“A man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” – Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. (Autocrat of the Breakfast Table)
The brain is a pulsating and glorious mass of brilliance, with millions of interconnected neural networks encompassing the organic origins of what we know as creativity and knowledge and abstract thinking. And while relatively small, the human brain has allowed us to create amazing works of art and understand the most intricate of mathematical patterns.
From our scientific understanding of the brain, the ten percent myth—that humans only use a small fraction of their brain—is simply untrue. While it offers somewhat of an explanation as to why humans have not perfected every aspect of their cognition, psychology textbooks teach us that we use almost all of our brain constantly.
So why are we so intrigued by the ten percent myth? Because it is an attractive (albeit false) answer to our wondering if there can be more to us than we know. Our overwhelming desire to uncover and push the very limits of human intellect stems from our feelings of insufficiency; thus, we ceaselessly long for something greater, something better. We are drawn to cultural products—literature, movies, etc.—that explore this myth precisely because they illustrate the ultimate extent of human potential.
Using the ten percent myth as a premise, films like Lucy (2014) and Limitless (2011) draw a mythical picture that suggests the possibility that humans can be more than what we are now. And we want to be great. We want to be brilliant. And through these constructed fictions, our wishes are fulfilled. We can live vicariously through the characters’ various stages of increasing ability: heightened sensory awareness, complete understanding of quantum physics, and—most popularly—instant learning of a foreign language.
Eddie Morra (of Limitless) and Lucy’s lines are exceptionally similar, and this is no coincidence. Eddie speaks of feeling “clear”, and whereas he was “blind” before, now he can “see”. Lucy is able to “feel gravity, the rotation of the earth, the deepest parts of [her] memory”. Evidently then, both films are highly interested in the connection between complete access of the brain and the human as a more sentient, hyper-aware creature—perhaps allowing for the beginning of a macroevolution of sorts.
Rather than imagine a future where technology reigns supreme, then, these films posit one where the human is the future. By exploiting the brain in its functional entirety, we hypothetically become not only more efficient creatures, but—as is the case with Lucy—also ones that are able to manipulate others and the world around us. Yet, rather than augment the narrative of the film, Lucy’s telekinesis and psychical powers take away from the satisfaction of watching films that explore the underused brain. The nature of these quasi-scientific films demands that the “science” at least be palatably believable. What separates them from works of pure science-fiction is that not everything is plausible in their respective worlds, and rational belief need not wholly be suspended.
Because Lucy attempts to be both scientific and supernatural, the film ultimately comes off as insincere and unbelievable. Neither the science nor the science-fiction of Lucy is sufficiently developed enough for us to coherently believe in the movie, and it feels as though the film has bitten off far more than it can chew. Limitless, however, cleverly narrows the focus of discussion onto just Eddie’s advanced intelligence and cognitive functions, consequently saving it from making the same mistakes as Lucy.
Both films establish their foundations on an interesting scientific myth, and the notion that humans are not fully realized can be a wonderfully dynamic topic, giving authors and filmmakers a lot of space to generate a multitude of unique hypotheses of their own. And while Lucy was poorly executed, to say the least, great merit lies in that our minds have indeed been stretched to a certain degree by the implications brought forth by each film—every concept realized through the use of 100% of our infinitely amazing brain.
–contributed by Janice To