Where does the myth originate?
No-one knows for sure. A popular theory has it that the journalist Lowell Thomas helped spread the myth in his preface to Dale Carnegie’s block-buster self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Thomas misquoted the brilliant American psychologist William James as saying that the average person specifically “develops only 10 percent of his latent mental ability.” In fact James had referred more vaguely to our “latent mental energy.” Others have claimed that Einstein attributed his intellectual giftedness to being able to use more than 10 percent of his brain, but this is itself a myth. Another possible source of the 10 percent myth is neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield’s discovery in the 1930s of “silent cortex” – brain areas that appeared to have no function when he stimulated them with electricity. We know today that these areas are functional.
Is Lucy the first movie to use the 10 percent myth as a premise?
No, the 2011 movie Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper was based on the same idea, except the precise figure was placed at 20 percent. Cooper’s character takes a pill that lets him access the full 100 percent. Both the 1991 film Defending Your Life (thanks to A Voice in The Wilderness for flagging this up in the comments) and Flight of the Navigator (1986) include claims that most of us use a fraction of our brains. The myth is also invoked in the TV series Heroes, to explain why some people have special powers.
Does anyone really believe this myth anymore?
Apparently so. For example, in 2012, a survey of school teachers in Britain and The Netherlands found that 48 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively, endorsed the myth. Last year, a US survey by the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research found that 65 percent of people believed in the myth.
Is there any truth to the myth?
Certainly there is no truth to the idea that we only use 10 percent of our neural matter. Modern brain scans show activity coursing through the entire organ, even when we’re resting. Minor brain damage can have devastating effects – not what you’d expect if we had 90 percent spare capacity. Also, consider the situation when neural tissue representing a limb is rendered redundant by the loss of that limb. Very quickly, neighbouring areas recruit that tissue into new functions, for example to represent other body regions. This shows how readily the brain utilises all available neural tissue.
So why does the myth persist?
For many people, the 10 percent myth sounds both feasible and appealing because they see it in terms of human potential. Many of us believe that we could achieve so much more – learning languages, musical instruments, sporting skills – if only we applied ourselves. It’s easy to see how this morphs into the shorthand idea that we use just 10 percent of our brain’s capacity or potential.
What Became of Albert Einstein’s Brain?
On April 18, 1955, the great mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein died. He was 76 years old. Although Einstein’s body was cremated, his brain was saved. Dr. Thomas S. Harvey, a pathologist at Princeton Hospital, removed Einstein’s brain on the morning of Einstein’s death. What happened to the brain for years after this is somewhat of a mystery.
In the mid 1970s, Steven Levy, a reporter for the New Jersey Monthly, hopped into his car and set out to find Einstein’s brain. Mr. Levy published his story in 1978. Mr. Levy discovered that Einstein’s brain was still with Dr. Harvey who was now in Wichita, Kansas.
how many percentage of brain did einstein use
The ratios of neurons to glial cells in Einstein’s brain, as compared to those in the 11 normal brains, were smaller in all four areas studied. However, when the numbers were examined more closely with statistics, only one area showed a significant difference – the ratio in the left area 39. In the left area 39, therefore, Einstein’s brain had fewer neurons to glial cells than the normal brains. In other words, there were more glial cells for every neuron in Einstein’s brain.
The authors concluded that the greater number of glial cells per neuron might indicate the neurons in Einstein’s brain had an increased “metabolic need” – they needed and used more energy. More recently, other researchers have noticed differences in glial cells (e.g., larger astrocytic process) in Einstein’s brain. In this way, perhaps Einstein had better thinking abilities and conceptual skills.
Scientists are trained to read published papers carefully and to evaluate the methods, results and conclusions of experiments. Although it is intriguing to use the results of this paper as an indication that Einstein’s genius was related to a particular brain region, it is perhaps a bit too early for such a statement.
- First, the “normal” brains that were compared to Einstein’s may not have been the best group for comparison. The average age of these brains was 12 years younger than Einstein’s brain. In fact, the youngest brain in this group was only 47 years old.
It is possible that the neuron to glial ratio seen in Einstein’s brain was quite normal for his age and that the younger comparison group just did not show these changes yet. Also, the paper did not describe the background of the comparison group. What was their intelligence and cause of death? Would these factors have anything to do with the observed brain differences?
- Second, the “experimental group” had only one subject…Einstein! Additional studies are needed to see if these anatomical differences are found in other people with conceptual and mathematical skills like Einstein.
- Third, it appears that only a very small portion of the four areas of each brain was studied. The paper states that “Four to six sections were cut from each block, Einstein’s and the controls?.” However, after staining, only ONE section from each block was studied! There is no indication that this single thin section was obtained from similar regions of area 39 and area 9 from the different brains.
