The Fallible Mind

Emotion, perception, and other tricks of the brain

Using Only 10 Percent of Your Brain? Think Again!

If someone removed 90 percent of your brain, don't you think you'd notice? Yet an old myth says we use only a tiny fraction of potential brainpower. What fallacy lies behind this persistent but mistaken belief? Read More

From Another Angle

Dr., this is a real not rhetorical question - perhaps for another column;

A variation on the 10% angle are the profound skills of savants. Where is their extraordinary functioning taking place in their brains? Is that a utilization percentage beyond whatever percentage normal people use?

And are the deficits and talents of savantism tightly coupled? In other words, would it be possible to turn on savant talents, (access the untapped brain), without savant limitations in normal people?

An astute Question

This is a prescient question. I'll address it in a future Blog post.

Using 10% of your brain

It's not that we only use ten per cent of our brain, it's the fact that we only consciously attend to a certain percentage - and I'd argue it's around 5%; the other 95% of what goes on in our brain is autonomous connections and reactions based on accummulated information we've acquired over the years which then becomes conditioned.
The art of using our brain power is to consciously attend to our thoughts, open the mind to think about the way we respond - are we doing it automatically, or are we using the enquiring mind to grow and develop.
The subconscious mind is linked to beliefs, which build a perception of the world we live in - is your perception based on learned or conditioned beliefs? Have you considered all perspectives and decided which one suits you?

The Wrong Point

I believe you got the point wrong: We we one-hundred percent (100%) of our brain all the time. Even during sleep, there is some activity throughout the cerebrum.
You are correct, however, that we are often inattentive.

Also fascinating is the brain’s ability to learn

The abilities to change and learn are directly connected with each other and this has been a very fascinating topic for myself and my clients. Knowing your brain’s capacity to learn is vital and thinking that you only use 10% of your brain does not help. I’m glad someone wrote about this on a major website so humans may begin to understand how powerful they are in terms of changing their lives. Once you understand how to train your brain with exercises, you’ll start to get excited about life again. You’ll see change as a possibility. My practice focuses on the positive possibilities in life and how you can achieve them. Schedule a session with me and find out how you can start to enjoy life more.

Looking forward to speaking with you,

David Vendig, LMFT, Los Angeles Life Coach & Therapist
Of Passionate Life Coaching & Therapy

I hope not 10%

If it's true that I'm using 10% of my brain then I feel more hopeless than if I were using 1% -- if I'm only using 1% then there's a much more room for growth; not so much if I'm using 10%. What if we're really using 50%?! Not much room for improvement there!

Origin of 10% myth

Apparently the myth traces to a remark made by William James to the effect that most people only achieve 10% of their intellectual potential. This got transformed into the 10% of the brain claim by Lowell Thomas in his preface to the widely read Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936.

Thanks for clearing that up

Yes, Dr. Hirstein, I think the 10 percent quote was intended as a figure of speech, not a scientific fact to be memorized. For in those days, how could such a measurement even have been attempted? But like a lot of quotes taken out of context, it has been altered and misinterpreted.

The gist of the quote is that we can accomplish and learn much more than we might normally imagine. The "quote" should really be interpreted as a motivational trope.

So this article is knocking down a straw man. But it does a good job of reminding us that even M.D.s and scientists are fully capable of believing idiotic statements and theories.

We should maintain a healthy skepticism of what we hear from experts, teachers, reporters, and others. Because 90 percent of what we hear is opinion and only 10 percent is fact.

10% of brain

It probably IS true that at any given moment only a small fraction (call it 10%) of the billions of neurons in one's brain are active, but over time different aggregations of neurons become active depending on the task at hand. Why would this be true? The metabolic cost of producing action potentials is quite high, and were all neurons active at once the brain would quickly run out of "fuel" so to speak. Neuroscientist Peter Lennie (University of Rochester) cogently developed this point about ten years ago in a stimulating essay published in Current Biology; here's the reference: Lennie, P. (2003). "The cost of cortical computation." Current Biology 13: 493-497.
So, the 10% number isn't so preposterous after all IF we're talking about active brain cells at a given moment in time. But that's NOT the same thing as saying only 10% of our brain cells do all the work all of the time, which is indeed absurd.

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Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., is a neurologist best known for bringing synesthesia back to mainstream science. His latest book is Wednesday Is Indigo Blue.


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