The other 90%

The other 90% – satire on self-programs to increase intellectual power

Paul Chance

The Other 90%

Why are all these genius programs doing so well? You know the ones I mean. Their advertisements scream: Bring Out the Einstein in You! Be the Genius You Were Meant To Be! Stop Using Only Half Your Brain!

Half my brain? Isn’t that just a polite way of telling me that I’m some sort of half-wit? No, it’s worse than that. These programs maintain that virtually no one (except possibly Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci) uses more than a small fraction–perhaps 10%–of his intellectual power. This raises the possibility that we might all be much, much smarter, if only we used the other 90%. After all, if we can achieve an IQ of 100 using only 10% of our brains, think what we could achieve if we used 100%! It boggles the mind–or at least the 10% in use.

And you can use those hidden talents, say the genius makers. All you need is a little help–from books, workshops and recordings of music and other sounds. If you prefer hightech, you might consider the Graham Potentializer, the Tranquilite, the Floatarium, the Transcutaneous Electro-Neural Stimulator (I’m not making these up), the Whole Brain Wave Form Synchro-Energizer and God knows how many others–all holding out the possibility that you will boost your intellectual powers tenfold.

What these instructions and devices do, you see, is get your brain working efficiently. They get the right half of your brain working with the left half, the subconscious cooperating with the conscious, the forebrain talking with the hindbrain, the new brain meshing with the old. Everybody gets into the act.

The idea is that if you expose your brain to flashing lights, music, the ticking of a metronome, rhythmic movement or a melodious voice, it will enter an altered state of consciousness–apparently something like the well-known State of Yo discovered by the Smothers Brothers. In one case, you can accomplish this simply by putting into your socks a few electrodes that deliver mild electrical shocks. Of course, you have to be wearing socks at the time.

What do you get out of this? You become really alert, as though all your life you had been getting up in the morning without coffee and you one day discover its jolt. You become more creative. You get a photographic memory. (You’ll never, for example, forget that you have electrodes in your socks.) Your problem-solving abilities blossom. Your IQ soars. You become capable of learning just about anything, with little or no effort. In short, these programs extract the cerebral cellulite that has clogged up your brain and set it free. You are brilliant!

I’m just a tad skeptical about these claims. For one thing, I don’t understand how their inventors figured out that we use only 10% of our brain power. If someone tells me there were 10 apples in a basket and he ate one, I can figure out, even with my limping brain, that he ate 10% of the apples. I just divide the number of apples consumed by the total number of apples. But what do I divide by what to figure out how much of my brain I’m using?

The nature of the programs also gives me pause. Our brain works as it does because it has been shaped by a million years of evolution. Suggesting that we can improve it in 20 minutes by zapping it with a dry-cell battery or by wearing a helmet and goggles with flashing lights and classical music is a bit like suggesting that a man with a ball-peen hammer and cold chisel can embellish a piece of Tiffany jewelry.

And if these programs work so well, how come their creators haven’t invented a cure for entropy, plugged up the hole in the ozone layer or done something really difficult, such as writing a sitcom that is funny enough to last more than one season? How come I’ve never read of a 6-year-old Princeton graduate who paused during his valedictory address to say, “I owe it all to my Synchro-Energizer”?

But what really puzzles me is this: Why are so many people eager to spend good money just to become more intelligent? Greed perhaps? Get smart and get rich? But the programs don’t promise to make you rich. Besides, you don’t need to be smart to get rich. The get-smart programs prove that.

Ego? It is sort of flattering to be told that, deep down, you’re really some sort of genius. But according to the theory, so is everyone else. And if everybody turns out to be a potential genius, where’s the ego boost?

Perhaps people are motivated by a desire to learn faster? Get serious. Close to half the people in this country don’t even read a daily newspaper. Lots of them didn’t know where the public library was before it started circulating videotapes. Are we supposed to believe that people want to be smarter so they can watch Rambo on fastforward?

One writer suggested that people want to become extra brainy so they can humiliate others, to become “capable of kicking sand in the face of any bully metaphysician on the beach.” But when was the last time you were bullied by a metaphysician?

It’s not that I don’t think improving one’s mind is worthwhile. And I’m sure that most of us are indeed capable of becoming smarter, by hard study if not by electrifying our socks. What I don’t get is why some people are apparently so eager to get smart that they’ll do really silly things like this in an effort to boost their brain power. I’m sure there’s a logical explnation and that I’m just not smart enough to see it. But hey, whaddya expect? I’m only using 10% of my brain.

Psychologist Paul Chance’s reflections on human nature appear regularly in Psychology Today. He tries to use at least 10% of his brain while writing his column.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

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