT: Sorry, "Tommy Boy." No one knows exactly where this myth came from but it's been around since at least the early 1900's. So why is this wrong idea still so popular?
- ANDERSON: Probably gives us some sort of hope that if we are doing things we shouldn't do, such as watching too much TV, alcohol abuse, well, it might be damaging our brain but it's probably damaging the 90 percent that we don't use. And that's not true. Whenever you're doing something that damages your brain, it's damaging something that's being used, and it's going to leave some sort of deficit behind.
- EAGLEMAN: For a long time I've wondered, why is this such a sticky myth?
- WESTERVELT: Again, David Eagleman.
- EAGLEMAN: And I think it's because it gives us a sense that there's something there to be unlocked, that we could be so much better than we could. And really, this has the same appeal as any fairytale or superhero story. I mean, it's the neural equivalent to Peter Parker becoming Spiderman.
- WESTERVELT: In other words, it's an idea that belongs in Hollywood.
It is a striking idea that one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation. Having recently learned to manage several external fermentations — of bread and kimchi and beer — I know a little about the vagaries of that process. You depend on the microbes, and you do your best to align their interests with yours, mainly by feeding them the kinds of things they like to eat — good “substrate.” But absolute control of the process is too much to hope for. It’s a lot more like gardening than governing.
The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder.
This, it seems to me, is pretty much where we stand today with respect to our microbiomes — our teeming, quasi-wilderness. We don’t know a lot, but we probably know enough to begin taking better care of it. We have a pretty good idea of what it likes to eat, and what strong chemicals do to it. We know all we need to know, in other words, to begin, with modesty, to tend the unruly garden within.
Q:Hiya. :) I have a question about careers in science that may or may not be a bit odd. Basically, I'm worried that I won't be able to come up with good research questions. I think that I'll come up with questions/ideas when I actually start working on my degree (I'm still at community college rn) and am doing more in-depth studying, but I'm still nervous. I think that worry comes from a fear of not having a "scientific enough" mind because I've always been artistic, and even though I've (tbc)
always loved science, I’ve spent most of my life being an artist. So I guess I feel like a newbie and I’m full of insecurities. Anyway my question is; is it normal to worry about coming up with good research questions? (Btw, I love your blog).
I think if you do have a strong interest in science, just by being engrossed in the subject you’ll be able to foster your creativity and your curiosity.
Its a valid concern, but I think it should be fine. In the long run you’ll build up skills, knowledge and an analytical mind ready to tackle any scientific or research area.
Good luck and thank you! :)
I started out as an art major and quickly changed to bio and honestly as long as you’re doing something you love and treat it with the same passion or dedication as you would your artwork you’ll be fine. You get there by working towards it. You’re not expected to know everything after you get your associates or your bachelors. A masters program is supposed to learn the process of science by working closely with your advisor and mentors so that you can complete a project start to finish (this is a thesis option- I’m not sure what you do as a non thesis but if you’re serious about science you’ll do a thesis). It varies some at the M.S. with how much “involvement” you have with initial project design (I hardly had any but I busted my ass on an amazing project) but while you’re doing research etc like this you’ll start to find holes in the literature and different routes you could possibly go after you finish what you’re currently working on.
Some people even set their students up like this during a Ph.D. but some allow you to kind of play around with ideas of your own under their “umbrella” of expertise.
No one knows what they’re gonna end up doing right off the bat and no one is expecting you to know everything on day one.
All the advice is true, but this is something I’m still really worried about, 3 years into a PhD program. I think I’m getting better at asking questions, but when I think about being a future PI someday, I freak out.
But I’m not going to be a PI tomorrow, and if I continue on that path, I’ll learn what I need to.
Wine regions of Antarctica
At the moment, there is just one stalwart producer working alongside penguins in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. James Pope is focusing on cool climate varieties, including Riesling, and much lessor known but better performing Vidal and Seyval Blanc.
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of snow-free valleys in Antarctica located within Victoria Land west of McMurdo Sound. The region is one of the world’s most extreme deserts, and includes many interesting features including Lake Vida and the Onyx River, Antarctica’s longest river.
No fucking way.
NYSCI will be premiering a new animated show, Mosa Mack! A new series featuring a young female science detective who goes on adventures to find the answers to some interesting questions.
Catch the episodes at NYSCI!
July 23rd- Photosynthesis
July 30th- Food Web
This looks fantastic!