Neurophysics, Psychology, Science

The Brain

Do we use only ten percent of our brain? It is a frequent conceit of advertisements, science fiction, and general trivia. Yet, In the course of a day, we use 100% of our brains.

Potential is hard to measure or even to conceptualise. What might each of us potentially do if given every possible stimulation, training, superfood and so on? All we can safely say is that each of us probably ‘could do better’, but not because we need to find unused bits of brain. They don’t exist.

- Louise Ridley[4]

While the brain remains a relative enigma in many aspects, there is one thing that scientists can track with a great deal of accuracy today: brain activity. Though we do not use every part of our brain every minute of the day, that doesn’t mean that we do not use every part at its appropriate time. Barry Gordon, an neurologist at John Hopkins, pointed out: “we use virtually every part of the brain, and [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.[2]

Speaking in relative terms is important, since different tasks require different amounts of brain activity. Even still, when we are sleeping, we use roughly 15% of our brains.[1] Motor tasks, such as picking up keys, are actually quite complex and require a lot of brain activity. “Experiments using PET or fMRI scans show that much of the brain is engaged even during simple tasks, and injury to even a small bit of brain can have profound consequences for language, sensory perception, movement or emotion.” [3]

Where this idea came from is uncertain but it has become the constant plot point in science fiction and fantasy narratives as humanity learns to realize its full potential. “With the rise of the human potential movement in the 1960s, some preached that all sorts of powers, including bending spoons and psychic abilities, were laying dormant in our heads and that all we had to do was get off our duffs and activate them.” [1] While it makes for fun fiction, it is important to not let this urban myth subvert practical pursuits and appreciation of the day-to-day feats that we can and do achieve.


[1] Alexander, Brian. “Myth, Busted: You Only Use 10 Percent of Brain.” NBC News. 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

[2] Boyd, Robynne. “Do People Only Use 10 Percent Of Their Brains?.” Scientific America, 07 Feb. 2008. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

[3] Helmuth, Laura. “Top Ten Myths About the Brain.Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Media, 03 June 2011. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

[4] Ridley, Louise. “What Percentage of the Human Brain Is Used?Focus Magazine. 05 July 2011. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

Learn More

Cleland, Thomas. “Humans Use 100 Percent of Their Brains–despite the Popular Myth.” Cornell Center for Materials Research. Cornell University, 29 Aug. 2007. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

Shmerling, Robert. “How Much of the Brain Do We Really Use?MSN Healthy Living. Harvard Health Publications, n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

Ten Percent of Brain Myth.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.


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