As a child I was told by a few people, several times, that we only use a fraction of our brain. They told me use around 10%, and that if we managed to use at least 30-40% our minds would be so powerful that we could even lift objects with our brain power. I was also told that Einstein used about 20% of his brain, and by studying and stressing our minds to think more we could achieve a greater usage, and therefore, greater capacity to do things with it.
Let’s take a step back and talk about intelligence
According to Wikipedia, Francis Galton was the first scientist to propose a theory of general intelligence; that intelligence is a true, biologically-based mental faculty that can be studied by measuring a person’s reaction times to cognitive tasks.
Alfred Binet, in contrast, believed intelligence was a median average of dissimilar abilities, not a unitary entity with specific, identifiable properties.
Over the course of my life I have heard different things about intelligence. I’ve heard a couple of times that we are all equally intelligent beings. Then again, we all have heard typical phrases such as “He is more intelligent than you”, or “she must be really intelligent”. These usually refer to the fact that an individual may have a higher or lower level of IQ, which after all is just a number that attempts to describe our level of intelligence.
Intelligence is not the same as brain usage
What really got me interested in researching brain usage and intelligence was my memories of people telling me that we use different percentages of our brain. Then in school I was taught that the several sections of our brain process different functions. How then can we use only a fraction of it if studies have been performed that claim that we do use different parts at the same time?
PET scans (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) clearly show that the vast majority of the brain does not lie fallow. The nature of theories such as the one which describes that psychic powers may be obtained if we master the percentage of unused brain have been proven wrong, but it is the mass media, literature, urban legends, and shows performed by different personalities which has ensured the endurance of the claims. More information about that may be obtained at this page at snopes.com, which details an investigation performed by Benjamin Radford.
Furthermore, this video describes in detail how we do NOT only use 10% of our brain:
I have a theory
It is not that we do not fully use our brain. I believe, instead, that it is the capacity of interpreting messages that varies. We may be able to interpret more signals as we train our brain to do so, therefore increasing our ability to integrate more thoughts together, invoking reason, and processing the results in a faster and more accurate manner.
Clearly we use different sections of our brain to process different signals. Your innate reaction to things such as getting burned is processed in one area. Memories are stored in another area. Likewise, vision is also computed by another section of your brain. However, some people manage to understand things faster than others, some people have much faster reactions (like certain CS:GO players I know), just as some people are more creative or intuitive than others. We have math geeks, computer wizards, programming geniuses, scientists, artists, etc. All of them have a certain facility and greater processing power for their respective areas.
I believe the clue to this lies in the speed, the accuracy, and the depth of the processing of signals from each area of the brain.
The frontal lobe is in charge of recognizing future consequences resulting from current actions, choosing between good and bad actions, overriding and suppressing unacceptable social responses, and determining similarities and differences between things or events.
Now, for example, when you read a book and don’t understand a word, many times you skip it. Then you might hear it a few times in movies. There might come a time when you ask someone what it means, or you hear or read the definition for it somewhere. Then you start noticing it much more commonly, in places where it might have always been but you were unaware of its presence.
Likewise, my theory is that the brain’s sections can process so many things that you are not able to understand, or to grasp entirely, but as you become aware of how to understand that information, you begin to use it more thoroughly and exploit that new ability. In other words, as your knowledge increases, and as you continuously practice and learn new things, the easier you will retain new knowledge, your grasp on concepts will be greater, and you will be able to progress even faster.
An example of this would be painting. You may have seen many pieces of art, and your brain processes how the shadows and mixtures of colours look like. Then you see a painter actually perform the job. You might then try painting yourself and you are not successful at it the first few times. Your friend, Jack, has not been to many art galleries, nor has he seen a painter do his job, but the first time he grabs a brush he seems naturally talented.
Practice makes perfect
With enough research and practice you could acquire the same skills (as long as you don’t have a physical impediment), and may some day even surpass his level. The key to this, obviously, is perseverance and being open to try new things. If you always criticise or blame yourself, or you are scared of trying something new, then you’ll never advance.
I do not fully understand how capable we will ever be in certain areas. It may be that some people are just “blocked” in certain area, psychologically, and therefore can’t achieve the understanding of those signals. However, I believe it more to be a matter of really wanting to do so. Someone may want to play guitar, but when he grabs it he thinks he is rubbish, then he claims that he has no ability to play and blocks his creative path. This, however, is a matter of psychologically blocking his ability to understand the patterns that are naturally forming in his brain.
In my case, I am rather good with programming, I’ve been doing it for 17+ years, but I’ve never been sufficiently good at math. I constantly used to say “I’m no good at math” when I was younger, and this led me to believe I was simply incapable of learning the subject. But my math teacher used to tell me “How can you not be good at math but excel at computer science? It is the same area of the brain”. I was just afraid I guess, and it’s not that I wasn’t smart enough, I just didn’t think I was.
So back to our main topic: How can you use 100% of your brain? You already use it! Don’t worry about the percentage, worry about constant practice, trying out new things, researching topics that interest you (or finding ones that you don’t even know about which may interest you even more), and finally, never block yourself by saying “I’m just not good at this or that”.
* Edited 2014-10-01 to correct a few mistakes, and add a video, additionally, I re-opened the comments in the hope that the spammers have finally left.