Learn about the advantages of using only a certain percentage of your brain, according to studies

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The humain brain is complex and mysterious at the same time, which is why there are many fallacies related to its functions. Let's take a closer look at the power of the human brain, how we can't use 100 percent of it, and why that's such a good thing.

A common claim that humans only use 10 percent of our brain is far from true but that doesn't mean we use 100 percent of it either.

Some animal studies have found that more than 20 percent of neurons have no definite purpose, and some researchers have concluded that more than 60 percent of the brain is made up of dark nerve matter or neurons that do not have a clear target and appear to not respond to any of the interactions. with her.

Learn about the advantages of using only a certain percentage of your brain.
Learn about the advantages of using only a
certain percentage of your brain


"Everything we do and every thought we have is produced by the human brain. But exactly how it works is still one of the biggest undiscovered mysteries, and it seems like the deeper we get into its secrets, the more surprises we find." - Neil deGrasse Tyson

The theory that we only use 10 percent of the brain

"Animal life on Earth began millions of years ago, yet most species use only three to five percent of their brain capacity." - Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) in Lucy in 2014

The Lucy movie is famous and rather infamous for introducing the idea that we humans only use 10 percent of our brain tissue. Through a variety of science fiction inventions, the movie's namesake main character, played by Scarlett Johansson, was able to drastically increase her brain usage from 10 percent to eventually reach 100 percent.

Director Luc Besson has made it clear that his film is a fantasy based on little, if any, science. The film certainly presents his theory of the expansion of brain activity more than normal levels, not to mention reaching 100 percent, but that comes with serious downsides, and this was shown through the aggressive behaviors that formed in the character that Johansson embodied with the expansion of her brain activity. And as we'll see, there are good scientific reasons why our brain's normal pattern of activity isn't high.

However, many writers have used the movie as an opportunity to debunk the fallacy of using only 10% of our brains confirmed by the movie, correcting that we use almost all of our brain all the time. A prominent neurologist from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has stated that "we use nearly every part of the brain ... and that most of the brain is active nearly all the time."

But the truth is that this claim is also inaccurate.

As studies have developed, it has been proven that we use more than 10 percent of our neurons. However, the total may be well below 100 percent. The possibilities here depend on the difficulty of making high-precision measurements of activity in many neurons, as it is difficult to record this also in irrational animals such as mice, and in humans it is almost impossible to accurately.

More recently, researchers have been able to accurately measure only a few dozen neurons, and rarely hundreds or thousands of them. Nevertheless, neuroscientists are making significant progress.

In 2020, a large team led by Saskia de Vries of the Allen Institute for Brain Sciences published a massive research paper that provided accurate estimates of neural activity patterns in the mouse brain. They measured neural activity across several regions of the cerebral cortex associated with vision and were able to record detailed activity in 60k cells. Amazingly nervous.

Since there are hundreds of millions or billions of neurons, it might seem that 60,000 cells isn't a huge sample. In mice, that makes up less than 0.1 percent of the brain, and mice are clearly much smaller than we are and less developed.

Why not use brain imaging instead?

The problem is that brain-imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging lack the necessary precision, summarizing activity in a large number of neurons over relatively long periods of time.

In a typical MRI experiment, brain activity data matched neural responses in areas about 1 mm long, and each 1 mm of brain regions contained hundreds of thousands or millions of neurons. Therefore, brain imaging data and results are often taken as evidence of the fallacy of using 100% of the brain as almost every small area is said to be active and the whole brain lights up!

But the truth is that the change in the pattern of activity of a particular part of the brain when it "lights up" is very slow, as it corresponds to a change in the imaging signal by a very small percentage. The reason for the 'lighting up' could be the presence of a relative number of neurons within a particular highly active area. And this situation can at a given moment cause many neurons to be quiet, and thus result in activity well below 100 percent. This way it is not possible to tell if there are some neurons that are never active.

The most accurate research

Dr. Linda de Vries' research team has achieved more accurate results, using advanced neuroimaging techniques that require surgically exposing brain tissue and enable us to see what's really going on in the brain. He found that approximately 23 percent of the neurons in the visual brain did not respond to any visual stimuli. Her stimulation involved the use of a variety of natural scenes from around the world in addition to natural films, as well as a variety of artificial images.

It was all pointless for 23 percent of the cells as they rose occasionally but not in any systematic way. These cells didn't care about movement, brightness, contrast, or anything else. If it doesn't have a specific purpose, can we really say we "use" it?

It is possible that these quiet neurons responded to some special pictures or movies that were not shown. Although they are visual neurons, some of them may respond to other types of stimuli, such as a strong smell or a loud sound. But the best we can tell now is that nearly a quarter of the neurons in the critical brain system do little.

This pattern is by no means restricted to visual neurons. A smaller but impressive study recorded neurons in a part of the auditory cortex in mice and found that only about 10 percent of neurons respond to sound stimuli. Once again, it appeared that the rest of the cells might respond to some strange noise, to light falling on the eyes, to touching the skin, or something else, but the size of the unresponsive neurons indicates that a large part of the brain is mostly quiet. Neuroscientists have known this point for a long time but in many cases unresponsive neurons are not mentioned in the recording studies.

Other researchers have inferred very high estimates of quiescent or silent neurons. Neurobiologist Sak Ovsebian used previous reports that the proportion of the so-called "neural dark matter" can reach 60 to 90 percent, and this estimate may be relatively consistent with the idea that we use only 10 percent of the brain that was presented in the Lucy movie.

Why does the brain have so many useless neurons? Isn't this a waste of time?

Evolutionary biologists have devised an explanation of the neural dark matter phenomenon on Darwinian grounds. The idea is that neurons that never respond are no longer subject to selective forces that affect those with extra neurons. 

Following this logic, dark neurons cannot be eliminated, they may be called up if the brain is damaged, and they can also be beneficial by developing into active cells when faced with new challenges.

It's worth emphasizing that a high estimate of the amount of dark matter does not assume that quiescent neurons are clustered together, forming large, sleeping spaces in your brain. Instead, it is permeated by active neurons throughout the cerebral cortex and in other parts of the brain.

Regardless of how they are distributed and given the structure of the brain and especially if it is proportional to our size, our brains cannot exist with more than half of the neurons that are completely calm. 

So the most rigorous research done by de Vries' team that we mentioned showed that 77 percent of the visual neurons they measured were useful and active. However she wasn't responding all the time, or even nearly all of the time. Instead, their responses were sporadic.

Neuroscience is still progressing day by day and revealing the hidden secrets of the human brain, but so far we can confirm that the brain uses much more than just 10 percent of its cells, and that this keeps our activity balanced and moderate.


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