How Much of our Brain Do We Really Use?

 The brain, an organ that weighs slightly more than 3 pounds, is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. The left side is specialized for processing verbal information and the right hemisphere is specialized for processing spatial information. This specialization is usually reversed for left-handed people, and, as will be seen, the proportion of contribution of each type of processing by each hemisphere can change. This will be discussed in later blogs.

 The brain is way too complex to discuss in any detail here. So only portions of the brain key to memory and attention will be discussed. These are the frontal lobes, the prefrontal cortex is especially key. Then there is the hippocampus, which is a small horseshoe shaped structure deep in the inner or medial parts of the temporal lobes. The temporal lobes are found on the left and right sides of the brain. These brain structures are found in both hemispheres.

So how much of our brain do we actually use? You will hear figures like only 10 % or 5%, but it is good to ask where do these figures come from? How are they estimated? They certainly do not come from physiological measures of brain activity.

It is interesting to note that although the allocation of blood flow changes within the brain, the overall amount of blood flow and oxygen uptake remains the same. Whether we are engaged in intense mental activity or are daydreaming or engaged in some other type of reverie, the amount of blood flow and oxygen uptake remain the same. It is also interesting to note that whether we are recalling the past or imagining the future, the same regions of the brain are activated. So are minds deal with the past, present, and future using the same structures. Our minds are like time travel machines. It is estimated that the average person spends about 12% of waking hours are spent thinking about the future. This is not idle daydreaming, this is important as our survival and fortune depends on our ability to anticipate and prepare for the future.[1]  Still there is the requirement to recognize what is real and what is imagined. As has already been discussed (see the blog. “Seven Sins of Memory”), this requirement often fails.

So the bottom line is that our brains are always working, even when we sleep. So the problem is not the use of the brain, but rather the effective use of the brain.


[1] Marshall, J. (2007).  Future recall, New Scientist., 24 March,  pp.36-40.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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