Incognito, by David Eagleman

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, is such a good read, I read it twice. David Eagleman is what I consider one of the few neuroscientist who has the astonishing ability to communicate the mysteries of the brain in a manner which is exciting, mystifying, captivating, and profoundly appealing. For his age, Eagleman seems to have great wisdom when explaining this field, and science in general.

The book definitely provides a bang for the buck, filled with information on the brain with a particular nuance I rarely find in science books. While his description of how the brain works, seems consistent, and testable, what I really enjoy is the appeal of how much we have yet to discover. Considering some of his analysis, I believe this book more than any hits the mark on the complexities, and the wonderous awe of the brain’s capabilities.

I was very attracted to the modest credence he attributed to the rational side of the brain, the part we are actually aware of. While most in the field of science and philosophy proclaim reason to be the breakthrough of the enlighten age, as it may very well be. Eagleman is convincing in his argument, not only that, what we are aware of is a very small part of brain activity, but reason itself is an even smaller part. While he does not bluntly say it, he subtly insinuates that reason may very well be a packaging the brain creates after the fact. People act, and then find a reason that fits, not the other way around.

While indicating the self-aware brain is the tip of the iceberg Eagleman, puts forward a very intuitive analogy of the brain working like a large corporation, with many, many agents (employees) each making calculations and doing detailed analyses under the radar of awareness, which he calls the CEO. Once these are hammered in the subconscious realm, they are brought out to the self-aware conscious brain, where basic decisions are made. These decision and actions taken by the conscious mind, are oblivious to the hard work of the subconscious agents, and provides ample evidence in his book.

Also included within the narrative of the book are the absurdly complex achievements of the agents of the subconscious, such as recognising faces, movement, the harmonisation of the senses, as well as numerous solutions consolidated under the radar, that one wonders who is really doing the work, meaning credit is unjustifiably attributed to the self (the person who is aware), when in reality, the self is taking credit for his numerous agents. Ideas, inspiration, solutions, epiphanies, are explained by Eagleman not so much as things that just pop out of nowhere as proclaimed many, but as hardworking neurological agents of the subconscious working, may be for days without awareness, and pop up once handed to the conscious mind.

Little credit is given to the automatic instinctual part of the brain, many calling it primitive and animal-like. Eagleman presents a solid case of how this is not only false, but what we call the rational brain is described riding on the shoulders of the subconscious work. In just the same way he indicates the conscious mind takes too much credit, he also brings up the unfortunate cases where illicit and iniquitous activities are easily blamed on people with psychological illnesses, who may very well have little control over their actions, making Free-Will a smaller factor than believed. As more is learnt about the brain, punishment will be replaced by rehabilitation. Cures and preventative measures would be sought, rather than retribution.

Great book. Great author. Highly recommended.

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