on 19 May 2011
This is the kind of book that I really enjoy because so often I wanted to stop and think about the information it gives you. There is something ironic about that, as you will discover if you read 'Incognito,' as you learn how little you do is actually governed by conscious thought!
The book is an easy read for a serious, factual book but impeccably based in a very wide range of research, as the 26-page bibliography demonstrates. In the latter chapters Eagleman focuses heavily on the legal implications of the research which calls into question how meaningful it is to conduct trials and impose punishments operating on the concept of "blameworthiness." This effectively challenges most of us, I suspect, but does mean the discussion moves away from the broader attempt to understand the concepts of self and consciousness we commonly hold.
For anyone not already an expert in neurology, I recommend 'Incognito' without reservation as likely to be an enlightening, challenging and intensely thought-provoking read.
on 25 March 2012
David Eaglemans book ''Incognito'' is more than just a good place to start
(as we venture further into the frontiers of brain-land).
It is a stunning exploration of the mind, and all the wondrous stuff that goes on inside our heads.
Eaglemans tour de force starts with Vision (About one third of he human brain is devoted to vision).
Where human vision is nothing like a camera just taking a picture.
Take the blind spot (a sizable patch in the retina with no photoreceptors).
The brain invents a patch of the background pattern for us to ''see''.
With no information from the spot - the spot is filled with the patterns around it!
Talk about reality being not very real....
As the book goes on, it justs get weirder and weirder.
Our thoughts are also ''constructions''... What we find delicious, tasty etc. is hardwired by evolution.
I.e. most humans are hardwired to be attracted to other humans, not frogs?
Actually, our entire mental landscape - ethics, emotions, beauty, social interaction etc.
- is hardwired through evolution! We can only see our own umwelt, true reality out there - the umgebung - is beyond us.
Many interesting brain effects are described in the book. The McGurk Effect is a beautiful (and stunning) demonstration that what we see
and hear is actually a brain construction. A nice piece of brain editing,
where sound and vision are coordinated in an early processing stage outside conscious control.
Vision dominates hearing, so hearing is adjusted to the visual cue,
even though it is completely wrong.
Eagleman also has some really good points that the brain is not a magic system
(just in case you believed that ....), but an actual physical system.
A pill called fluoxetine might chase away depression.
Schizophrenic symptoms can sometimes be controlled by risperidone.
Mania can treated by lithium.
But understanding the brain is certainly not easy.
Eagleman mentions his colleague Read Montague. Who has speculated that we might have built in algorithms that protect us from ourselves. In much the same way as computers have boot sectors, which are inaccessible while running normally.
Whatever the truth, Eagleman concludes his wonderful book by stating that we don't have the ''understanding the brain''-problem cornered yet.
Well, probably not, but he certainly has provided us with a lot of useful insights!
What a briliant book!
on 3 January 2014
The first half of this book is amazing - full of fascinating insights. There's so much good stuff, he nearly throws away one of the best and simplest theories into why we dream. It's probably worth buying for the first half alone. However in the second half he moves into the philosophy of crime and punishment. While the first half of the book is peppered with all his references, carefully collated, in the second half it really is just an essay of his ideas. So if you are interested in neuroscience and philosophy you may find this enjoyable; I certainly didn't.
on 7 April 2011
I'm wondering whether the last reviewer actually read the same book as me. Eagleman draws on years of experience as a neuroscientist, citing hundreds of experiments, cases and examples. Through these he makes his fascinating topic - the unconscious brain - easily accessible to a lay reader without ever patronising, explaining everything from why you can argue with yourself to the best way to win a game of tennis. Popular science it may be (albeit with credentials aplenty), but pop psychology it definitely is not.
This must be the first time I have actually picked up a science book out of choice, and the first time I have read anything scientific since school, but after hearing neuroscientist David Eagleman interviewed on the radio about his new book I was hooked. And it has not disappointed at all - in fact it is something that I would never have believed could exist, a real science page turner.
