How To: Use All Of Your Brain

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Tip #1: Be Alive
Actually, that's pretty much all you have to do. Despite what the Uri Gellars of the world would have you believe, you're already using all of your brain. Everybody (from otherwise respectable media mavens to shamefully misinformed teachers) has probably told you at some point that humans only use 10 percent of their grey matter, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The myth most likely originated from the phrenology craze of the early 19th century, when pseudo-scientists were busily chopping up the brain into overly distinct control sectors. Later, some of the early and very rough experiments in neuroscience involved hooking electrodes up to the brains of test subjects. Stimulating some parts of the brain cause instant, and obvious, physical reactions. But, when the electrodes were applied to other spots, there seemed to be no effect at all. Scientists called these areas "the silent cortex." By the 1930s, stories of these cranial dead zones had morphed into the oft-repeated "factoid" that quickly became a favorite of advertising writers, self-help salesmen, and paranormal power hucksters—all of whom claimed to have the secret to unlocking that ostensibly unused 90 percent. It didn't help matters much that respected scientific figures such as Margaret Meade and Albert Einstein (Say it ain't so!) thought nothing of stepping well outside their own realm of scientific knowledge to repeat the 10 percent claim as if it were truth. But, just because some of the 20th century's greatest minds were suckers for an urban legend, doesn't mean you have to be. The next time someone brings up the 10 percent figure, flatten' "˜em out with this one-two logic punch.

Real Fact! The "silent cortex" zones that neuroscientists discovered in the 19th century later turned out to be running some very important functions—like language and abstract thought. Personally, we'd rather not live without those, thanks. Modern brain imaging systems clearly show that there aren't any vast swaths of useless cerebral cortex lying around. Although we don't use every part of our brain constantly, we do use just about all of it at some point throughout the course of a given day.

Real Fact! Ever hear a doctor on your favorite surgical drama tell a patient that their head wound isn't a big deal because it hit the 90 percent of the brain they don't use? Yeah, you won't hear that from a real doctor, either. If we truly did only use 10 percent of our brains, we would be able to remove big chunks of the grey stuff and not have it matter much at all. But that isn't the case. Take away 90 percent of human brain's volume, and you're left with something roughly akin to the size of a sheep's brain. Cut out a chunk, and there will be consequences.

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December 12, 2006 - 4:20am
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