I have heard this question asked so many times, and I’m always so shocked at how many people believe this statement to be true. As someone who has studied Neuroscience extensively, I can say without a doubt, that we use every bit of our brain. Our brain is an amazingly complex piece of anatomy, and while researchers are still trying to understand what parts of the brain specifically react to different disorders, emotions, and countless other issues, there is so much we have already discovered that proves this theory incorrect.
From an evolutionary perspective, it seems almost absurd that humans would have developed such a complex and resource-dependent organ only to use ten percent of it. Why would the other ninety percent even need to develop, let alone continue to exist? Furthermore, evolution has caused massive changes over time (e.g. people born without appendixes), and wouldn’t it seem advantageous if future generations began developing with only the ten percent that we need? This hasn’t happened because even evolution knows that humans need, and use, one hundred percent of our brains.
” The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge really helps reiterate just how vital all parts of our brain are to functioning. This intelligent and inquisitive novel takes a look into the concept of neuroplasticity. In laymen’s terms it is the brain’s ability to rewire itself when situations arise that change the chemistry of our brain. This novel proves that like muscles in our body, our brain also needs exercise. Our brain needs constant stimulation to increase neuronal connections and neuronal responses to situations. It is a known fact that if we don’t exercise for extended periods of time we develop atrophy. Remember the old adage ” use it or loss it?” The same thing can be said about the brain! Our brain needs constant mental stimulation in order to survive. Like other muscles, the brain would surely atrophy if left unused for such an extended period of time. If this were in fact the case, many researchers running patient MRI scans would easily be able to see atrophied parts of the brain across all populations, which has yet to happen. Plus, why would a diagnoses of traumatic brain injury ever be made if the majority of our brain is unused anyway? And why when parts of the brain stop functioning, do other parts sometimes decide to pick up those specific functions and carry on as if it was its duty all along? Because we use all of our brain!
Traumatic Brain Injury is a very serious condition that is diagnosed when someone has been involved in an accident that renders impairment in specific areas of the brain. As most people should know, all parts of the brain have very specific functions and purposes (Again, another fact that disproves this ten percent theory). When a part of the brain is damaged or destroyed, our body reacts. Remember our brain controls our physical movement, our personality, and our cognition (among many things). If symptoms arise that were not present before the trauma, MRI scans are run, and those diagnosed with head injuries are treated accordingly. But according to this theory, ninety percent of our brain is not responsible for any functions, which almost makes a TBI diagnoses obsolete. Quick neuroscience lesson: our brainstem controls all of our vital signs (e.g. breathing; respiration); without a functioning brainstem you cannot survive. This anatomical part alone accounts for at least twenty percent of the brain, and already that is a ten percent more functioning brain that what this theory postulates. So if only ten percent of our brain actually does have a specific function, it would be safe to say that none of us would be alive. So my thoughts are, how does this theory even seem plausible, and how does this theory continue to thrive in a world where scientific breakthroughs and technologies are ever growing? This is my reasoning behind it…
People sometimes don’t consider the neurological components to this theory. People tend to read this statement and consider it abstractly. I think the concept of limitless potential takes form in this abstract version of this theory; more specifically, tapping into parts of the mind that allow for some very unusual, and perhaps miraculous, situations to occur. A lot of people believe that if we are to open our minds fully, that things such as ESP and telekinesis would be possible. I have found that a lot of these limitless potential folk believe this statement about the ten percent rule. It isn’t perhaps that they think only ten percent of our brain actually functions, but that we, as humans, are full of resting potential, and because most of this potential is unknown, we only reach about ten percent of it over the course of a lifetime. I can understand this take on this otherwise ridiculous theory. I believe that everyone has untapped potential, and the way we attempt to harness that potential will be different in all of us (but I don’t believe this has anything to do with whether or not specific parts of the brain are functioning). This is the only way this theory will fly with me. Otherwise the rational researcher in me lashes out and attempts to wrap my ten percent functioning brain around this concept. If anyone were to study brain scans or read an neuroscience article you would quickly dismiss this theory for what it is… just a theory.