Three Brainy Myths

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Right vs Left? Nah.

There is a problem with science. Or, at least there is a problem when sciencey-sounding ideas leak into the public’s imagination.

The scientific method is simply a way for piecing together a huge jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the big picture or knowing how many pieces there are. Sometimes scientists fit some pieces together that don’t actually fit and have to be taken apart at a later date.

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Unfortunately, this incorrect glimpse of the truth can sometimes be taken as fact by the public and it can be very hard to change minds. This post is an attempt to decouple some surprisingly resistant jigsaw pieces.

“Your theory is crazy, but it’s not crazy enough to be true, Niels Bohr

1. The Left/Right Dominant Brain

It’s beguilingly simple, right-brained people are spontaneous and creative. Left-brainies are analytical and logical. It helpfully allows us to neatly categorize people into one of two types. And it’s wrong.

It is true that each hemisphere specializes in functions. Most of language processing does happen in the left hemisphere for most people but some aspects of language are actually processed by the opposite hemisphere. Furthermore the hemispheres should not be classified as left or right at all as they’re switched in left-handed people! A better term would be dominant and non-dominant. For a left-hander most language processing occurs in the right hemisphere!

Neuroscience has shown that we use all of our brain, there is no such thing as having one hemisphere more developed than the other. This means that there is nothing to stop accountants from sculpting or musicians from writing books on statistical analysis.

2. We only use 10% of our brains

This is the premise for the 2014 SciFi movie Lucy. We only use 10% of our brains, what would happen if we could use 100%? Nothing, because we already do.

We may not use our brains efficiently all the time but there is not some untapped reserve of super-human smarts in our heads. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work with what we got better though!

3. We have a set number of brain cells

It was once thought that when a brain cell died it was not replaced. Thankfully this is not the case. The creation of new brain cells, called neurogenesis, is known to occur in at least two areas of an adult’s brain. One of these, the hippocampus, is important for memory and learning. Some studies even suggest that  the act of learning can prolong your hippocampal brain cells or help you grow new ones! Exercise is another great way to grow brain cells.

We are not nearly as defined by the structure of our brains that we think we are. In fact our brains are plastic, they change and adapt to how we use them. So use them wisely and don’t allow yourself to be limited.

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Image by Orchid Bud

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