Eagleman possesses that rare skill of explaining complex scientific concepts to non scientists, in a way that makes them fascinating, and weaves in references to literature, philosophy and history, to create a fabulously rich book. And his subject is one which should really interest everyone, as it is all about us, and more specifically, the way our brains work.
The work looks at what makes our brain work the way it does, and includes a clever and enjoyable series of interactive tests for the reader to illustrate its point that what we see is not always the same, and our reality is very much manipulated and filtered by our brains themselves. It links these processes to some practical and everyday life choices that we make - we are, apparently and amazingly, more likely to like and have relationships with people who share our own details such as the first initial of our name, or our birthday.
There are thought provoking insights into the world of people who cannot see at all, as Eagleman argues that congenitally blind people are not missing anything that sighted people have, they just have a very different reality where other senses are much more heightened and sharp. So it seems that even our everyday realities are completely subjective. He discusses research that shows women with dilated pupils, which signals sexual interest, to be very much more attractive to men then when their pupils are not dilated.
Intriguingly, and perhaps controversially, he cites Swedish research (it just would be Swedish wouldn't it!) that shows that men with a certain gene, or vasopressin receptor to get technical for a moment, are more likely to remain unmarried, or if they do have a partner, are more likely to be sexually unfaithful to them. You can just imagine how the arguments in expensive divorce cases might go.
Eagleman draws on many non scientific examples to prove his points too. The same arguments made by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her brilliant biography of Lincoln, `Team of Rivals' are used here to show how our brain is actually a team of rivals itself, a union of systems competing against each other but held together by a common goal. He also uses the example of Ulysses resisting the fatal lure of the beautiful singing Sirens by having his men lash him to the mast of his ship, and to plug up their own ears with beeswax. That way he would be unable to go to the deadly beauties, who had caused the tragic end of many lesser men. So he was making his body resist what he knew his brain would implore him to do. Lastly, he gives a different take on the pathetic anti - Semitic tirade by the drunken Mel Gibson, who pleaded afterwards that that was not the real him, and that he did not believe what he had said. Whilst Eagleman certainly does not excuse the outrageous behaviour of Gibson, he argues that it is not as black and white as saying that we mean everything we say at all times, even when drunk.
This is a brilliant book, which has a very broad sweep of ideas, including a serious challenge to our legal system and the way it treats criminals. It is a brilliant, thrilling read, and a fantastic turnon to science for the non believer like myself. Move over Professor Brian Cox, David Eagleman has arrived.
on 9 August 2011
This is a wonderful book. It is lively and well written with lots of everyday examples and explanations to make difficult concepts easy to understand. You need zero knowledge of the brain or psychology to follow the arguments. Best of all there are plenty of examples and 'tests' so you can see for yourself exactly what he means.
Eagleman is extremely honest about what he is pretty sure he knows, what he thinks he knows and stuff he is speculating about. I liked the way it was written for a non-specialist audience but at the same time any students or academics reading it are given plenty of resources and references to follow up. It is rare to find a book that covers such a difficult topic so well and for all kinds of audiences.
on 2 May 2011
Highly enjoyable, often fascinating, sometimes mind-expanding read. Would recommend to anyone interested in deepening their understanding of how human beings work from an up to date neuroscience perspective. I would agree with other reviewers that Eagleman knows how to explain science to the lay reader without over-complication or condescension. Sometimes it feels like Eagleman takes quite a long time to convey his key ideas, albeit with many fascinating examples. These key ideas include; that conscious volition or choice has much less to do with our behaviour than we think and that we are certainly less rational that we like to believe; that most behaviour is handled by ingrained and unconscious `zombie' programmes, some of which arrive ready packaged as our species inheritance and others which are laid down by repeated practice; that what we experience as reality `out there' is actually pictures created by our brains and some or much of which our minds make up entirely depending upon a whole bunch of influences; that our consciousness is largely concerned with setting directions rather than with handling details and that even our thoughts are generated by unconscious machinery to which we have no direct access; that our minds contain multitudes of sub-personas rather than a single coherent self. He goes on to question our notions of blame-worthiness, using examples of how brains that been altered by damage, drugs or disease, and proposes a new blueprint for our legal systems based upon the knowledge neuroscience is unearthing.
