What we can honestly say about all the examples below, they are all myths — although some could actually be based on some truth. As with all myths, they are passed down, changed and misinterpreted so much that finding the truth behind them can be a chore.
Even more difficult to uncover is a myth clocked behind a curtain of “science.” When technical terms are used often people will believe them without question. Since the brain itself is still a mystery — even to those who work on understanding it on a daily basis, some myths are harder to get the truth behind them, but over the last decade so many more advances have been made that science has actually been able to unravel some of the myths to come up with facts.
Myth #1: We use only 10% of our brain
Fact is, we use all parts of our brain every day for different functions, and some parts we even use together. There is a lot of interconnection, so if you are eating a sandwich while reading this article you are using more than one section at this time alone — the frontal lobes for thinking and reasoning; the parietal lobe for taste and smelling your food; the occipital lobe processes the words you are reading; the temporal lobe to listen to the crunch of the sandwich as you eat, or the background noise around you; the hippocampus to help you remember what you read; etc.
It is true that some people are able to memorize more, react faster and do some things better than others, but much of that is due to lack of concentration, or a need to take some memory training courses.
Myth #2 — “Snapshot memories” are accurate
We all have memories that we believe are accurate, even if we only got a flash of them for a split second. Victims of crimes think they can remember their perpetrators after only a split second; we imprint dramatic events — like the Kennedy assassination or 911 into our minds, and people remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. Research has not upheld these memories to be accurate, and have found that memories immediately after a tragedy do not bear out after a period of time. People tend to replace the details that have faded away, and substitute what they believe to be true. Therefore, false identifications have overturned many convictions; and short-term memories of events do not bear out to have turned into long-term ones.
Myth #3 – The brain is hard-wired and like a computer
People tend to use the latest technical analogies when talking about the brain: “The brain is like a computer,” or “The brain is hard-wired.” Metaphors are fine, but they are not accurate. A human brain does not have a limit to how much it can store in memory (no one has attained that capacity level yet); it can not perform computations like a computer can (although some savants can come close, due to brain damage); and our brains do not have set duty, nor hard -wired. Our brains our are always changing, losing old and making new connections. It is organized in that certain areas of the brain have been found to have certain specified functions, and there are common pathways that get from point A to point B (and even release ions that send out electrical pulses).
In the past decade, however, researchers have found that the brain is remarkably pliable, and when a connection does not work it can make a new connection that does the same thing. The connections can re-route themselves to form new connections, and when one part of the brain is damaged the connections will find another way to make them work, if possible. This process is call “plasticity.”
This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion. Every day new research uncovers some aspect of the brain that’s function is different from what they had expected, or that supports a theory they had but couldn’t prove before. Perhaps we will never know how every aspect of how the brain works — because it reinvents itself all the time. It certainly is a mystery that is exciting to explore.
Postit Science — Brain Mythology: http://www.positscience.com/human-brain/facts-myths/brain-mythology
Smithsonian.com — Top Ten Myths About the Brain: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Top-Ten-Myths-About-the-Brain.html