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Duckbilled Platypus, plate 34 of Wild Life of the World: A Descriptive Survey of the Geographical Distribution of Animals Volume III, by Richard Lydekker (London; F. Warne and co., 1916) via the Biodiversity Heritage Library [Public Domain]. The question of how the duckbilled platypus got from Brisbane to Baghdad and back without leaving any traces of its journey is still utterly puzzling to this day.

What Was Adam’s IQ?

Adam’s IQ was 1500! How do I know? I read it in a pamphlet I found at the Institute for Creation Science. Why does Adam’s IQ concern creationists? Because Adam named all of the animals.

Leave aside the interesting question of how the duckbilled platypus got from Brisbane to Baghdad and back without leaving any traces of its journey. Let us not ask when the plants got their names. Let us not worry about insects. Let us accept the creationists’ view that Adam did not have to name all 30 million scientifically defined species but only the 30,000 Biblical kinds of animals. Even this number is too large. Few of us count 30,000 words in our vocabularies, and I doubt that many of us could name 300 animals. There are only 900 different types of animals in the San Diego Zoo!

According to the creationist pamphlet, Adam was able to name all of the animals because before The Fall he was able to use all of his brain. Evidently, we are to believe, Adam’s brain was similar to that of a present day genius with an IQ of 150. As everyone knows, we only use 10% of our brains. Since Adam used all of his brain, his IQ must have been … 1500. Q.E.D.

Some of you may not accept the creationists’ reasoning. You will point out that in Genesis Chapter 2, God created Adam, the first human. By definition, a person of average intelligence has an IQ of 100. If there was only one man, his IQ had to be 100. Later God removed Adam’s rib and fashioned Eve. God’s surgery probably did not change Adam’s intelligence, and Eve was clearly smarter than Adam. After all, she outwitted him about the apple.

Other readers will point to Genesis Chapter 1. In this version of creation, God created man and woman together. Only in Lake Woebegone is it possible for all members of a group to be above average, so Adam’s IQ must have been below 100.

Where did the idea come from that we only use10% of our brains? Some people are so certain of this fact that they angrily quote a beloved teacher, Little League coach, or inspirational minister to contradict me. Even Gracie Allen told George Burns, “Why I’ve got brains I haven’t even used yet!” Historians of psychology tell me that this idea derives from William James, the distinguished American psychologist. In Jimmy, the abridged version of James, his important two volume heavyweight The Principles of Psychology, he supposedly said that we do not know what 90% of the brain does. I have been unable to confirm this because publishers consider the relevant chapter so out of date that they do not include it in modern editions. Of course, not knowing what something does is a far cry from knowing that it does nothing. Logic, however, never stops a New Ager from proclaiming a truth.

To do the New York Times crossword puzzle I learned that a three letter word for a ship-shaped clock is nef. I cannot think of any word that I forgot to make room for this otherwise useless word.

We all have capacities that we have never used. It is my ambition to learn to surf before I am 50. I have lived in California for nearly 20 years, and Swami State Beach, one of California’s famous surfing beaches, beckons just down the road from my house. I will bet that those surfing cells in my head have been just idling along. It is time to put them to work. In a renowned scene from Plato, Socrates showed that an uneducated servant already knew a geometry theorem. In this view, education is nothing but remembering what is already within us. Some psychologists advocate this view today. Just as the immune system produces antibodies to chemicals it has never met, so the brain produces calculus and The Marriage of Figaro by calling upon what is already within. This is the Michaelangelo method of sculpture—see the work within the crude block of marble and cut away the rest. This must be true in some way, but it seems unhelpful.

Most psychologists would say that I have no neurons passing time in my head waiting for me to learn Russian. Paradoxically, they do not think that learning Russian would use up neurons that had been doing something else. To do the New York Times crossword puzzle I learned that a three letter word for a ship-shaped clock is nef. I cannot think of any word that I forgot to make room for this otherwise useless word.

Neurons are complex electrical and chemical cells. Dendrites, the output ends of other neurons, nearly touch the cell body or some of its input arms. The upstream cells emit tiny dollops of neurotransmitters, specialized chemicals that increase or decrease the likelihood that a neuron will fire. Will a neuron fire? That depends on a complex interaction between its properties and history and all of the excitations and inhibitions from its upstream neurons. When a neuron does fire, the news travels across the cell body and along the axon, an electrochemical transmission line, and out to the ends of dozens or hundreds of branches. These branches influence their downstream cells, increasing or decreasing the likelihood that they will fire. It is easy to imagine that a particular neuron could be part of many paths and circuits, just as we are children, parents, citizens, basketball players, drivers, couch potatoes and many other things. This is the metaphor of the holographic mind—any part of a hologram contains the complete image. The network of memories, skills, associations, and feelings that form our minds are in some way everywhere at once.

Although cognitive scientists jokingly refer to the grandmother cell—a neuron that fires when we think of our grandmother— no one really believes that there is one. Knowledge and capacities reside as part of higher level arrangements within our heads. Not only do neurons participate in many paths and circuits, the individual paths and circuits themselves form groups of paths and circuits. Somewhere along this ascending ladder of circuits of circuits, was Proust’s famous madeleine whose aroma triggered the chain of memories and associations that form his masterpiece.

Skeptic magazine 4.2

This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 4.2 (1996)

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When The Shaq finally learns to shoot a free throw something within the marvelous interconnected network in his head will change. Will it be an adjustment in the excitation or inhibition threshold between some groups of circuits? Will it be a permanent chemical change? Will it be a change in the chemical soup that bathes his brain? Will it be a stable loop of cells perpetually firing each other in sequence? No one knows. Some groups of cells do specific things and if we lose them we lose specific capacities. Readers of Oliver Sacks’ books will remember his damaged patients—some could not recognize a face, but could identify any other object; others lost all common nouns; some lost the idea of rightness. (Not truth and justice, but the direction!)

All of us have unrealized capacities, but this is not because we are using only a part of our brains nor because we are failing to do the best we can. Most of us, of course, could benefit from expanding our lives, seeking new experiences, thinking new ideas, and having new adventures. To do this, we can do no better than to follow the immortal Hercule Poirot’s advice. “Hastings,” he said, “to solve zis case, ve must use all of zee little grrrey cells.” END

About the Author

Dr. Bernard Leikind is a Senior Editor of Skeptic magazine and a plasma physicist familiar to skeptics for his pioneering work in explaining the physics of firewalking, as well as his personal participation in dozens of firewalks. Dr. Leikind has also lectured for skeptics on “strange and unusual atmospheric phenomena,” as well as on the physics of sports, dance, and ballet. He has taught physics and researched at the University of Maryland, UCLA, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and General Atomics. He may be the only sensible firewalker, although some consider this an oxymoron.


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