Lucy (2014) and the 10 Percent Use of Brain Theory

Perhaps some of you managed to see Lucy (2014) recently, Luc Besson’s newest movie release. It stars the lovely Scarlett Johansson, who, although the movie was kind of disappointing for reasons we will discuss below, proved she is a very talented actress and also much more than her otherwise stunning looks. In spite of her successful and complex appearance though, coupled with the also fascinating presence and role of Morgan Freeman, the movie is a lukewarm promotion of a pseudo-scientific theory which a lot of people seem to believe, since it circulated from way before the movie under the form of an urban legend. The myth in case is the 10 percent use of brain theory, which science has repeatedly argued against.


The plot

At the beginning of the movie, Lucy (played by Scarlett) is a naïve and vulnerable young woman who gets caught up in a dangerous situation and forced by the Korean mafia to transport some new drugs sewn into her abdomen. When one of her captors kicks her for resisting rape, one of the drug bags gets punctured and the content is released into her blood stream. Over the course of the next hours and days, this prompts in her a gradual expansion of her brain’s capacity, or, better said, causes her to use more and more of her brain, starting from the premise that we usually only use 10 percent of it. This effect causes her to become more in control of her bodily functions, then of the functions of others as well, as well as gaining superpowers and so on. Eventually, she transcends any humanity whatsoever as well as her own body, dissolving into thin air and remaining present “all around”.

Of course, every movie director has the right to promote whatever fictional account or fantasy idea he or she wants to, but the problem here is that a lot of people already tended to take this idea seriously, and it’s even more so since the movie’s premiere. Moreover, beyond promoting this somewhat fascinating idea of the partial use of brain, the movie’s plot and narrative structure are pretty weak, as many critics also said after the premiere. Here is what popular culture has to say about this theory and what science has to say afterwards.

The 10 percent use of brain theory

This theory is actually present throughout popular culture in more than one variant: some of them say we use only 10 percent, some say we use 20% and so on. It is often mis-attributed to famous people, including the one and only genius figure, Albert Einstein, but it’s all made up, unfortunately. Of course it’s pleasant to believe that we have the potential to be much more than we are – especially intellectually speaking, since reason is the trait we choose to define our humanity through – and that if we could only learn how to access and harness this potential, we could expand our minds to a godly status.

But science has always proved the 10 percent use of brain theory to be nothing more than a poetic form of wishful thinking. You can find a detailed and accessible account on this from a Washington-based university professor here, explaining how we actually use 100% of our brains at all times. Somehow, we get why this can be disappointing news, but we still shouldn’t allow an uninformed viewing of a movie to promote false scientific ideas as truths. As a conclusion, this is why Lucy was a somewhat of a disappointment (not as much as these, of course), or, even if it wasn’t and you actually enjoyed the movie a lot, this is why it shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a pretty piece of fiction.

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