Every so often, ever since the early 1970s, I have heard it said that we humans only use 10% of our brain and we would be superhuman when we use 100%. I heard it again last week and it is as stupid now as back then. I have several problems with this idea. One is that it is not true–our brains are fully alive and neurons, even resting ones (ones not firing in response to inputs), fire on their own, kind of like breathing. Another is the word “use”, as in “I used all of my hand to pick up the glass”. True enough that we do direct some, probably relatively small, portion of our brain, i.e., mental, activity when we mentally focus on some image or feeling or thought, but did not Freud long ago show that the unconscious is always operative. And have not cognitive and neuroscientists shown the importance of subconscious, subliminal activity, e.g., the decision is made before we think it or something that seems important nags at us to remember it. The activity of the brain we do not use but is still our own is remarkable, very remarkable. Another is that the areas we do not ‘use’ are often automatized–we would not want to focus on muscle synergies as we perform an acton, it would be quite disruptive. Another is that this view of the brain is mechanistic and ignores the biological nature of our existence. If you have read this blog at all, you understand that ignoring that is one of the few sins I recognize.
Finally, consider when we choose not to use even what we can of our brain function, when we clear our mind, empty it (though that is a process not a goal), and calm our being (MEMBRAIN, brain, & soma) in an act of meditation. What is the result then? Ah, so much depends upon life events and history of meditative practice and discipline, so much depends on the paradox of the koan, and, following William Carlos Williams:
So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Now what brain power didn’t I use that I should have if I were to be a superior machine? Travel on (or not).