“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom. But we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.” That was US President Barack Obama speaking in April 2013 at the launch of the multimillion dollar BRAIN Initiative. It stands for “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies” and the idea is to develop new ways to visualize the brain in action. The same year the EU announced its own €1 billion Human Brain Project to create a computer model of the brain (see p. 105).
This focus on neuroscience isn't new – back in 1990, US President George W. Bush designated the 1990s the “Decade of the Brain” with a series of public awareness publications and events. Since then interest and investment in neuroscience has only grown more intense; some have even spoken of the twenty-first century as the “Century of the Brain.”
Despite our passion for all things neuro, Obama's assessment of our current knowledge was accurate. We've made great strides in our understanding of the brain, yet huge mysteries remain. They say a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and it is in the context of this excitement and ignorance that brain myths have thrived. By brain myths I mean stories and misconceptions about the brain and brain-related illness, some so entrenched in everyday talk that large sections of the population see them as taken-for-granted facts.
With so many misconceptions ...