Do Humans Only Use 10% of Their Brains? 9 False Facts About Science Answered…
There are many theories you may think are true when they’re really not. This unanimous decision, also known as the ‘illusory truth effect’, occurs when people believe a false statement that’s masquerading as fact is true. How does this happen? When information is reiterated and an individual or group is repeatedly exposed to it – they will start believing it over time. Isn’t that fascinating?
For example, from 1860 to 1880, it was believed that if a sane person travelled at more than 30mph they would go mad. The ‘Madmen of the Railway’ theory was a result of the anxieties Victorians felt about the invention of railways. Did you also know that ‘germ theory’ was ridiculed by doctors in the 1800s? If you were a gentleman, you didn’t need to wash your hands before surgery if you scrubbed them earlier that day and they still looked clean. In 1865, Hungarian physician, Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, was committed to an asylum for his staunch beliefs about sanitation – yet it took 10 years for hospitals to understand the importance of sterilising hands and instruments too.
With this idea in mind, we’ve collected 9 myths about science that are common misconceptions to dispel them with their true meanings…
Top 9 False Facts
1. “Humans only use 10 percent of their brains” →
This may sound like it could be true (especially for people in the 1800s!) but it isn’t. “A simple action like clenching and unclenching your hand or saying a few words requires activity in far more than a tenth of the brain.” In a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan, more than 10% of the brain would light up just by saying your name. The reason why the false fact sounds like it has 90% potential to be true is because the brain’s “white matter” (the Central Nervous System (CNS) that supports the nerve fibers) takes up 90% of the brain, while the “grey matter” (which manages neurons which enables us to think) is the remaining 10%. Except this calculation is 100% wrong.
2. “Chameleons change the colour of their skin to match their surroundings” →
It’s not entirely true. Chameleons have two layers of skin: the top layer has pigments with cells and crystals in the second layer underneath. “The iridophore cells contain nanocrystals of different sizes, shapes and organizations” which means “the chameleons can change the structural arrangement of the upper cell layer by relaxing or exciting the skin”. This leads to the colour change because the “structural arrangement” controls how the chameleon’s skin reflects the light. However, this is not camouflage that changes the chameleon’s skin to match their surroundings. The colour change is typically used for communication and to control their body temperature. Darker hues signal aggression and light hues reflect the heat.
3. “Water conducts electricity” →
There’s a bit more to this maxim. It just needs a bit more explanation. To clarify, pure water can’t conduct electricity because it’s an insulator. Whereas, tap water, rainwater and seawater are different. It’s all about the ions and the impurities, like sodium, calcium and magnesium. These ions are charged when they’re in water, which allows the flow of electricity through a liquid state. Pure water doesn’t contain these chemicals – but pure bodies of water are rare to find in nature. Even distilled water contains ions.
4. “Earth is the only planet with water” →
We may have vast oceans and water that covers 71% of the planet – but Earth is not unique for its water. “In 2015, NASA confirmed that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. Also in 2015, scientists used data from NASA’s Cassini mission to discover that a global ocean lies beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Scientists believe that Jupiter’s moon Europa has a subsurface ocean as well.” When water exists on a planet, the next question to ask is: can it sustain intelligent lifeforms? That’s an answer we can’t give a true or false answer to…
5. “Sugar makes kids hyper” →
Nope! The hyper state is hyperbole. “Sugar does not appear to affect behavior in children,” said Dr. Mark Wolraich, chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center, who researched sugar’s effect on children in the 1990s.” Children are hyper because they’re excitable and inexcitable situations, like at birthday parties when there is an abundance of sweets and cake to hand. The presence of sugar is irrelevant – it is a hyper placebo. When we consume sugar, it is regulated by our bodies and converted into energy if needed. However, if someone is hypoglycemic, they can experience a sudden boost of energy to increase their low blood sugar levels if they drink something sweet or eat something sugary. Just remind kids to eat sugars in moderation!
6. “Lightning never strikes the same place twice” →
That’s another false strike! There is nothing that stops lightning from striking in the same place twice – even multiple times. “It is an incredibly quick process that takes only about 30 milliseconds. And right after lightning strikes, it reverberates in quick succession. So, essentially, multiple strikes can happen at the same place in this short period of time.” One famous example occurred when the Empire State Building was struck eight times within a 24-minute timeframe. Tall buildings (like famous American landmarks) and bodies of water can attract lightning strikes. Remember what we said about water conducting electricity? It’s best not to go swimming during a storm either. So, if you see lightning, don’t forget it does strike in the same place (at least 8 times) and the “spark can reach over five miles (eight kilometers) in length, raise the temperature of the air by as much as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27,700 degrees Celsius), and contain a hundred million electrical volts.”
7. “Substances only exist in three states: solid, liquid and gas” →
What about plasma? “If you superheat a gas, then the electrons get stripped away from the nuclei to form plasma. Stars are made from plasma, so it is in fact the most common state of matter in the Universe.” Plasma is what happens when you heat ions and electrons at high temperatures – and we mean extremely high temperatures, like lightning or the sun. If you heat elements or chemical compounds, such as water, at a high enough temperature, you can break them down into plasma. In this example, the hydrogen and oxygen molecules will be broken down so they won’t resemble water – so don’t drink it!
8. “Humans only have five senses” →
Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. These are the top five – so what are the others? We know you’re thinking about that M. Night Shyamalan movie – but we’re talking about the extra four senses that often get ignored. These senses or abilities are: ‘proprioception’ (sensing force, pressure or space), ‘thermoception’ (sensing rise and fall of temperature), ‘equilibrioception’ (sensing changes in balance) and ‘interoception’ (sensing physiological changes). Therefore, humans only have nine senses. Is that all? Well, “sometimes, people don’t even perceive senses the same way. People with synesthesia can see sounds as colors or associate certain sights with smell.”
9. “If you swallow gum, It takes seven years for you to digest it” →
In reality, gum can’t be digested at all. Originally made from Sapodilla sap and chewed back in the Stone Age, the gum we chew today is a synthetic, rubbery material called polyisobutylene. It is made of elastomer polymers, glycerin and vegetable oil, which means not much can be extracted by the human body, plus stomach acids and enzymes can’t digest it. Gum is “designed to resist the digestive properties of the saliva in your mouth. But once it’s swallowed, even the gum base is subjected to the same treatment as regular food, and after it’s recognized as useless by your digestive system, it goes the same route as any waste product. so it is passed through waste.” That doesn’t mean it’s OK to swallow gum. If you accidentally ingest large amounts, this can lead to constipation and gastrointestinal blockage. So chew it then bin it!
Empiribox @ Home
Almost 60% of parents with primary school-aged children find it difficult to support remote learning. To help prevent education gaps during the COVID-19 situation, we want to support teachers (and parents too!) with Empiribox @ Home. This includes access to a free library of KS1 and KS2 curriculum-aligned science resources for their students – including interactive videos, worksheets, quizzes, hands-on experiments and more! – all while they learn from home.
From all of us at Empiribox, we hope this helps teachers, students and parents to stay safe and engaged during these unique times.