If the conscious mind—the part you consider to be you—is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?
In this sparkling and provocative new book, the renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman navigates the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate surprising mysteries: Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Why do you hear your name being mentioned in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to? What do Ulysses and the credit crunch have in common? Why did Thomas Edison electrocute an elephant in 1916? Why are people whose names begin with J more likely to marry other people whose names begin with J? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? And how is it possible to get angry at yourself—who, exactly, is mad at whom?
Taking in brain damage, plane spotting, dating, drugs, beauty, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, artificial intelligence, and visual illusions, Incognito is a thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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About the Author
DAVID EAGLEMAN is a neuroscientist, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a New York Times bestselling author. His books have been translated into 27 languages. Eagleman heads the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine, and is the founding Director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is the author and presenter of the PBS series The Brain.
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
There’s Someone In My Head, But It’s Not Me
Take a close look at yourself in the mirror. Beneath your dashing good looks churns a hidden universe of networked machinery. The machinery includes a sophisticated scaffolding of interlocking bones, a netting of sinewy muscles, a good deal of specialized fluid, and a collaboration of internal organs chugging away in darkness to keep you alive. A sheet of high-tech self-healing sensory material that we call skin seamlessly covers your machinery in a pleasing package.
And then there’s your brain. Three pounds of the most complex material we’ve discovered in the universe. This is the mission control center that drives the whole operation, gathering dispatches through small portals in the armored bunker of the skull.
Your brain is built of cells called neurons and glia—hundreds of billions of them. Each one of these cells is as complicated as a city. And each one contains the entire human genome and traffics billions of molecules in intricate economies. Each cell sends electrical pulses to other cells, up to hundreds of times per second. If you represented each of these trillions and trillions of pulses in your brain by a single photon of light, the combined output would be blinding.
The cells are connected to one another in a network of such staggering complexity that it bankrupts human language and necessitates new strains of mathematics. A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighboring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
The three-pound organ in your skull—with its pink consistency of Jell-o—is an alien kind of computational material. It is composed of miniaturized, self-configuring parts, and it vastly outstrips anything we’ve dreamt of building. So if you ever feel lazy or dull, take heart: you’re the busiest, brightest thing on the planet.
Ours is an incredible story. As far as anyone can tell, we’re the only system on the planet so complex that we’ve thrown ourselves headlong into the game of deciphering our own programming language. Imagine that your desktop computer began to control its own peripheral devices, removed its own cover, and pointed its webcam at its own circuitry. That’s us.
And what we’ve discovered by peering into the skull ranks among the most significant intellectual developments of our species: the recognition that the innumerable facets of our behavior, thoughts, and experience are inseparably yoked to a vast, wet, chemicalelectrical network called the nervous system. The machinery is utterly alien to us, and yet, somehow, it is us.
THE TREMENDOUS MAGIC
In 1949, Arthur Alberts traveled from his home in Yonkers, New York, to villages between the Gold Coast and Timbuktu in West Africa. He brought his wife, a camera, a jeep, and—because of his love of music—a jeep-powered tape recorder. Wanting to open the ears of the western world, he recorded some of the most important music ever to come out of Africa. But Alberts ran into social troubles while using the tape recorder. One West African native heard his voice played back and accused Alberts of “stealing his tongue.” Alberts only narrowly averted being pummeled by taking out a mirror and convincing the man that his tongue was still intact.
It’s not difficult to see why the natives found the tape recorder so counterintuitive. A vocalization seems ephemeral and ineffable: it is like opening a bag of feathers which scatter on the breeze and can never be retrieved. Voices are weightless and odorless, something you cannot hold in your hand.
So it comes as a surprise that a voice is physical. If you build a little machine sensitive enough to detect tiny compressions of the molecules in the air, you can capture these density changes and reproduce them later. We call these machines microphones, and every one of the billions of radios on the planet is proudly serving up bags of feathers once thought irretrievable. When Alberts played the music back from the tape recorder, one West African tribesman depicted the feat as “tremendous magic.”
And so it goes with thoughts. What exactly is a thought? It doesn’t seem to weigh anything. It feels ephemeral and ineffable. You wouldn’t think that a thought has a shape or smell or any sort of physical instantiation. Thoughts seem to be a kind of tremendous magic.