It is even unclear how much of each section was counted. Moreover, only the ratio of neurons to glial cells was published. The total number of cells that were counted is not given in the paper. This is important to get an idea of how the experimenters came to their conclusions.
It is important to remember that the areas 9 and 39 make important connections with many other areas of the brain. To assign a particular behavior or personality to a single brain area is too simple. Parts of the brain do not act by themselves. Rather, complex behavior is the result of many areas acting together.
A Second Paper
A second paper (Neuroscience Letters, 1996) describing Einstein’s brain was published in 1996.
Einstein’s brain weighed only 1,230 grams, which is less than the average adult male brain (about 1,400 grams).
The authors also reported that the thickness of Einstein’s cerebral cortex (area 9) was thinner than that of five control brains. However, the DENSITY of neurons in Einstein’s brain was greater.
In other words, Einstein was able to pack more neurons in a given area of cortex.
More Papers and The Future
Another study concerning Einstein’s brain was published in the British medical journal The Lancet (vol. (average age, 57 years old)
. Unlike the brain of these 35 men,
Einstein’s brain had an unusual pattern of grooves (called sulci) on both right and left parietal lobes.
This particular area of the parietal lobe is thought to be important for mathematical abilities and spatial reasoning. Einstein’s brain had a much shorter lateral sulcus that was partially missing. His brain was also 15% wider than the other brains. The researchers think that these unique brain characteristics may have allowed better connections between neurons important for math and spatial reasoning.
In 2012, photographs of the external surface of Einstein’s brain were analzyed and published in the journal Brain. Scientists who studied these photographs noted that compared to other brains,
Einstein’s brain had a larger prefrontal cortex and expanded primary somatosensory and motor cortices especially in the face and tongue areas on the left hemisphere. In 2013,
photographs through the middle (midsagittal section) of Einstein’s brain were used to compared the size of Einstein’s corpus callosum to that of right-handed,
age-matched men and to a younger group of right-handed men.
Although these results are interesting,
it must be remembered that this study had only ONE brain in the experimental group…
Albert Einstein’s brain. It remains to be seen if other mathematical geniuses also show these distinguishing brain characteristics. Moreover,
the study did not investigate the brain at a microscopic level.
The importance of these differences is still unknown. There are still many questions about how the brain constructs personality, builds intelligence and forms creativity. Further research using modern brain imaging techniques (MRI/PET) that look at the anatomy and function of the brain in living geniuses may reveal what makes these people such giants.
Was Einstein’s brain different?
In 1985, Diamond’s findings were almost disappointing. Einstein’s brain did not contain more neurons overall than the average person’s.
It did, however, contain more astrocytes,
in the left inferior parietal area of the brain,
a region associated with mathematical thinking.
What did Einstein’s brain actually reveal?
If you insert human astrocytes into the brains of newborn mice, they grow up to be more intelligent. Their learning and memory are significantly sharper. It’s only in the past few years that we’ve come to understand the extraordinary reason why.
Astrocytes nurture synapses. Not only are they key in synaptic plasticity, but they are plastic themselves. They grow and change. One astrocyte can be in contact with two million synapses, coordinating their activity and plasticity across vast realms of the human brain – – and contributing to our intelligence.
How do astrocytes figure in artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence researchers from the University of A Coruña in Spain recently improved neural network performance by using an algorithm that included artificial astrocytes. When a neuron’s activity reached a maximum, the astrocyte was activated. It increased the weight of the neuron’s connections with the neurons of the adjacent layer by 25 percent,
simulating what might happen in real life.
How do you increase astrocytes?
If Einstein was a genius because of his astrocytes, can we increase our astrocyte numbers and become geniuses too?
As early as 1966,
Diamond and her team demonstrated that putting young rats in a stimulating environment rich with challenge and new experiences increased glial cells.
We now know that this even happens in elderly mice. Putting aged mice in an “enriched environment” increases astrocyte numbers and complexity, which correlates with better cognitive performance.
A study published this year followed production workers at a factory in Germany for 17 years.
Albert Einstein’s brain
The brain of Albert Einstein has been a subject of much research and speculation.
Albert Einstein’s brain was removed within seven and a half hours of his death.
His apparent regularities or irregularities in the brain have been used to support various ideas about.
correlations in neuroanatomy with general or mathematical intelligence. Studies have suggested an increased number of glial cells in Einstein’s brain.
Albert Einstein (/ˈaɪnstaɪn/ EYEN-styne; German: [ˈalbɛʁt ˈʔaɪnʃtaɪn] (
Relativity and quantum mechanics are together the two pillars of modern physics. His mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which arises from relativity theory, has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”.His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science.
He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”, a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory. His intellectual achievements and originality resulted in “Einstein” becoming synonymous with “genius”.
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