In the final chapter Eagleman shifts gear entirely and provides some well-needed context setting about the neuro-scientific perspective from which the book is largely written and acknowledges that it doesn't and can't tell the whole story. He goes further and challenges the hollow dead-end of scientific reductionism and the arrogance of scientism that this sort of material might sometimes be used to support. At various points in the book I wondered whether he was also leaning towards such crass reductionism, for example, by his failure to make adequate distinctions between mind and brain, but one could argue he rescues the situation with his reflective shift at the end, having played a straight neuro-scientific hand till then. My main criticism is this - why doesn't he draw upon other perspectives (e.g. psychological, subjective experience based, etc) on consciousness, mind and self along the way? His neuro-scientific argument is interesting and even mind-boggling as far as it goes, but it only goes so far. He seems to be setting up a platform from which he might start a really interesting discussion, but he stops short. For example, if consciousness isn't concerned with running the machinery, what is it concerned with (and not just setting goals)? He repeatedly asserts that our conscious self is a peripheral player in events, but does nothing to expand upon what our conscious self actually is. The book is really about the unconscious functioning of the brain and says little about consciousness. He acknowledges Freud's work around the lower unconscious but says nothing about Jung's exploration of the collective unconscious or Assagioli's model of the self and the higher unconscious. He also seems to be ignorant of Assagioli's Psychosynthesis approach around sub-personalities, or other work in this area such as Hal Stone's voice dialogue or even Merzel's Big Mind Big Heart. In other words, various psychological disciplines have been working for some time with the notion that the healthy self embraces multiples of sub-personalities, but Eagleman makes it seem that this is a recent discovery by neuroscience. I would like to see a more integral approach that seeks to synthesise different perspectives (a la Ken Wilber - objective and subjective, inter-objective and inter-subjective, etc), but maybe this is asking too much and Eagleman feels unsafe away from his neuro-scientific base camp. Why does this matter (and why I am I bothering to write this review)? Because if science is going to make important contributions to philosophical, psychological and social topics (such as consciousness, free-will, society, etc) beyond its self-referencing sub-disciplines, it needs to be able to not just acknowledge that there are other perspectives but work with them, bring them into the argument and reach a higher synthesis. Maybe work for someone else to do.
on 30 June 2012
I really enjoyed this book. I heard the author being interviewed on the radio where he was speaking about his new book and it sounded really interesting.
The explanations and analogies are easy to understand and in many circumstances relate to but are not so simply put so as to be patronising. The book really makes you think and eager to explore more of what makes us tic. The fact that our sub conscious brain has the far greater play in our lives than our conscious is succinctly explained and once you grasp this it makes understanding how and why things have happened in our individual lives so much clearer.
The author does devote a fair proportion of the book to his goal of change in the (American) justice system to reflect that the subconscious decisions are by definition out of the control of a lot of the criminals and this part of the book did go on a tad too much to hold my interest but I fully appreciate that this is an area that the author feels passionate about and which likely drives his further investigations into the workings of our brains in general.
In summary a book well worth reading if you are into the factual rather than just more psychological theorys.
This makes a good audio choice, lots of short chapters and anecdotes covering the brain, consciousness and other related topics.
Some of this was new to me, some familiar. I enjoyed listening (though I did find the author repeated himself a lot, summing up with the exact same phrases he'd used earlier, much more obvious in a narrated audiobook).
The opening chapters about the size of the universe were the most stunning moments for me. But there were lots of fascinating stories about the brains' of individuals, historically and currently, and cases of how particular situations have caused us to look differently at, say, blame and mental illness.
It's not one I'll be able to recall much of later, apart from a few key stories and facts, but it is a worthwhile read, if you're interested in your own biology.
on 8 April 2011
A superb book for me.No psychobabble,no unecessary psychiatric terminology.I read it with ease and great interest and it sparked lots of questions in my brain.Fascinating to read about the brain being just like an amazing computer I had thought this for years .
I was sorry to read other peoples reviews that were so damning.