Did you know that the second week of March is Brain Awareness Week around the globe? You didn’t? You weren’t aware of your brain? Conscious of your consciousness? Well, get with the program. March is perhaps the brainiest month of the year—it’s also when we celebrate the 1879 birthday of famous smarty-pants Albert Einstein, and the 1946 beginning of Mensa intelligence testing. But it turns out people will believe just about anything they hear about what’s going up between their ears. We’ve asked Ken Jennings to fact-check some particularly lame-brained misconceptions about gray matter.
The Debunker: Do We Use Only 10 Percent of Our Brains?
Harvard psychologist William James used to claim that people “use only a small part of our mental and physical resources.” This is hard to argue with: of course, humans are born with an abundance of time and talent and possibility and sadly, most of us spend a lot of it on dumb stuff like Facebook or fantasy football. But in 1936, Professor James’s soundbite suddenly went viral. Journalist Lowell Thomas misquoted James to say that “the average person develops only 10 percent of his latent mental ability”—and then added the now very scientific-sounding claim to his introduction to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book, with Thomas’s information attached, became the biggest bestseller of its time.