But just like voices, thoughts are underpinned by physical stuff. We know this because alterations to the brain change the kinds of thoughts we can think. In a state of deep sleep, there are no thoughts. When the brain transitions into dream sleep, there are unbidden, bizarre thoughts. During the day we enjoy our normal, wellaccepted thoughts, which people enthusiastically modulate by spiking the chemical cocktails of the brain with alcohol, narcotics, cigarettes, coffee, or physical exercise. The state of the physical material determines the state of the thoughts.
And the physical material is absolutely necessary for normal thinking to tick along. If you were to injure your pinkie in an accident you’d be distressed, but your conscious experience would be no different. By contrast, if you were to damage an equivalently sized piece of brain tissue, this might change your capacity to understand music, name animals, see colors, judge risk, make decisions, read signals from your body, or understand the concept of a mirror—thereby unmasking the strange, veiled workings of the machinery beneath. Our hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, comic instincts, great ideas, fetishes, senses of humor, and desires all emerge from this strange organ—and when the brain changes, so do we. So although it’s easy to intuit that thoughts don’t have a physical basis, that they are something like feathers on the wind, they in fact depend directly on the integrity of the enigmatic, three-pound mission control center.
The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control. The vast jungles of neurons operate their own programs. The conscious you—the I that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning—is the smallest bit of what’s transpiring in your brain. Although we are dependent on the functioning of the brain for our inner lives, it runs its own show. Most of its operations are above the security clearance of the conscious mind. The I simply has no right of entry.
Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. This book is about that amazing fact: how we know it, what it means, and what it explains about people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, criminals, artists, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, athletes, bloodhounds, racists, lovers, and every decision you’ve ever taken to be yours.
* * *
In a recent experiment, men were asked to rank how attractive they found photographs of different women’s faces. The photos were eight by ten inches, and showed women facing the camera or turned in three-quarter profile. Unbeknownst to the men, in half the photos the eyes of the women were dilated, and in the other half they were not. The men were consistently more attracted to the women with dilated eyes. Remarkably, the men had no insight into their decision making. None of them said, “I noticed her pupils were two millimeters larger in this photo than in this other one.” Instead, they simply felt more drawn toward some women than others, for reasons they couldn’t quite put a finger on.
So who was doing the choosing? In the largely inaccessible workings of the brain, something knew that a woman’s dilated eyes correlates with sexual excitement and readiness. Their brains knew this, but the men in the study didn’t—at least not explicitly. The men may also not have known that their notions of beauty and feelings of attraction are deeply hardwired, steered in the right direction by programs carved by millions of years of natural selection. When the men were choosing the most attractive women, they didn’t know that the choice was not theirs, really, but instead the choice of successful programs that had been burned deep into the brain’s circuitry over the course of hundreds of thousands of generations.
Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not. Whether we’re talking about dilated eyes, jealousy, attraction, the love of fatty foods, or the great idea you had last week, consciousness is the smallest player in the operations of the brain. Our brains run mostly on autopilot, and the conscious mind has little access to the giant and mysterious factory that runs below it.
You see evidence of this when your foot gets halfway to the brake before you consciously realize that a red Toyota is backing out of a driveway on the road ahead of you. You see it when you notice your name spoken in a conversation across the room that you thought you weren’t listening to, when you find someone attractive without knowing why, or when your nervous system gives you a “hunch” about which choice you should make.
The brain is a complex system, but that doesn’t mean it’s incomprehensible. Our neural circuits were carved by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species’ evolutionary history. Your brain has been molded by evolutionary pressures just as your spleen and eyes have been. And so has your consciousness. Consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts.
Consider the activity that characterizes a nation at any moment. Factories churn, telecommunication lines buzz with activity, businesses ship products. People eat constantly. Sewer lines direct waste. All across the great stretches of land, police chase criminals. Handshakes secure deals. Lovers rendezvous. Secretaries field calls, teachers profess, athletes compete, doctors operate, bus drivers navigate. You may wish to know what’s happening at any moment in your great nation, but you can’t possibly take in all the information at once. Nor would it be useful, even if you could. You want a summary. So you pick up a newspaper—not a dense paper like the New York Times but lighter fare such as USA Today. You won’t be surprised that none of the details of the activity are listed in the paper; after all, you want to know the bottom line. You want to know that Congress just signed a new tax law that affects your family, but the detailed origin of the idea—involving lawyers and corporations and filibusters— isn’t especially important to that new bottom line. And you certainly wouldn’t want to know all the details of the food supply of the nation—how the cows are eating and how many are being eaten—you only want to be alerted if there’s a spike of mad cow disease. You don’t care how the garbage is produced and packed away; you only care if it’s going to end up in your backyard. You don’t care about the wiring and infrastructure of the factories; you only care if the workers are going on strike. That’s what you get from reading the newspaper.
