Nice to put a spin on old concepts, so this week I’ll take a break from the facts and hit on some common misconceptions. Below are two that spring to mind as I write
1. Humans only use ten per cent of their brain
How this made it into mainstream thought at large, I do not know. I’m not here to go research on why people are wrong, just here to tell them that they are. At any one time, it is true that humans only use certain parts of their brain. This is perfectly fine. Our brains are divided up into lobes each of which has areas generally connected to certain functions, senses etc. Therefore, when going about your day-to-day life, your brain (the part we commonly consider the brain is the cerebral cortex) combines relevant areas with more primitive nerve tissue in the brainstem and the lower central nervous system, and as a result we have movement, sensation and so forth. The new movie Lucy and Limitless before that both touch on this subject and aim to show that pharmaceuticals could somehow enhance that and allow for all areas of the brain, or “hidden areas” if we really want to get the fake science out here, could be accessed, thus improving our ability to be charming like Bradley Cooper or be a role model like Scarlett Johannson.
Of course, under no circumstances would it be even feasible to be activating large areas of the brain to carry out most of the body’s function. Even higher thought and emotion have defined pathways and can be approximated to certain areas, showing that even our newly acquired functions (and when I say new that is obviously relative) don’t need us to turn on all the lights in the proverbial house at the same time. Activating large parts of the brain’s electrochemical circuitry does remind me of one REAL life phenomenon. We call it epilepsy, and it isn’t Bradley Cooper.
If people are really so fascinated as to “access those hidden areas”, then I’m sorry to say you’ll be disappointed. You can, however, make great use of what is there, and tweak it for your desires. Things like muscle memory, priming, conditioning and memory retrieval are all real life possibilities, and can have their proof traced to exact neural pathways. Using drugs to modulate the electrochemical side of the brain is as real as Chewsdays, but expanding that to say we could find a drug that could harmonise the entire central nervous system into performing not only in perfect tandem with other parts but also at some advanced level without basically killing you from the contradictory effects is only a dream, I’m afraid.
2. Loads of people out there just have “natural” or “inherited” intelligence
Nothing is worth shaming more than hearing “they get it all from their father” or “And their mother is a doctor”. Granted, as with almost everything based on proteins, intelligence does have some link back to our genes. Some research shows a figure of 50%. No, it doesn’t mean that half your intelligence is from your parents, but it does mean is that half of the differences in people’s intelligence could be genetically related. That being said, you have to wonder when we have this solid figure to work with, why is it we overlook the other portion so much, especially since it’s the only one we have any effect over. Of course, I’m talking about environment. Environment ranges from your relationship with your parents, to how your school runs, to well..the actual environment, Basically, if you know it’s not mapped out in the genetic code, it’s environment. In the modern world, we strive to find peculiarities. We aim to look for odd things, or things that don’t fit the norm. That is why the media and society as as whole is constantly obsessed with the concept of a genius. A genius, if played correctly by the media, can be a shining example that somewhere back the line the ole’ intelligence gene (actually had to write that term) fell into place. After that point, no matter what circumstances a child grows up in, they are destined for greatness.
Sound familiar. Well, plausibly, it can happen. Depending on which area of intelligence an inherited factor could pertain to, it is conceivable a person could show up on our radars if they followed the right path. From a biological point of view, however, the figures don’t add up. With only very small fractions of people having an IQ of even >130 (so ya know, take it easy with the amount of 170s out there), it is far more likely any perceived intelligence is based in environment and not in genetics. I once read a quote on cancer causing genes that went like “genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger”. Perhaps it is poignant here also. After all, even with an inherited level of genius, things have to fall into place during childhood for this to emerge. The “naturally smart” quip fails to explain how people far down the dubious IQ ladder can outperform their counterparts higher up in social, academic, emotional or business settings in any shape or form. Commitment to education or determination in training easily outweighs most of the genetic abnormalities of intelligence people could be born with. And both these concepts are the roots of environment.