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Psychology Today - Consciousness and the brain: Do we use only 10% of our brain?


It is quite remarkable that a handful of ideas from the field of neuroscience spread like wildfire through the popular media, thereby becoming part of our culture and worldview, while other ideas remain neglected, known only to a small group of experts.

A recent example would be the idea of mirror neurons, which has successfully stimulated the curiosity of many people outside the ivory tower. Why some ideas are more catchy than others remains a mystery. Since I was little, I always heard that humans use only 10% of their brains.  To me, this idea agreed with the age-old notion that we as humans have great potential.

Years later, I learned from reading a series of excellent books on the history of neuroscience and psychology that this notion may actually be a misinterpretation of the classic research by the great Wilder Penfield (1891-1976), an American born neurosurgeon who was the first director of the world-famous Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University.

Because of his many contributions to medical research in Canada, Penfield was regarded at one time as "the greatest living Canadian." Today, he is remembered as one of the all-time greatest thinkers about the brain.