NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

They they go again...

Warning. This is a rant.

OK, more of a complaint, not a rant, but the subject material is one that I have touched on before, and I will come back to it again and again.

So. They're doing it again. Hollywood. Misusing Science in the name of movie plot. The whole point of this blog and The Lab Rats' Guide to the Brain is to convince writers (of all varieties) that there is plenty of story potential in getting the brain science *right* that there is no need to deliberately of ignorantly get it wrong.

New movie, due out in a few weeks, called "Limitless." The trailer contains the line "You know how you only can access about 20% of your brain? What if you could access *all* of it?"



It's a common myth, but inexcusable all the same. When people know better, it just makes the person who perpetuates it look ignorant.

IMDB says that the movie is about some guys who take a miracle drug that makes them smarter, then have to deal with the consequences in personal and business matters, particular when they find themselves cut off from supply of the drug.

OK. True. There are drugs that act as "cognitive enhancers" but the writers and producers didn't have to lie to set up the plot.

"It's just fiction!" Is the reply.

No. It's not. TV and Movies are an incredible conduit of information in our society. In a culture that deplores the quality of education in our schools; in a world in which the impression of America is colored by the products of Hollywood; in a generation that reveals our kids are increasingly being left behind in science and technology... getting science wrong is *not* an option (to paraphrase Gene Krantz).

The truth:

Your *whole* brain is active ALL THE TIME. The *myth* that a person only ever uses about 10-20% is just that... a myth.

What *is* true is that any given activity such as reading, listening to music or watching a movie requires the coordinated activity of neurons in about 10-20% of the brain. More complicated activities - such as playing a musical instrument, carrying on a conversation, playing a game, requires even more.

Yes, some people are more efficient in using their brain. They are "smarter." Yes, there are drugs which increase efficiency - *temporarily* - and they are being intensively studied for mechanisms to combat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

A few blogs back I mentioned the incredible number of *connections* that each neuron receives, and in turn makes onto other neurons. Each connection has varying strength, and it is in the connections that the brain does most of its work. If one were to question what percentage of the *connections* were active at high strengh at any given time, the answer would be well under 1%. However, it is the surplus of connections that allow for learning and memory. The *brain* is active at 100% all the time (even during sleep), just not all at the same level of activity.

I haven't seen the movie. I may, eventually. I may even find it entertaining, but I can't help but let this anti-science color my perceptions. It's one of the reasons that I will be on panels at several SF cons this spring talking the *science* of Science Fiction.

Science is important. Of course I know that books, TV and movies revolve on good story, but it is possible to do both! A good story does *not* require perpetuating bad science - and sometimes it's pretty enjoyable even when it does. But in this case, the willing or unwilling "suspension of disbelief" is not buried in the story, but prominently displayed in the 30 sec trailer that is played several times each evening for the weeks leading up to the movie's release.

If any one is out there listening... get it right writers. And if you have any questions, just keep reading this blog, because getting the science right is what this is all about.

1 comment:

  1. I hate hollyweird.

    I like science fiction to the extent that it gets the science RIGHT. If the science is not right they should call it fantasy.


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