Using More of Our Brains — or Maybe Not!

We’ve all talked about using more of our brains. After all that’s what personal growth and self-development is all about, isn’t it? Depending on who you talk to, you'll hear that we use between 1% and 10% of the total capacity of our brains. The theory is, if we could use more of our brains, we would be like gods. Unfortunately, if we used more of the capacity of our brains, we would probably end up being dead!

Most people don’t realise that the brain uses around 25% of the glucose from our digestive systems and 25% of the oxygen we breathe. Those couple of pints of grey mush between your ears use a quarter of the energy that the body produces. That’s an awful lot of energy being used by a small part of the body. Think of it; the other three quarters of the energy is used for living, moving, exercise, and everything else that we do. The brain is definitely getting a lion’s share of the energy production.

Furthermore, the second law of thermodynamics tells us that there must be energy wastage. No machine, no system, no energy transfer or use of any kind is 100% efficient. That energy wastage generally appears in the form of heat. Burning wood, for instance, is the conversion of wood into carbon dioxide, water vapour, and various oxidised minerals. The heat is simply a by-product of the process, albeit a very important one.

The same is unfortunately true for the chemical processes taking place within the brain, which allow us to think. These also produce heat, and the brain is very sensitive to overheating. Too much heat, and the brain starts to malfunction, leading ultimately to death. The human body is incapable of removing too much heat from any one part at a time, as witnessed by the damage that can be caused by a single match flame. Removing the large quantity of energy produced by the brain stretches the bloodstream and cooling systems pretty much to their limits.

This might be the reason why we are incapable of holding more than 7 ± 2 items of information in our heads at the same time. There are many other processes that must be carried out at an unconscious level, after all, and these are probably using a large part of the 10% capacity. This would certainly be an explanation for the phenomenon of the Absent-Minded Professor so beloved of comedy writers. They are so busy using their brains for their abstract thoughts that they have little capacity left over for doing anything else.

There are also those among us who complain “my head hurts!” or, more to the point, “my brain hurts!” whenever complicated or abstract thinking is required. This might indeed be the literal truth; their brains are overheating because they have to think too much.

It’s not that we only use a maximum of 10% of our brains, it’s more that we can only use 10% at any one time. They don't have to be the same 10% all the time; we can shuffle the usage a bit. We can still make incredible progress, only if we are prepared to give up doing something else at the same time. Maybe that’s why our dreams are so creative, because the brain has to spend less of its resources on staying awake and doing things.

So don’t be scared to do new things and expand the possibilities of your thinking. Just be aware that you are, quite literally, pushing the limits of your brain.

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