A trailer for the upcoming superhero movie Lucy starring Scarlet Johannson and directed, written, and co-produced by Luc Besson, looked pretty damn awesome until I reached 1:13 …
That’s when Morgan Freeman, portraying a professor and scientific researcher who should have known better, said, “It is estimated most human beings only use ten percent of their brain’s capacity.”
The 10% myth has been around for decades, cited in both fiction and non-fiction as an explanation for supernatural occurrences. A misunderstanding (or deliberate misrepresentation) of neurological research in the late 19th century or early 20th century, it usually goes something like this: “We only use ten percent of our brains, so what’s really going on in the other ninety percent? Who knows?”
Well, neuroscientists know, for one. In college, I took a neurology class as part of an advanced biology element of my psych degree. Though I studied it twenty years ago, I can still draw you a map of the mind and tell you which bundle of neurons helps you read, speak, fall asleep, move your right hand, feel a kiss, process what you see, and make decisions. There’s no part of the brain that isn’t used.
In the trailer, Lucy progresses from 10% to 28% and ZOMG what would happen if she reached 100%???!??1!! Suddenly she would have telekinesis and be able to perceive living cells and the transfer of data over wireless networks.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Cambridge University researchers suggest that we’ve reached the full capacity of our limited human minds already. If Lucy is going to see living cells and data streams, she’d need more than just her max “capacity.” She would need new eyes, more neurons, larger amounts of energy and oxygen, and the psychological ability to process all of the new input without going insane.
OK, Lucy is fiction, I know. But I wish Luc Besson had employed a pivotal plot point with a little more plausibility. He might as well have Morgan Freeman say that medicine is based on the balance of our four humors, and that blue stuff in Lucy’s belly is a new “fifth humor.” (Or would that be fifth element?)
If Lucy is carrying some kind of DNA-altering biotechnology that gives her super powers, which is what it appeared to be, then great. Why add the “ten percent” crap? It’s so patently false, perpetuates an urban myth, lends credence to dubious New Age gurus, and makes a supposed scholar in the film sound like an idiot. I’m going to have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to enjoy this movie.
Ever have that problem? Ever know too much about a scientific subject that it ruins a book, movie or TV show for you? What’s your science pet peeve in science fiction?
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J.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press, including Stellarnet Rebel (January 2012) and Stellarnet Prince (November 2012), and is a regular contributor to the Contact-Infinite Futures blog and CharlotteGeeks.com. She also creates cool wearable things that are featured in the books Steampunk Style Jewelry and 1000 Steampunk Creations. Visit her at JLHilton.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads and deviantART.