How To Use 100% Of Your Brain - Some brain myths just won't go away!

Recently, I saw the movie Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. If you’re planning on watching it and don’t want me to spoil it for you, then skip the next paragraph. (In my opinion, you can find plenty of better ways to spend 89 minutes.)

The general story is that a college student studying abroad (Johansson) gets abducted by a gang in Taipei and is forced to carry a bag of drugs that they implant in her abdomen. When the bag starts leaking its contents, CPH4 (based on a real molecule that pregnant woman produce which the movie likens to an “atomic bomb for a fetus”), the drug triggers rampant production of new connections between neurons giving Lucy access to the 90 percent of her brain that supposedly most of us never use.

The explosive brain growth makes her superhuman, and levitation, time travel, mind reading, learning Chinese in an instant, mentally controlling electronics, altering and generating new body parts, as well as high-speed car chases, and fight-to-the-death scenes follow.

Lucy is based on a lie

The director, Luc Besson, knew the idea that we only use 10% of our brain power was wrong but went with it anyway. Hey, it IS science fiction. I get it, but the problem is that too many people accept this brain myth as a fact. According to a TED-Ed Animation, two-thirds of the public and nearly half of all science teachers still mistakenly believe this nonsense.

The Battle In Your Brain

It’s true that increased connectivity between neurons is associated with greater ability. Studies have shown that musicians, who play stringed instruments, have larger areas of their brains dedicated to their active hands. Brain scans of London taxi drivers have revealed that the more years a driver has on the job correlates to a larger portion of their brain being recruited to store spatial information.

These findings demonstrate Hebb’s law: neurons that fire together wire together and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its physical structure and function based on repeated experience, behavior, and thoughts. In the blog, The Battle In Your Brain, I write:

Every minute of every day there’s a battle going on in your brain — a battle for cortical real estate.  Your experiences, behaviours, emotions, and even your thoughts are constantly, literally changing and shaping your brain.

You have a use or lose it brain. Any unused connections go dormant to free up resources needed to strengthen those connections that are most often used. Neuroplasticity is competitive, and functioning areas of the brain not receiving any stimuli will be quickly taken over. In experiments where participants were blindfolded, their visual cortices started reorganizing themselves to process sound in just two days!

You Already Use 100% Of Your Brain

Brain scans show activity coursing through your entire brain all the time, even at rest and during sleep. Not all 86 billion neurons are firing at once, of course, but they do exist in a constant state of resting potential, electrically charged, ready to act when needed. 

An article in Scientific America, “Do People Only Use 10% Of Their Brains,” explains:

Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,’ says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, Henley explains. ….'[I]t turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time’

Your Brain Is An Energy Hog

Your brain is incredibly hungry and requires a huge amount of energy just to keep running. The human adult brain makes up about only 2% of the body’s mass yet uses 20% of energy intake. In children, the brain eats up 50% of daily glucose intake, and infant’s brains take a whopping 60%.

Brain sizes scale in proportion to body size with larger animals having larger brains, but on a per weight basis, humans pack in more neurons than any other species. This density is what makes us so smart. It takes an awful lot of fuel to power that complex brain, and there’s a trade off between body size and sustainable number of neurons. According to the Ted-Ed Animation, “A 25 kilogram ape has to eat 8 hours a day to uphold a brain with 53 billion neurons.”

The invention of cooking food gave humans the means to power their growing brains because our guts could more easily absorb energy from cooked food.

Our brains also adapted by learning to become incredibly energy efficient. At any one time, only a small proportion of brain cells are signaling, a process known as “sparse coding”, allowing the brain to use the least amount of energy while transferring the most information. The need to conserve energy resources is the reason that most brain processes happen below conscious awareness and that multitasking just doesn’t work. There’s not enough energy available to the brain to focus on more than one thing at a time.

The energy burden of maintaining an activation spike over the entire brain at once would be unsustainable. So, using the brain at full capacity all the time, like depicted at the end of the movie, would be impossible. A person simply could not supply the necessary fuel.

Smart Drugs

Another movie, Limitless, portrayed a disheveled writer who cleaned up his life and at the bank when he discovered and became addicted to a cognitive enhancing “smart drug.”  While some neuroenhancers or nootropics do actually exist today, a wonder drug as portrayed in both movies has yet to be discovered. 

In a BBC News article, Professor John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation at The University of Manchester, says smart drugs can give people an edge, but:

They have a similar effect to hard work and coffee. Physical exercise also has the same effect.  They are all, to an extent, cognitive enhancers. If you’re not a genius before, you won’t be afterward.

The Scientific America article concludes by saying,

Ultimately, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.

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45 Comments

  1. Chouwakun Tanthawa Reply

    i’m have experience using Smark Drink in high amount for important testing , my brain go faster write faster and thinking alot faster but after finish the test my body feel reall exhausted than normal state . (warning note : don’t just relies on smart drink if your not prepare before do thing you need do it’s just helping.)

  2. Tony Verheij Reply

    After my fingers healed from breaking them, I asked the doctor: “tell me, can I play the piano now?” To which he replied: “yes”.
    I was very happy because I was never able to play the piano before!
    I like the thought that we can do so much more than ever before when our brain is put to better use. And I also believe that we have a brain that learns in patterns and repetitive actions, so no movie The Matrix where we can upload a skill.
    And yes, ‘when people spend as much time working on their dreams as they are watching tv, most people would live their dream life’ ~TV~
    Our brain is asleep most of the time and I would like to see that the world wakes up to discover that we use our brain to chase after the wrong things in life.
    Thanks for your insights on this blog and your other blogs…

    Tony Verheij

    • Tony, thanks for your somewhat random comments! 🙂 I totally agree and love ‘when people spend as much time working on their dreams as they are watching tv, most people would live their dream life.’ Our power to create the life we want is in our brain – not quite like The Matrix, but still there.

