Do we have conscious control of our brains?

23 June 2014

Question

Do we only use 10 % of our brains? And how much of our brains do we have access to conscious control over? What's the ratio of autopilot to consciousness?

Answer

Teo Gibson has been in touch saying, "I'm pretty sure you tackled the myth of humans using only 10% of their brain, but how much of the brain do we consciously have access to control over? What's the ratio of autopilot to consciousness?"

Martin - I'm not sure what the ratio is. I'm not sure if anybody - it's a very good question. The question itself actually strikes at the heart of this myth, but we have to be aware that our brain is very busy constantly. You know, the fact that I'm sitting here upright at the moment is - thanks to my brain power, to process that, I'm not - well, I wasn't thinking of it until just now. And breathing and heart rate, and also, sensory process and so, I'm looking at you at the moment. I'm aware that you're in front of me. I'm aware this microphone is in front of my mouth, but if something was to happen in my peripheral vision or if a noise is to happen behind me, I would react to that. And that's the angst of my brain unconsciously processing this external environmental space even though I'm not consciously aware of that. That's also true for these sort of internal signals that I've just referred to as well.

Roger - There's a clinical aspect to this as well because quite often, we'll feel symptoms whether it's kind of feeling low, anxious, depressed or otherwise, stressed, but we might not know consciously actually what's driving that. There are ways of working with that stuff now. So, whether it's for example, hypnosis sometimes can be used for.

Katie - I think this question then really is all about attention and what we are consciously attending to at any one time. So, as Martin was saying, there's so much processing going on. It's there if we need to use it, but what we're actually attending to is the thing that we focus on and the thing that's useful to us at that time. and there's also other things that we attend to until we've learned it and then it enters them on your autopilot memory as well. So, the brain is working away, but we're choosing what we attend to and this is actually been useful in treatments as Roger was saying, including like mindfulness and those sorts of ideas. That can even be applied to things like eating behaviour. If he sit in front of the tele and eat food, you don't realise quite how much you're eating. You don't attend to it and you don't feel full so quickly whereas if you focus on what you're doing, you sit down on the table and you eat, you tend to eat less.

Hannah - The myth that we only use 10% of our brain, well that's actually coming from imaging studies where you get people to do particular tasks, concentrate on something and you can see the oxygen levels of their blood rushing from some areas of their brain to other areas of their brain as they concentrate and attend to a particular task. But obviously, all of the brain tissue is needing a small amount of oxygen at any time in order to keep those cells alive and to keep things ticking over even if you're not consciously aware of that.

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