The human brain is a wonderful thing. Especially when you consider the things it’s willing to believe about the human brain. Here they are—those common, oft-repeated claims, revealed to be totally untrue by just a little investigation. Such as finding out what actual scientists who deal with the human brain have to say about it, rather than asking that guy at the end of the bar who knows all the verses to “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Which just goes to show, even the human brain of a complete idiot is a wonderful thing.
1. We use only 10 percent of our brains
Easy enough to accept for anyone who has followed the proceedings of the 112th United States Congress. But quite wrong. Scans show your entire brain is in use almost all the time, much of it simply to keep your basic body functions and everyday actions going, before you even start thinking about things.
When you do, consider that the human brain is so big, the female body hasn’t yet caught up with it, in evolutionary terms, requiring mothers to push a baby’s dome through a passage better adapted to, say, a modestly sized zucchini. Nature wouldn’t put them through that for something that’s 90 percent packing peanuts. It’s the brain myth equivalent of dreaming your house has a whole new floor you’ve never discovered. It doesn’t. You should try making better use of the available space.
2. Mozart improves brain performance
Irrefutable proof that looks really don’t matter if you can make good music.
This is one of those rare myths that can be traced right to the source. In 1993 the respected scientific magazine Nature published a study in which students who listened to Mozart beforehand did better—marginally—on spatial reasoning tests than those who had listened to a relaxation tape or nothing. Next thing you know, network television would have you believe playing Mozart to babies will improve their intelligence, and the state of Georgia is handing out the works of the Austrian wunderkind on CD to the mothers of newborns.
Just two catches. One, nobody bothered to mention that the effect disappeared after 15 minutes; so unless those Peach State kids took their SATs in the cradle, it wasn’t going to help much. And two, further studies showed that any stimulating music—Insane Clown Posse, say—has the same, brief impact. Still, we suppose, having a Mozart album around the house might make you look smarter…