How Many Percent Of Our Brain We Use – You can’t use 100% of your brain – and that’s okay. In Part 1 of the research, we’ll see what percentage of your brain you’re actually using.
Animal life on Earth dates back millions of years, but most species use only 3 to 5 percent of their brain capacity. —Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) in the 2014 film Lucy
How Many Percent Of Our Brain We Use
Famous – or perhaps infamous – for promoting the idea that we humans only use a small fraction of our brain tissue. Through various sci-fi inventions, the film’s protagonist, played by Scarlett Johansson, is able to dramatically increase her brain usage from what she claims are typical values, from a finite 10% to 100%.
Human Brain 2.0
The film certainly makes the case that extending the activity beyond the natural, let alone a 100% cerebral experience, comes with serious downsides, including what Johansson’s character portrays as increasingly cruel behavior. As we’ll see, there are good neuroscientific reasons for sticking with our natural attribution of action—and the ability to aim less.
However, many serious writers have used the film as a shield to debunk the 10% myth. They explain that no, in fact we use almost all of our brains and do so all the time. A prominent neuroscientist from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine was quoted
In fact, this statement is also wrong: I would call it 100% myth. In fact, the 10 percent figure is a useful reference point for understanding how your brain works and creating a concept of the actual patterns of operation in your head.
It now appears to be true that we use 10 percent more neurons in our heads over time. However, the number could also be one hundred percent. The “possibility” here has to do with the fact that it is extremely difficult to measure high-resolution activity in many neurons in awake animals. Even non-human animals such as mice are difficult to record, and accurate recording is nearly impossible in humans.
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To date, only a few, a few dozen, or more rarely a few hundred or a thousand neurons can be measured simultaneously with precision. However, neuroscientists have made considerable progress.
In 2020, a large team led by Saskia de Vries of the Allen Institute for Brain Science published a breakthrough paper that made precise estimates of large-scale patterns of neural activity in the rat brain. They measured activity in different areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and were able to record the detailed activity of a staggering 60,000 neurons. Because it is recorded, the animal is free to run on the spinning disc. Animals are represented in various nature paintings and films, which gives a strong sense of the active, normal life of the rat.
A little more detail about the methodology of this study should be provided, as it helps explain the misleading arguments in favor of the 100% myth.
You might think that in a brain with hundreds of millions or billions of neurons, 60,000 is still not a large sample. In rats, it contains less than 0.1 percent of the brain—and mice are clearly smaller and less sophisticated than we are.
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Why not use brain imaging instead? In this way, we get a fascinating color image of the entire brain “lighting up” – and it could be done in humans as well.
The problem is that brain imaging techniques such as fMRI do not have the necessary precision. They inferred activity in a large number of neurons and over relatively long periods of time.
In a typical fMRI experiment, each data point describes “activity” that corresponds to a neural response in a cube with a side of about 1 mm. Each of the thousands of cubes that make up the brain contains hundreds of thousands or millions of neurons. The firing of these neurons is damped together in each block and is often further damped by a combination of blocks made from anatomical brain regions such as the amygdala.
Focusing is also counted for one second or more. This may seem like a short time, but neurons work much faster: on a millisecond scale. This means they can fire hundreds of times in near-infinite patterns, all of which are invisible to brain scanners.
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But image data is often taken as proof of the 100 percent myth: “Look!” he argues, “almost every little cube works and the whole brain is ‘easy!'”. Here again we have a flawed argument.
The fact is that the change in the behavior of a given voxel – when it “lights up” – is quite small: it corresponds to a change in the image signal of only a few percent. The “lighting up” may be caused by a relatively small number of neurons in a given voxel being very active. This condition can exhaust many, if not most, neurons at any given time, resulting in less than 100% activity. You also can’t tell if there are any neurons that never fire.
At the finer resolution achieved by de Vries’ team, using advanced invasive imaging techniques that require surgical removal of brain tissue, we can see what’s going on. They found that almost 23% of the neurons in the visual brain did not respond to any visual stimuli. The stimulus includes various natural scenes from around the world, as well as nature films, including clips from Orson Welles’ 1958 classic.
. They also tried different artificial images of alternating spots and stripes. At 23 percent, it’s all useless – these neurons will be added from time to time, but not systematically. They don’t care about movement, brightness, contrast or anything else. If 23 percent of our optic neurons don’t have a defined purpose, can we really say they “use” them?
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It is likely that these silent neurons will respond to some particular image or movie that was not shown. And while they are nominally “visual” neurons, some can respond to other types of stimuli, such as smells and associated rats or loud noises. But as we know, almost a quarter of the neurons in this important brain system do nothing, so to speak.
This model is not limited to the visual brain. A smaller but still interesting study recorded neurons in the part of the cortex responsible for hearing in mice. It was found that only 10 percent of the neurons responded to the acoustic stimuli. Again, other neurons may respond to some strange sound that is not emitted, or to light hitting the eye, touching the skin, or something else.
However, the level of unresponsive neurons indicates that a significant proportion of neurons are virtually silent. Neuroscientists have known this for a long time, but until recently it was standard practice not to examine neurons or, in many cases, to label them “unresponsive” in studies.
Others have provided very high estimates of the number of silent or silent neurons. Neurobiologist Saak Ovsepian used previous reports to estimate that the prevalence of so-called “neural dark matter” could be as high as 60 to 90%. The high end of this estimate fits well with the idea of the discovered 10 percent
How Much Of Our Brain Do We Use?
Why does the brain have so many useless neurons? Isn’t that crazy? Based on Darwin’s theory, evolutionary biologists devised an explanation for the phenomenon of neurotic dark matter. The idea is that over generations, neurons that never respond will no longer be subject to selective forces that punish redundant neurons. According to this logic, dark neurons cannot be eliminated. Dark neurons can be called when the brain is damaged. It can also be useful in evolution when species enter new habitats or face new challenges.
It should be emphasized that even a very high estimate of the amount of dark matter does not mean that isolated neurons represent a large group.
In your head. Instead, they are scattered by “bright” or filtered neurons throughout the cortex and other parts of the brain.
Regardless of how they’re distributed, there’s definitely more than a little dark matter in our brains. I think that given the metabolic cost of building and operating a brain – especially a brain our size – our brains could not survive with more than half the number of neurons. Their nerves were active. After all, de Vries’ research showed that 77% of the optic neurons they measured did
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However, these neurons do not respond all the time, or even almost all the time. Instead, their reaction was
And what this means for the question of how much we use the brain. I will also show how to illuminate this question by visualizing our brain, which works in a similar way to the Internet.
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De Vries, S.E., Lecoq, J.A., Buice, M.A., Groblewski,
You Can’t Use 100% Of Your Brain And That’s A Good Thing
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