Your conscious mind is that newspaper. Your brain buzzes with activity around the clock, and, just like the nation, almost everything transpires locally: small groups are constantly making decisions and sending out messages to other groups. Out of these local interactions emerge larger coalitions. By the time you read a mental headline, the important action has already transpired, the deals are done. You have surprisingly little access to what happened behind the scenes. Entire political movements gain ground-up support and become unstoppable before you ever catch wind of them as a feeling or an intuition or a thought that strikes you. You’re the last one to hear the information.
However, you’re an odd kind of newspaper reader, reading the headline and taking credit for the idea as though you thought of it first. You gleefully say, “I just thought of something!”, when in fact your brain performed an enormous amount of work before your moment of genius struck. When an idea is served up from behind the scenes, your neural circuitry has been working on it for hours or days or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations. But you take credit without further wonderment at the vast, hidden machinery behind the scenes.
And who can blame you for thinking you deserve the credit? The brain works its machinations in secret, conjuring ideas like tremendous magic. It does not allow its colossal operating system to be probed by conscious cognition. The brain runs its show incognito. So who, exactly, deserves the acclaim for a great idea? In 1862, the Scottish mathematician James Clerk Maxwell developed a set of fundamental equations that unified electricity and magnetism. On his deathbed, he coughed up a strange sort of confession, declaring that “something within him” discovered the famous equations, not he. He admitted he had no idea how ideas actually came to him—they simply came to him. William Blake related a similar experience, reporting of his long narrative poem Milton: “I have written this poem from immediate dictation twelve or sometimes twenty lines at a time without premeditation and even against my will.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe claimed to have written his novella The Sorrows of Young Werther with practically no conscious input, as though he were holding a pen that moved on its own.
And consider the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He began using opium in 1796, originally for relief from the pain of tooth - aches and facial neuralgia—but soon he was irreversibly hooked, swigging as much as two quarts of laudanum each week. His poem “Kubla Khan,” with its exotic and dreamy imagery, was written on an opium high that he described as “a kind of a reverie.” For him, the opium became a way to tap into his subconscious neural circuits. We credit the beautiful words of “Kubla Khan” to Coleridge because they came from his brain and no else’s, right? But he couldn’t get hold of those words while sober, so who exactly does the credit for the poem belong to? As Carl Jung put it, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” As Pink Floyd put it, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”
Table of Contents
1 There's Someone In My Head, But It's Not Me 1
2 The Testimony of the Senses: What Is Experience Really Like? 20
3 Mind: The Gap 55
4 The Kinds of Thoughts That Are Thinkable 75
5 The Brain Is a Team of Rivals 101
6 Why Blameworthiness Is the Wrong Question 151
7 Life After the Monarchy 193
What People are Saying About This
“A stunning exploration of the 'we' behind the 'I'. Eagleman reveals, with his typical grace and eloquence, all the neural magic tricks behind the cognitive illusion we call reality.” –Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
“Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness.” –New Yorker
“Your mind is an elaborate trick, and mastermind David Eagleman explains how the trick works with great lucidity and amazement. Your mind will thank you.” –Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine
“A fun read by a smart person for smart people…it will attract a new generation to ponder their inner workings.” –New Scientist
“Written in clear, precise language, the book is sure to appeal to readers with an interest in psychology and the human mind, but it will also please people who just want to know, with a little more clarity, what is going on inside their own skulls.” –Booklist
“Original and provocative…Incognito is a smart, captivating book that will give you a prefrontal workout.” –Nature
“Incognito is fun to read, full of neat factoids and clever experiments...Eagleman says he’s looking to do for neuroscience what Carl Sagan did for astrophysics, and he’s already on his way.” –Texas Monthly
"Although Incognito is face-paced, mind-bending stuff, it's a book for regular folks. Eagleman does a brilliant job refining heavy science into a compelling read. He is a gifted writer." -Houston Chronicle
