The Real Life “Limitless Pill” is Not What You’d Expect…

What makes human beings special? Well, as children we’ve learned that humans are superior to other species due to one thing – brain capability. The size of our brain in portion to our body, and also the amount of neurons we have, has gifted us the ability to function on a much higher intellect than any other species. But even then, we’ve constantly been hearing about the rumor that we only use 10% of our brain. Is that even true, and if so, how do we “unlock” the other 90%?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have heard of the movie (or TV show) called Limitless. It’s about a character who consumes a “magic pill” that unlocks all of his brain’s potential, and in turn, this character exhibits traits such as infinite memory, extraordinary observational skills, and mental computation of mathematics beyond the most advanced computer you could possibly build.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to burst your bubble, but there isn’t any “limitless pill” that will unlock all of your brain’s potential. Furthermore, if we only used 10% of our brain, the brain would shrink as the unused portion would continue to prune for the sake of efficiency.

This is where we have to get technical; there is a significant difference between “brain use” and “brain potential”. Dr. Berit Brogaard from UMSL is the author of the book “The Superhuman Mind”, this book touches on specific cases were an individual would exhibit extraordinary brain capabilities after suffering an injury.

When information is sent to and from our brain, it is being sent over some of the billions of neuronal highways. For example, the neural connections that you activate while reading a newspaper are likely activated more often than the neural connections activated when you’re trying to pass AP Biology. For us to be able to unlock our brain’s potential, we have to find ways to activate the neural connections that are rarely used, and this has proved to be a difficult feat.

Dr. Brogaard has stated that she has seen these rare neural connections reactivated, but not through the use of drugs, but by severe brain injury. Figuratively speaking, your brain must be pushed into a corner before it activates the neural connections that we rarely use in our lifetimes.

There are three individuals that were able to activate such neural connections, and Dr. Brogaard has personally met them. She met a farmer that suffered severe injury to his head after falling down a slope, this injury led to temporary paralysis. After the injury, this man developed the ability to write specular poetry and paint once he regained his mobility. In another case, a man injured himself after diving into a shallow pool. Once he was able to recover, he became a world class piano player. Our last case is a college dropout who suffered a brain injury but now only views the world as complicated geometric figures.

Unfortunately, even though this phenomenon is impressive, it’s unpredictable. If we take two individuals with the same background and mental intellect and have them undergo a same level of brain injury, the neural connections that they activate will not be similar to each other.

There have been cases of some individuals possessing incredible mental capabilities without a brain injury such as Kim Peek, the man who inspired the film “Rain Man”. Peek was able to read both pages of a book at the same time while retaining 98% of the information on the pages. In another case, Brogaard met with a Russian reporter by the name of Solon Shereshevskii, he was able to recall ridiculous mathematical equations from eight years ago. In these two cases, Brogaard has dubbed this ability as “infinite memory”. In Shereshevskii’s case, he had this skill due to his rare condition known as synesthesia, which is a condition where your senses are entwined.

Our brains continue to be complicated, and even more so when it comes to studying them. As of this moment, there is no way to explain why one individual would “unlock” this ability while another individual would “unlock” another ability. We only know for now that we can only unlock the depths of our brain through injury, but the search for an alternative way has not been laid to rest. It’s clear for all of us that there is a level of mental intellect and ability far beyond what we currently possess, but for now, all we have is our “10%” – until science catches up.