Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reading Room Material: Limitless & Neuroplasticity

10% of All Statistics Are Made Up

In terms of its knowledge about neuro-science, Hollywood seems to be stuck in the 1840's. Maybe that's not a fair criticism because the movie industry's job is to entertain, not to educate. I like to think, however, that screenwriters sometimes glance through the Science section of the New York Times.

As recently as 2014, the movie Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, helped perpetuate the following myth. The tag lines for the movie reads, "The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%."

When will Hollywood learn? 

Limitless: Season 1, Episode 21 "Finale: Part One!"

I think they're finally getting the message. Take a look at the penultimate episode of the TV show Limitless [1]. The main character, Brian [2], is looking to score some NZT, which is a brain-enhancing drug. Here is his dialog with his dealer, Alice.

Alice: And the trip can be intense. Usually, you use about ten percent of your brain.
Brian: Yeah, that's a myth, actually, that whole ten percent thing. But who's to say, really? 
BrianSo do we got to take this with food or? 
AliceWhatever flies your kite.
Brian: All right, thank you.

Where did this myth come from? One potential source is from the research carried out by the French physiologist Marie Jean Pierre Flourens (1794 – 1867). He conducted what are called ablation studies, where he removed (or "ablated") areas of animals' brains. Flourens concluded that different areas of the brain were responsible for different functions (e.g., the back of the brain is responsible for vision and not movement). He also found that animals were incredibly resilient and were able to survive without large parts of their brains. This led to the conclusion that we don't actually use all of our brain. Hence the myth: We only use 10% of our brain.

Fortunately for us, that turns out to be completely false. We use all of our brain pretty much all of the time. What is also true is that the brain is incredibly flexible and able to adapt to trauma. The technical term for "brain flexibility" is neuroplasticity.

Let's see what kind of stories Hollywood can tell with that concept.

Share and Enjoy!

Dr. Bob

More Material

[1] The Columbia Broadcast System (CBS) owns the copyright to the TV Show Limitless.

[2] I didn't put it together until just now that "Brian" is an anagram of the word Brain. I guess I need to up my dose of NZT.