“A popularizer of impressive gusto…[Eagleman] aims, grandly, to do for the study of the mind what Copernicus did for the study of the stars.” –New York Observer
“The journey to the heart of neurological darkness is also a kind of safari, and we spend a lot of time taking in the marvelous birds…Incognito proposes a grand new account of the relationship between consciousness and the brain. It is full of dazzling ideas, as it is chockablock with facts and instances.” –The New York Observer
“Incognito does the right thing by diving straight into the deep end and trying to swim. Eagleman, by imagining the future so vividly, puts into relief just how challenging neuroscience is, and will be.” –Boston Globe
“Appealing and persuasive.” –Wall Street Journal
“Eagleman has a nice way with anecdotes and explanations…delightful.” –The Observer’s Very Short List
“Eagleman presents difficult neuroscience concepts in an energetic, casual voice with plenty of analogies and examples to ensure that what could easily be an overwhelming catalog of facts remains engaging and accessible…the ideas in Eagleman’s book are well-articulated and entertaining, elucidated with the intelligent, casual tone of an enthusiastic university lecturer.” –The Millions
“A fascinating, dynamic, faceted look under the hood of the conscious mind...Equal parts entertaining and illuminating, the case studies, examples and insights in Incognito are more than mere talking points to impressed at the next dinner party, poised instead to radically shift your understanding of the world, other people, and your own mind.” –Brain Pickings
“Eagleman engagingly sums up recent discoveries about the unconscious processes that dominate our mental life.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Fascinating…Eagleman has the ability to turn hard science and jargon into interesting and relatable prose, illuminating the mind’s processes with clever analogies and metaphors.” –Salt Lake City Weekly
“A great beach read.“ –Philadelphia City Paper
“Touches on some of the more intriguing cul-de-sacs of human behavior.“ –Santa Cruz Sentinel
“Startling…It’s a book that will leave you looking at yourself—and the world—differently.” –Austin American Statesman
“Incognito feels like learning the secrets of a magician. In clear prose, Eagleman condenses complex concepts and reinforces his points through analogies, pop culture, current events, optical illusions, anecdotes, and fun facts.” –Frontier Psychiatrist
“One of those books that could change everything.” –Sam Snyder, blog
“Sparkling and provocative…a thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions.” –Louisville Courier-Journal
“Buy this book. The pithy observations, breezy language and wow-inducing anecdotes provide temporary pleasure, but the book’s real strength is in its staying power.“ –Science News
“A whirlwind, high-definition look at the neural underpinnings of our everyday thinking and perception…fascinating.” –Brettworks.com
“Eagleman embodies what is fascinating, fun, and hopeful about modern neuroscience.” –Brainstorm.com
“After you read Eagleman’s breezy treatment of the brain, you will marvel at how much is illusory that we think is real, and how we sometimes function out autopilot without consciously knowing what is happening…This is a fascinating book.” –The Advocate
“A pleasure to read…If a reader is looking for a fun but illuminating read, Incognito is a good choice. With its nice balance between hard science and entertaining anecdotes, it is a good alternative to the usual brainless summer blockbusters.” –Deseret News
“Funny, gripping and often shocking…Eagleman writes great sentences of the sort that you might be inclined to read to those in your general vicinity.” –bookotron.com
“Incognito reads like a series of fascinating vignettes, offering plenty of pauses for self-reflection. Eagleman’s anecdotes are funny and easily tie to the concepts he explains. Moreover, his enthusiasm for the subject is obvious and contagious.” –Spectrum Culture
“Incognito is popular science at its best…beautifully synthesized.” –Boston Globe Best of 2011
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an interesting read. As anticipated Mr. Eagleman attributes our known and unknown brain functionality to accidental organic evolutionary self design....intelligence without intelligence...hmmm. Also, It wasn't clear to me in his alternative plan for prison inmate rehabilitation what would motivate a career criminal to use his proposed self help technique. I enjoyed reading this book with the perspective that science is mans tool to discover what God has created and set in motion rather than using it to explain Him away. Yes, I would recommend this book.
One if the most interesting books i've read in a long time! Filled with ideas that will have you re-thinking everything you've come to know about how your mind works. Very well written and adds science to what you may have suspected all along but couldnt prove it!!
