Miseducation: Giving 10 and 100 Percent Brainpower

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, utilizing extra brainpower

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, utilizing “extra” brainpower

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Lucy has got some explaining to do. Tomorrow’s release from director Luc Besson is based on the idea that the title character, played by Scarlett Johansson, has harnessed the dormant brainpower that all humans possess. This is well-treaded territory in film (Limitless, Flight of the Navigator) as this premise is rooted in the common belief that the human brain only operates at 10 percent functionality. Despite it’s prevalence on the big screen, this notion that 90 percent of the brain goes unutilized is far from the truth, reminding us that science is the weaker half of science-fiction.

The brain is a stubborn mystery of biology, but it has become clear to scientists that the vast majority, if not all, of the brain is functional at any given moment. While not all brain neurons are perpetually firing, the inactivity of neurons are instrumental to biological processes. Regardless of what someone is doing, the whole of the brain is at work.

This falsity that underestimates the brain arose as a misquotation. In 1936, American writer Lowell Thomas incorrectly summarized the neurological research of Harvard psychologist William James. The research showed that accelerated education of child geniuses improved adult IQ, which could be analogously applied to the general population to posit that all humans have some amount of untapped intellectual potential. Thomas truncated this idea with poetic license, adding the precise 10 percent figure that has since survived, despite colossal scientific evidence to the contrary.

The myth remains perpetuated in popular culture, mostly because of it’s potential as a science-fiction premise. Additionally, the false statistic is circulated as justification by believers of paranormal powers such as psychokinesis. It’s not even uncommon for the fraudulent figure to fake legitimacy through a more specific statistic; some people claim matter-of-factly it’s actually closer to 11 percent. In other circles, the 10 percent finding is attributed to the likes of Albert Einstein to earn credibility.

While experts have put this theory to rest, there is no scientific way to measure human potential. We like to think of potential as being 100 percent mental, not something that shows up on a PET brain scan. If there is a movie that the brain relates to, it’s The Wizard of Oz, in that you’ve had an optimally functioning brain all along.

Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains? – Robynne Boyd – Scientific American

The Ten-Percent Myth – Ben Radford – The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Miseducation: The Five Senses and the Other Unsung Senses

A representation of the “five” senses by Pieter Claesz, 1623

Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

One of the most fundamental lessons we learn about biology is that humans are equipped with five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. However, this cataloguing of capability is woefully outdated, as it originated with Aristotle. Simply defined, a sense is a physiological capacity of an organism that provides data for perception. While Aristotle’s five get all the glory, they don’t cover the full spectrum of human sensation. While the scientific community is in disagreement on the exact number, the total number could be upwards of 20 senses.

Some scientists believe that the basic five are overbroad and should be classified in greater detail. For instance, sight could be subdivided into the perceptions of brightness, color, and depth. Opposing minds claim this is needlessly complicated, resulting in a variation on the total count of senses. But even keeping the original five senses intact, there is still so much more that humans are capable of.

One of many overlooked senses is balance, or equilibrioception. Through a combination of body systems working in tandem, equilibrioception accounts for our abilities to stand, be graceful, and to recognize our own acceleration. Nociception, the ability to recognize pain, was once viewed only as an extension of touch. Pain has been proven to be its own distinct sensation, signaling imminent danger. Maybe the most important sense of them all is that by which brain receptors monitor carbon dioxide levels in the blood to alert us of when we need oxygen.

In addition to the complex and life-saving senses, humans also harbor less glorified ones. Chronoception is the ability to process the passage of time. Chronoception can often be misleading, though, which is why an unengaing two-hour lecture can seem like weeks but a two-hour exam can flash right before your ophthalmoception, or eyesight. Other crucial yet unglamorous senses include the kinesthetic sense for awareness of one’s own position and movement, the recognition of certain bodily functions such as hunger and fullness of the stomach, and thermoception to recognize heat and cold.

The five senses are symbolic of a common scholastic obstacle. Sometimes, we pigeonhole ourselves into limited abilities, usually because somebody instilled boundaries on our perceived potential. But often, we are surpised to find ourselves more capable than we previously thought. Although he was wrong about the five senses, Aristotle teaches us something valuable: Human potential is not to be underestimated.

Extra Sensory Perceptions – Jessica Cerretani – Harvard Medicine

How many senses does a human being have? – Discovery Health – How Stuff Works