The Limits of Neuroscience
Time and time again college students are up all night writing a paper they should have started a week ago or cramming for an exam they are going to take the next day. How many times have you compromised your sleep to get things done? How many times have you found that you couldn’t concentrate on what you were doing, making the whole process longer? What if I were to offer you a pill that would let you use your brain at its full capacity?
In Limitless, the protagonist, Eddie Morra, finds this pill and it changes his life. He goes from being a recently-dumped, struggling writer into being a superhuman that no longer needs to sleep. Not only does he finish his novel in the matter of four days, he also manages to win a ridiculous amount of money from the stock market and to get back with his ex-girlfriend, Lindy. By the end of the movie, he is running for United States Senate, being considered for presidency, and has become superhuman due to the change in his brain chemistry after his use of the drug.
Unfortunately, I must inform you that this movie is far from being based on a true story. Not only is the fact that we only use twenty percent of our brains a myth, but neuroscience, as a field, is not developed enough to be able to use what we know about the brain in order to make a pill that allows us to do even half of what Eddie Morra did in the movie.
James Kakalios, a physics professor from the University of Minnesota comments on the movie, saying that even though there are chemicals available known to improve brain functioning and that medical science may soon develop drugs that make us smarter, “Taking a pill and becoming a supergenius? Mmmm, that’s kinda crazy. That understanding of neurochemistry far eludes us at this stage.” He goes on further to support that the claim that we only use twenty percent of our brain is a myth. He says, “We use all of our brains. We don’t understand a lot about how the brain works, but evolutionarily, everything in the three-pound hunk of meat on the top of your head is there for a reason.”
It is suggested that the way that the media depicts neuroscience is problematic because it uses distorted data in order to back up false claims. A study by Diane Beck, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois suggests that this is because neuroscience studies explain human behavior in a seemingly simple way by citing biological data, which is considered more reliable than other types of data concerning human behavior. This study is further supported by another study done by researchers at Colorado State and UCLA that asked a group of undergraduate students to assess the validity of an argument based on data given to them. The argument was that, because both watching television and doing math problems activate the temporal lobe, watching television improves our mathematical ability. Participants of the experiment who were shown bar graphs “supporting” the data were less likely to find the claim convincing than were participants who were shown a brain scan, even though both pieces of data were cryptic. The assumption that what we know about the brain is directly related to what we know about the mind and human behavior suggests that the field of neuroscience is far more developed than it actually is. Although we have made great strides in the field of neuroscience and the field is rapidly developing, movies like Limitless imply that there is no gap between the science of the mind and the science of the brain.
“Neuroscience: Is it All In Your Mind?” Miller McCune