I already knew most of what Eagleman presents, having read the original articles and books by the researchers he discusses. As a professor, I taught language and the brain, and one of my fields of research was schizophrenia. Even so, it was a delight to read Eagleman's flowing, lucid prose. What's even better is that he relates brain functions to everyday behavior, explaining why we behave irrationally, for instance, as when we deliberately don't claim a dependent on our income tax deduction, so that we get a larger tax refund later on. I was especially taken by his insights into the evolutionary basis of consciousness. Even if you don't believe in evolution, his discussion of the reasons for consciousness is convincing. Most important is this book's presentation of the complexity of the brain, the different subsystems working on the same stimuli. Eagleman likens our brain to a team of rivals. He explains why we have hunches, why we're attracted to certain people, even why so many marriages fail in their 4th year.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the brain and how what we are learning about the brain could be used to understand ourselves and society better. There's no jargon to wade through and the ideas are simple enough that it's easy to miss how profound they are. Many real-world examples and case studies strongly call into question some very fundamental ideas (and some commonly held beliefs upon which our legal system is based) about the extent to which we are responsible for, or are even aware of, what we are doing. The author clearly and convincingly illustrates why our concepts of consciousness and "self" are a lot more suspect than many people may want to believe. The idea about the brain being a series of cooperating rivals is also very interesting (it "feels" true, for what it's worth) and was what drew me to the book when I heard the author interviewed on Fresh Air.
I have read over 15 books about cognitive science, by 13 different authors. This author is excellent at keeping the reader in touch with his points, consistently throughout the book, I did not come to a point, in any of the chapters, where he lost my attention by over explaining or losing sight on connecting his points back to his concepts. The book is written in colloquial easy to understand grammar, he minimizes the use of complex scientific terms. It's a great book with tons of insight to concepts that you can apply to your everyday life and casual perception
Before purchasing this book, I read some of the reviews on this site and elsewhere. I noticed that this book was rated as a "hit-or-miss." A hit, for people that do not know much about neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, etc. A miss, for people who are the opposite; very knowledgeable in these topics and feel that the information within the book seems to be repetitive to what they already know. Because of this, I almost decided to pass on purchasing and reading this book. I am glad I chose to do otherwise. It is very informative and thought provoking. Some people have made comments on the chapter before the last discussing neuroscience/cognition and law and how this chapter is out of place. I saw nothing out of the ordinary with this chapter being placed within the book as the author has some expertise in law within the neuroscience field. This is a recommended read more so for people who lack knowledge in this field like myself.
While I do appreciate David Eagleman's argument that an understanding of how the brain works could help to reform our justice system, I really did not appreciate his argument that we can somehow scientifically disprove the need to believe that human beings have a soul. One minute he is saying we know so little about the brain and even detecting small tumors that could be causing changes in behavior is something that we are not yet able to do with the technology we have; the next he is claiming a full understanding of the brain and how it functions leads us to the conclusion that we really don't have "free will" given that all of our decisions begin in our "zombie systems" and then are regulated by our conscious minds. I've read other reviews on this book and I have seen a lot of criticism of the choice of audience, the structure, and the use of anecdotes; I must agree. I have yet to see one positive review from a neuroscientist. The audience appears to be for the layperson, but I am not a neuroscientist and I found the book incredibly dumbed down. It was complicated only in that the anecdotes often went off track from the argument and supporting details which were in themselves vague. The use of anecdotes felt almost like sensational or exceptional examples to draw back to a poorly constructed theory. As far as structure, the overall structure and sentence structure needs work. As an aspiring editor, this is good news for me that Vintage, an imprint of Random House, is willing to take on editors who do a mediocre job. I shouldn't have trouble finding work. I enjoyed the use of anecdotes, such as the details of Charles Whitman, "the tower sniper", and his suspicions of having a brain tumor. It was a compelling detail that supported Eagleman's view that mental health is physical health and behavior and decision making are the result of mental processes. But still, without further evidence of the direct correlation between mental processes and decision making, absent of any other potential factor, it is difficult for me to believe that this man had no control over preventing the murders that he committed. Could someone with mental health issues be rehabilitated under the proper care, given the appropriate medications, and after undergoing necessary surgery? I absolutely believe that is possible. I found his argument about improving the way we hold criminals accountable for their actions to be compelling, but nothing I haven't heard before. Of course it would be ideal to rehabilitate any criminal that could be scientifically proven to be capable of reentering society and not commit future criminal offenses. Some criminals will never be rehabilitated. I don't think anyone disagrees with that. But even if they can reenter society, if their actions were the result of a brain tumor or other mental health issue, does that mean they shouldn't have to "do the time"? Can we ever really prove that their con
Wonderful look into how the brain works with and without our conscious awareness. The exploration of inner space is an adventure trip worth taking with the author as an engaging guide. Energizing and uplifting look at who we are.
