Lucy, which debuted July 25, 2014, follows the protagonist (Scarlett Johansson) who – through the marvels of modern science – gains access to much more of her brain’s capacity, beyond the “normal 10%.” Subsequently, as she gains access towards 100% of her brain capacity, she becomes more and more powerful, and “interesting things begin to happen.” Consistent with our culture’s fantasies of magic pills and infinite potential, this is a popular plot device that has been used before. Let’s take a look at a few of Hollywood’s most notable examples.
In the most recent iteration of this theme, Lucy gains access to an increasing percentage of her brain’s capacity, following a drug-muling mishap granting her various superhuman abilities, including superintelligence, telekinesis, martial arts skills, and apparently the ability to change her hair?
Played by Bradley Cooper, Eddie Morra is a disheveled, aspiring writer who takes a drug called NZT-48 and not only overcomes his writer’s block, but also gains the ability to make millions on the stock market, fight using martial arts techniques he’s seen in movies, boxing matches, and documentaries, as well as seduce women.
John Travolta plays George Malley, an auto mechanic who lives in a small town. After being knocked out by some bright white lights he sees in the sky, George notices some changes in his abilities. In particular, he begins to acquire new knowledge at an exponentially faster rate, he gains an inexplicable connection with nature (e.g., in one scene he predicts an earthquake), as well as telekinesis. Later it is found that the mental changes he has experienced are the result of a large tumor spread across the span of his brain that is stimulating its functionality.
Although much of how the brain works remains a mystery, various researchers maintain that the 10%-of-our-brains line is ultimately a myth that has been perpetuated by various forms of popular media such as Lucy. As noted by Barry Beyerstein Ph.D., in Scientific American, so far neuroscience has not encountered any expendable area of the brain that is not already serving an essential function, nor any “… cerebral spare tire waiting to be mounted in service of one’s grade point average, job advancement, or the pursuit of a cure for cancer or the Great American Novel.” Furthermore, while various psychiatric medications such as Modafinil have been suggested as having similar brain-enhancing effects, experts like Dr. Anjan Chatterjee maintain that while such drugs can help with focus and concentration, this is entirely different from accessing some untapped reservoirs of one’s mind.
photo source: trailers.apple.com