Incognito; The Secret Lives of the Brain


David Eagleman




Date Reviewed:

July 22, 2012

ncognito can be an unsettling to read. Eagleman describes all the various ways that our brain fools us. What are we actually seeing? We don't see what our eyes "see", instead our brain interprets signals that arrive as electrical impulses and it converts these signals into "vision". But our brain can fool us - it constructs images in blind spots.

There is a lot of material here about various injuries to the brain and what it reveals about how it works.

A lot of explanation about subconscious behavior - how can a batter decide quick enough to swing at pitch? How can people accurately determine the sex of a baby chicken when they look exactly alike?

I thought the second to last chapter about crime and punishment was the weakest chapter. Eagleman tells us how much our behavior is controlled by biological factors - such as the guy who developed a tumor in his skull which caused him to murder his wife then take a rifle to a tower in Dallas and gun down numerous civilians. Or a guy named "Alex" who had a brain tumor which caused him to act on pedophile impulses, when the tumor was removed, so did "Alex's" pedophiliac behavior. Is there even free will at all? Is our consciousness just riding along on top of subconscious machines, constructing a story to explain to ourselves why we behave as we do. Or are we just machines acting out on

If our brains are a function of chemicals, stress, environment, chance - then how would we ever be able to predict behavior?

This book reminded me a lot of The Mind's Sky, by Timothy Ferris, which I read a long time ago. It also covered the strange way our minds work, about how there is a lot more happening subconciously than we are unaware of. The Mind's Sky also covered outer space topics, such as possibility of extraterrestrial civilizations. I recommend that book as well as this one.