Friday, December 21, 2007

Medical Myths and the Myths about those myths - Part 1 (10% of your brain)

There’s a lot of interesting medical myths in pop cultural. However, from my perspective, the myths about these myths can be even more interesting. It was reported that the British Medical Journal [1] recently covered the topic of popular culture medical myths. There are many scientific attempts to debunk them. However, I find these explanations for things are themselves myths of sorts. So, here starts a new series of postings where I skim the surface of the myths and the myths about these myths.

As a child, I remember learning that humans only use 10 percent of our brains. This was stated as fact to me by my parents and from many other sources. I now know this is false, in a manner of speaking. I often find the explanation for why it is false to be a little dubious. Often the sited evidence as to why it is false is based on MRI or PET scans that show no dormant areas within our brains. Why is this suspect to me? Well, even though the myth states we only use 10% of our brains, it doesn’t say anything about dormitivity.

Sure, we do use most of our brains over the course of our many experiences in our live. However, at no moment is our entire brain ever fully engaged. In fact, many areas of the brain do have reduced activity. We still have access to these areas when we need them, but when we don’t need them they are not functioning to full capacity. For example, a recent study suggests the reason people think time slows down during extremely frightening experiences is because an area of the brain called the amygdale becomes more active at that time, laying down more memories during those kinds of events in our lives.[2] The presumption from comparing this information with the debunking comments is that we don’t use all of our brain capacity all the time and that their explanation for debunking the 10 percent brain myth is not complete.

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