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  5. Activating 100 billions neurons altogether, which means 1000 trillion connections/ sec will make human brain like an organic star. A normal humans consciousness is outdated and low grade which can only manage to keep all the atoms and molecule in our body together for roughly 80 years of a lifetime. To sustain 1000 trillion connections/ sec we need extraordinary supply of energy, 2000 calories a day is like chunk change and cant do shit. At such stage our body will transcend from closed energy system to open energy system, like a dying star approaching last stages of supernova. Movie showed that process gradually. Lucys mental gravity was increasing so much that she started manipulating atoms around her like a high gravity star does in space and attracts other small gravity objects. Transcending to the 100% capacity our consciousness realises it does needs this body anymore because its outdated and cannot sustain such gravity, it needs more. Finally at 100% brain achieves supernova and achieves singularity, we truly becomes timeless and energy less and becomes part of the “supreme”.

    • Pardeep,

      Thank you for your interpretation of the movie. The point is is that the movie perpetuates an erroneous myth that we only use a small percentage of our brains. Who knows what’s possible? 🙂

      • Adam Coulson Reply

        a simple question for u when u do an activity do u use all the different parts of your brain to solve the problem. the answer is no you dont you dont take over control of the part of the brain that controls eye movement or arm hand leg movement to solve the issue you use parts of the brain that let you use them to solve the problem so baicaly you are not using 100% of your brain. also like i said earlier you brain cotrols sections of your whole body so you dont have control over them. this is the main premise of the 10% myth. the fact is you cant use 100% of your brain to do 1 specific task. if you did you would die/start to degrade as u would stop breathing blood flow round your body would slow and stop you would go blind and be unable to move as all your brain is using all the energy like pradeep was explaining about the film to complete the task you asked of it. simple way to show this is if u imagine that air/oxygen is the energy like he was saying and you told your brain to use all that energy(air) to make your legs work you wouldnt have the air in your lungs to breath or the air to make your heart beat

  6. super interesting esspically the ted video and genreally all this topic!

  7. Camron Routon Reply

    I love this article. One thing makes me made. It is not about the percentage of the brain that we use but the percentage that we control. We use 100 percent but how much of that can we control because that is what matter. We can count the stars in the sky but can’t control how many there are. Same goes with our brain, we can say the percentage we use but can’t control how much we are in control of. Because in theory we could speed the process of healing and “trick” ourselves into creating the chemicals our body needs but we still have yet to find a way to control all of our brain. So instead of the word “use” instead switch it to “control”, because that is the real question.

  8. Camron Routon Reply

    It really was a great article though. I’m only 17 so I find stuff like this insanely intriguing and it makes me think more than ever. Something that I love to do. Thank you very much for the article!!

    • Camron,

      You are doing great to be interested in and know this kind of stuff at 17. Wish I had. I think your generation (including my sons) is much more awake and aware than we were!

  9. Adam Coulson Reply

    its not the fact that u dont use 100% of ure brain its the fact that u cant openly use the 100% to say complete a mathmatical problem u cant access the other parts of your brain to use that matter to complete a task u use parts of the brain to complete differnt tasks. can u take control of your subconscious no bcause u cont control that part of your brain it does it freely with out you telling it to do what it does. so if i asked what 1+1= u brain would use the parts that deal with this reasoning and u get your answer in say 10 seconds for eg. but if u could use all the matter in your brain to tell all of it to think about the problem you would get to the answer alot faster.

    • Why would you want to use more of your brain than necessary to do anything? The brain is all about efficiency and will find the path of least effort for accomplishing any task.

      • Adam Coulson Reply

        let me respond with a simple question why build a super computer to help us study things?? we use it to complete multiple math eqations or other complex theories in the matter of seconds that would take a human years to try and solve if we were ble to activly control all of the brain to do that one task it wouldnt take us years it ould take say weeks instead or less its all theoretical but thats my basic premise of how it would work ad or why.

  10. I think using all your brain to store data will not make you smart. There is a think called logic and that is a different process that your brain do that needs to be discovered.

  11. I had filled up 100% of my brain with data but I do not know how to use it! Ha ha ha!

  12. Just Saying Reply

    We all have probably have searched for the secret to a limitless mind. Which probably led us to this article. I have run across certain nootropics that have increased my articulation while on them and they appeared to have given me greater access to my intellectual abilities. Sunifiram and noopept had this effect. . If you would please share your secrets so that those that discover this thread can take a step closer to truly unlocking our minds and achieving our full potential. Only list what you believe truly works. Together we can reach our full potential. This is the only way we will be able to accomplish it. Knowledge is vast and this approach will narrow our scope. We can only achieve this if we work together, compare notes and continue until we find the so called magic pill that will unlock our minds full potential.

    • Thank you for your comment. The only secret I have is living a brain healthy life which allows and encourages your brain to perform optimally which would include: meditation, mindfulness, exercise, diet, mental stimulation – all the things this website is about.

    • Yes absolutely I asked a neurosurgeon about cerebral capacity he accepts ur essay.

  13. after going through different material about unlocking brain…i’ve discovered something terrible after my research..i cant say more but my dog which i used for experiment can picture it further…i didn’t believe this…surely unlocking brain is possible and my next step is to humans..by 2019 i’ll give the world what i’ve got.

  14. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.This is very helpful for me

  15. altaf husssain Reply

    yesterday i messaged you
    you did not respond me . guide about this thank you

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