What a great book. If you are fascinated with the human mind and human behavior, this book is for you.
One of the best books I've read in a while that's full of information, fun to read, and the perfect length for both.
This book went well alongside two others I've read recently, Brain Rules and The Head Trip. Incognito straddles the middle ground between these other two books and, while it covers much of the same ground and actually many of the same scientific examples and case studies, it makes a good starting point for learning about the brain and cognition. The three books together actually make a great triumverate of knowledge. The Head Trip tackles the brain from a consciousness perspective, and Brain Rules is more of a owner's manual to the brain.
Written in a very entertaining yet scientifically based manner that explains how and why we think and do so many very common things. I now more clearly understand myself and others. I did briefly resort to speed reading in a too long section concerning the judicial system sentencing and the mind. It almost became preachy... but then Eagleman returned to his previous comfortable and enjoyable rhythm. I put it in the Must Read Category.
Startling in it's scope, thoroughness and importance. You have never read a book that will change the way you think of thinking as much as this one. The one negative...the title sounds like a thriller suspense novel...or is it just me?
David Eagleman is brilliant. I purchased this book because I heard him speak on NPR radio and wanted to learn more. The book is concise in topics covered and allows the reader a new understanding of this organ found, "under the hood" as Mr. Eagleman explains. He opens new avenues to learning about the science of the human mind.
Recently seen on The Colbert Report, David Eagleman, took to comparing the organ mass in our heads to a 'neural Parliament', with different sides battling it out to be the one that gets to dictate how a person decides what to do next. This is just one of many points made about the brain and its relation to the human body that ultimately tends toward a question of what exactly free-will is and whether or not humans exercise it when they go about their daily routine. Like many answers Incognito purports to tackle, it's one giant gray area of yes and no answers.Eagleman starts off by comparing the brain to a newspaper. His definition of a functioning newspaper is to give analysis of headline-grabbing agendas. When a person opens the paper, they may not want the full story, rather, just the one or two lines that give a summary of what the story's about. The conscious brain (the part of consciousness we think we're controlling when we're awake), he states, acts similarly, with the details of our life's thoughts and decisions taking place below the conscious purview of our mind. Eagleman uses this as a jumping-off point to relate several instances of weird behavior, normally excoriated in our modern society, to explain that such behavior isn't necessarily a choice. Take, for example, the case of a pedophile he writes about. A married man in his thirties, he had shown no tendancies toward such leud behavior in his life up until then, which were also accompanied by an increasing number of headaches. Suddenly, he was consumed by his habit, spending every waking hour looking at images and, eventually, locating an underage prosititute. When his wife finally took him to get a brain scan, a nickel-sized mass compressing his amygdala (next to the hippocampus region) was discovered. Once removed, the behavior subsided immediately. When the cancer was discovered to have not been fully burned away, the pedophilic thoughts returned. Again, once the tumor was gone for good, so were the thoughts and the man (named Alex...not real name, obviously) was able to resume his normal life again. Cases like the one above illustrate a good point Eagleman makes about the kinds of people that fill our prisons. How many of them are suffering from some unknown tumor or brain-damage that still allows them to function (somewhat) normally? How can we go about prosecuting criminals without the full range of facts?Ultimately, Eagleman stresses the importance of not adopting a fully reductionist point of view when it comes to how the brain operates. Sure, people who have Huntington's disease can be reduced to the single mutated gene that causes them to flail their arms and lose bodily function, but in many other cases dealing with disease or psychological maladies the problem can be seen as having elements of environmental origin in addition to badly aligned brain chemisty. It's not enough to merely have the bad genes that predispose a person toward a certain disease or condition. They also must have possesed enough life experiences that drove them to the disease along with carrying those specific genes. Eagleman's book is one that not only delves into the murky waters surrounding the brain's development but also traces its history from the early 1600's and onward and the context of historical/scientific discoveries (and their subsequent dismissal from the public at large when trying to convince others that man isn't at the center of the universe, just as the earth wasn't). He's careful, though, not to let our ignorance of how the brain truly does its job operate as an easy answer for criminals to argue at their next parole hearing, but I believe he does show sympathies in regarding how dismissive our legal system tends to be. The quest for the true definition of how our brain works is far from over, but there are definitely enough ideas provided in this book for one to become aquainted with a modern view of the subconscious mind without any fingerpointing. Great r
Incognito written by David Eagleman is a wonderful and interesting book that delves into the depths of our brains and how much we are capable of doing. I found it full of amazing information that really made me think about what this little mass in my head can do however for some people it just may be too wordy. After all, Mr. Eagleman is a neuroscientist and tends to write, at times, at that level. He does bring home just how complex a 3 pound jelly-like mass can be. My mother¿s only question was why I don¿t use more of it!!!!
