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What If Humans Used 100% Of Their Brains?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut
Written by Mark Sammut It's often said that we never fulfil our potential. And that our brains are much bigger, better and more capable than it's even possible for us to realise. So, what if our cerebrum was let loose, and every iota of our brain's power became available? Would we all become superheroes? Or would the knowledge be too much?

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What If Humans Used 100% Of Their Brains?

You’ve probably heard this one before… That humans can only access 10% of their brain while the rest of our cognitive capacity goes untapped. It’s a much-pedaled myth with many different origins, but the general idea seems to stem from a mistaken belief that 90% of the cerebral organ consists of glial cells which merely serve to link neurons. However, as neurologists have gradually gained a deeper understanding of the brain's properties, most have debunked this idea as nothing more than a tall tale regurgitated by popular media outings like "Lucy" and "Limitless". In reality, over the course of a day, humans actually can utilize 100% of their brain, but we rarely access all of its capabilities simultaneously.

The brain is a powerful beast that consumes more energy than anything else in the human body. Therefore, efficiency is crucial to prevent exhaustion or burn-out. In order to avoid wasting resources, the brain prioritizes certain regions that tend to be accessed more regularly by the user. Altogether, it’s an extensive interconnected network packed with hundreds of possible connections allowing for a wide range of behaviors. But, as humans form routines, the brain starts prioritizing specific neurological pathways to increase productivity, while other regions are worked more sporadically. While this method preserves energy when performing everyday tasks, overreliance leads to decreased flexibility and the formation of habits. Good, or bad.

Habits can be difficult and annoying to break, but the brain is an ever-adaptable tool that – with a bit of effort – can effectively learn a new trick or two. However, even if the 10% myth is false, the general idea that humans aren’t living up to their full potential holds true.

‘Neuroplasticity’ is a popular buzzword within brain research circles. It describes the brain's ability to rewire itself and form new neural connections – allowing us to learn new things. From an evolutionary standpoint, this helps the brain to compensate for any region that might have lost functionality due to an illness or injury. This process doesn’t occur automatically though, and requires the neurons to be repeatedly stimulated by performing activities which, in turn, enable new pathways to be strengthened. So, stimulating a wider-range of connections – by trying new things, or repeating established skills - can improve your ‘neuroplasticity’, resulting in faster learning and heightened flexibility. ‘Practice makes perfect’ is more than just an old wives tale, as repeated performance correlates with a higher neurological connectivity. For example, a professional guitarist learns new riffs quicker than an amateur due to their brain dedicating far larger sections to hand movements than an average person’s.

But if cycling through the same patterns is what’s most practical, what would even be the point in employing 100% of the brain? Well, while there is no super drug capable of unlocking someone's latent potential, using all of the brain’s regions should lead to a vastly improved lifestyle.

The brain is split into the left and right hemispheres, which exhibit asymmetrical control over the body. While writing, a right-handed student would use the left-side of their brain and vice-versa. Recent studies show that a person's preferred hand has more to do with their spine than any neurological development, but body coordination can be enhanced by carrying out exercises that require the brain to shift between hemispheres. That said, the brain's divide accounts for far more differences than simply movement.

The right-sided hemisphere is linked with creativity, intuition, and holistic thought; while the left-side deals with logic, reasoning and scientific skills. As a statistician and an artist prioritize their left and right hemispheres respectively, that side of their brain could establish dominance. But, even a mathematician's creative hemisphere will never be completely out of commission… People just prefer to use a well-oiled machine over a less reliable alternative, so they tend to ‘stick to what they know’.

The brain functions in waves and, depending on the situation, one hemisphere will take charge and approach a task with a distinct attitude. If the right-side wins out, the person will opt for a more holistic viewpoint and focus on the whole rather than the individual parts. Alternatively, a left-sided analytical approach attempts to comprehend the whole by closely examining the separate ingredients, or smaller details. The two hemispheres do work in tandem, but the quicker a brain can shift between analytical and holistic thinking, the more complex, creative and probably effective the thinker would be.

In truth, the last thing anyone should want is for the brain to literally fire 100% of its neurons at the same time, as overstimulation would likely cause a seizure. If you’re striving to truly unlock your full cognitive potential, then some experts reckon that "Brain sync" is the name of the game. Most situations involve a logical and emotional element, but humans tend to focus on one above the other. When both hemispheres stand on equal footing, a whole new world of thinking becomes feasible, one that perceives an entire picture without neglecting any specific component. With both halves complementing each other, humans should see an increase in self-awareness and active behavior, allowing for habits to be broken and alternative neural patterns to be forged. In short, it should be easier to learn stuff.

It is generally accepted that creativity and innovation peak during our youth, primarily because children lack the fear or knowledge that a goal might be illogical or impossible. A child's still-developing brain soaks up information at an incredible rate. But, in the late 19th century, psychologist William James theorized that by the age of 30, a person's character is set ‘like plaster’ and will never soften again. Sadly, later research lowered the cut-off point to 25, stressing that change becomes harder once stubborn patterns are firmly established. However, a well-balanced brain unlocks ‘Super Learning’, allowing for alien concepts to be picked up at a quicker rate and problems to be analyzed from a wider-range of perspectives. By definition, innovation requires fresh connections to be formed between neurons, but that is only probable when a human is tapping into 100% of their network.

Another benefit of an in-sync brain is a reduction in anxiety and fear. In and of itself, stress is not inherently bad and acts as a notification that danger is (or could be) brewing. But when a situation arises that seems to offer no way out, stress gives way to anxiety, an emotion that can be crippling. However, heightened awareness due to “Brain sync” would open up more potential avenues that can be mined for solutions, which should reduce fear – which correlates negatively with our understanding of the world around us. Therefore, a person efficiently using 100% of their brain should be calmer and more relaxed.

With some exceptions, most humans have an underdeveloped right side of their brain, the one less likely to change as people age. And that’s largely because most jobs reward structure over creativity. But there are countless exercises designed specifically to reawaken the right hemisphere. If you’re interested in painting or writing short stories, dedicate just a couple of minutes every day to practice and, over time, creative thoughts and ideas will start to flow more freely. Eventually, you should notice that your thought processes are more flexible and varied even in everyday situations – as you explore more and more of your brain’s potential.

So, although there aren’t any special cheat codes or drugs that instantly activate 100% of your brain as per the movies, and the hypothetical benefits would be far less cartoonish than suggested by certain films, we needn’t feel as though we’re wasting brainpower that’s irretrievably locked away from us. Because a well-balanced brain is very achievable, if you’re prepared to routinely break away from routine. By regularly mixing things up and challenging yourself, you blow the dust out of even your creakiest of cognitive corners. And the rewards of a well-balanced brain are definitely worth the effort!

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