This very interesting and thought provoking book by neuroscientist David Eagleman is a little disorienting. After all, based on the numerous observations and scientific experiments he details Eagleman¿s conclusion is that we have no freewill. I may think I am considering options, making decisions, and choosing, for instance, what book to read, but according to scientists who study these things I am not in charge, if by ¿I¿ what I mean is the ¿I¿ that I know--my conscious mind. It¿s not surprising that drugs, alcohol, brain injury, and evolutionary forces exert power over us that we are not always aware of while it is going on, but according to the science Eagleman reports there is more to it than that. In an experiment in which people were asked to lift their fingers at the time of their choosing, the conscious brain impulse to move was preceded by unconscious brain activity. Is this proof that the conscious decision to move a finger is governed by the unconscious mind? I¿m not sure. And if it is proof, would that carry over into every kind of decision? Does the unconscious mind really have invisible, almost god-like power over every thought and action?While I am not convinced that the freewill/determinism question has been fully answered--neuroscience is still a very young field of knowledge--the first five chapters of Incognito are full of fascinating, persuasive examples that demonstrate how the reality we perceive with our conscious minds bears sometimes only a rough resemblance to what is actually happening. When reading Incognito I frequently broke off to share these examples with whoever was around me. There are illustrations you can try yourself, for instance there is a graphic that allows you to prove to yourself that your eyes have a blind spot, a gap in vision that your unconscious brain fills in based on what is probably there. In the final chapters of Incognito Eagleman uses the latest information from brain science to draw logical but sometimes counterintuitive and unsettling conclusions about the future of the justice system. With little or no freewill, what should society do with criminals? Since the unconscious operates on a ¿team of rivals¿ model in which conflicting impulses struggle for control, Eagleman would have incarceration based on the neuroplasticity of the offender¿that is on how likely it is that the criminal¿s brain could respond to reconditioning techniques. Those who could be reconditioned so that they would no longer cause damage to society would be; those who couldn¿t be reconditioned because of frontal lobe impairment or other brain defects would be warehoused. Even though neuroscience is still in its infancy there is a lot of riveting information here about how the brain works. You don¿t have to agree with all the conclusions Eagleman draws in this book for it to be worth reading. Incognito is a great book for sparking deep and engaging discussions.
Popular neuroscience, arguing that the best way to think about the brain is as a team of rivals, with conscious and unconscious processes striving to solve problems, sometimes in conflicting ways. Despite giving significant space to the general idea of environmental influence as a key determinant of what happens to the brain (what skills are learned and become automatic, whether genetic differences that are correlated with violence manifest themselves in behavior, etc.), his perspective is fundamentally individualist. So, when he talks about criminal responsibility, he argues that rather than blameworthiness¿which isn¿t a coherent concept given what we¿re starting to understand about human brains¿we should focus on incapacitation (locking up people who can¿t control themselves) and rehabilitation (offering people the tools to train themselves to behave). What this glosses over is various kinds of criminogenic environments, say Wall Street, or circumstances where the problem is not, as Eastman argues, that the criminal can¿t restrain his short-term desires in furtherance of long-term goals, but that the long-term rewards of so doing are too implausible. When you analogize slipping self-control to ¿trying to elect a party of moderates in the middle of war and economic meltdown,¿ it might be productive to consider that many people are in the middle of war and economic meltdown. As written, it seems like neuroscience has nothing to offer them.
Well written and easy to read. Complex theories are broken down easily in layman's terms. Highly recommended.
Very good. I love his show, and enjoyed this book. I am also pursuing a career in Neuroscience. I do not agree with him on everything, but I do agree with him on the major points of the book. I love this book, and enjoyed how he gives more than one side to the story.
Well written, easy for the lay person to understand. Excellent book
Very intresting book