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on 27 August 2011
This book is a mixture of pop psychology and pop science with insufficient psychology and not enough science. And the 'pop' is second-rate.
Eagleman makes sweeping statements whilst presntling no evidence. Some may be true but he provides no substance for them. Others are horribly wrong.
An example of the wrong includes 'your genome picks up a mutation, your ship moves in a different direction'. Mutations within an individual are incredibly unlikely to affect that individual, other than if it is a development of cancer. They might affect the next generation if the mutation is in the germ-line cells. Eagleman casts 50 years of science to the winds for his simple statement.
The worst offence against his readers is to conflate ideas rather than to draw out their meaning. One example is his approach to victims of rape and sexual abuse. He states that their suffering, post the event, is because they are holding 'secrets' and that speaking or writing about the events alleviates that suffering. This merges two very different areas: the trauma of the event and the victim's ambivalence about both their potential guilt in the event and about the difficulty of revealing it to others. Eagleman dismisses all of this complexity in a word.
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on 30 October 2012
Don't get me wrong, `Incognito' is a good read by an erudite and very knowledgeable author. But it seems to rely on a primarily mechanistic approach to biology. The idea that mind and brain might be separate is rejected with the implicit understanding that consciousness arises simply from brain function. Yet Sir John Eccles, the Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist thought otherwise - that mind is independent of brain function - and there is plenty of solid evidence, for example, suggesting that consciousness survives death. This was the conclusion of Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Barrett - all eminent scientists - and there are others, including John Logie Baird and Thomas Edison. If these other folk are correct it means that the brain might be entirely different in its function from what the author is positing. Could it be a `reducing valve' or a `radio receiving apparatus' for consciousness? Eagleman appears to think not, and to infer that Darwin's evolutionary approach says it all and he passes it off as established fact. At the very end of the book however, he hedges his bets regarding whether there is more to understanding human beings than materialism and reductionism can explain - although he does this without actually suggesting there might be a spiritual issue worth investigating. For Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin's co-originator of the Theory of Natural Selection, mankind also contained a spiritual element, but this is not considered in the book.

That said, Eagleman has some interesting historical scientific perspectives. But look in the index for `Mesmer', or `Hypnotism' or `Trance' and you won't find them. Nor are they in the body of the text. This is extraordinary considering that the book's topic is the `unconscious brain'. Of course, subconscious and unconscious are not necessarily the same thing, and Eagleman steers clear of discussing either the subconscious or the origin of creative thinking.

The author appears to think that we are not conscious in our everyday lives unless we are paying attention to something unusual or unexpected. But why should there not be levels of consciousness - with acute attention at one end of the spectrum and everyday consciousness at the other? Surely we are not zombies just because we contain autonomic systems?

And then there is the question of human beings having no free will which he appears to support through reference to the work of Libet. In a subsequent chapter, however, on the blameworthiness of the criminal, he seems to backtrack on this, as follows: "A fly, say, is neurally incapable of navigating complex choices, whereas a human, and especially a smart human, has many choices and therefore more control". If having choices and being able to make them is not exercising free will, then I don't know what is. And the execution of any long term planning by humans - such as writing a book entitled `Incognito' - also involves the exercise of free will.
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on 7 April 2011
You think that this book will answer all your questions about what is it that makes me "Me"? Think again. Almost like a return to the 1970's pop psychology, pleading with the book buyers that it has all the answers. Only it turns out that its more like Pulp Fiction. Will probably sell well, only to be consigned to the cupboard of forgotten books or a charity shop.
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on 11 August 2017
I read 'incognito' published in 2011,after reading 'the brain, the story of you', which was published in 2015, so I guess the author may have redeemed himself in his later work. I found his arguments about our lack of free will disappointing especially when he cites cases of crimes committed in the presence of brain pathology to advance his argument. A verdict of not criminally responsible NCR or not guilty for reason of insanity NGRI can be given to the man who killed his wife and mother before shooting other strangers and then killing himself. The fact that he was found to have a brain tumour at autopsy ( which he clearly requested for in his suicide note to find the cause of his personality changes) completely exonerates him from blame. Automatism is another well recognised reason for an NCR or NGRI verdict and this does not mean that we don't have free will in the absence of brain disease. The author delved into reductionist theories often championed by neuroscientists who are not actually clinicians and therefore do not have the privilege of knowing the patient's psychological and social predisposing and perpetuating factors. Neuroscientists have suddenly left their field of biology to delve into psychology and sociology while dancing to the gallery in a bid to impress patients about their knowledge of the brain. The problem is that the brain doesn't constitute the entire person just like your laptop computer does not explain the complexity of the internet and the World Wide Web. David Eagleman eventually concluded the book by accepting the limitations of neurobiology alone to explain the whole individual. The book is worth reading but a lot of his ideas have been overtaken by new developments in psychiatry and neurobiology.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 23 April 2011
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.
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on 6 September 2011
This book represents a generally useful exploration of the unconscious aspects of the mind, but in two areas it fails to fully explore its subject in the light of the most recent neuroscience.

The function of the orbitofrontal region of the brain is presented as an automated process in which the orbitofrontal represses drives towards inappropriate or harmful behaviours, which emerge as soon as the orbitofrontal is compromised. This description fails to give a full account of the importance of the orbitofrontal, which serves to evaluate the reward/punisher status of inputs from the sensory cortices. Furthermore, studies show that activation of the orbitofrontal is correlated to the subjective appreciation of the input rather than the strength of the signal.

It is probably not possible to consclusively say at the present stage of neuroscience, whether the same is true of the repression of inappropriate behaviours. However, it does seem very likley from what we already know about the orbitofrontal that these options are assessed subjectively, with a balancing of the reward/punisher values of the inappropriate behaviour and the possible negative consequences. This balance is something which could be disrupted by damage to the orbitofrontal.

The other problem here is the incomplete treatment of the Libet experiments. These are given as a definitive refutation of freewill. What is not discussed here is that these experiments dealt exclusively with the timing of trivial movements, the nature of which had been determined by the experimenter. Evaluation of conflicting choices such as those made in the orbitofrontal, or longer-term planning performed by the dorsolateral prefrontal appear more relevant when looking at more deliberative actions.
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on 31 May 2013

Now, if you don't want to hear a bunch of rambleage, take me at my word; Excellent!

No? You're gonna keep reading? Okay - I warned you...

I picked up this book in a book fair for far less than it is worth, as it is here on Amazon; a bargain at twice the price.

It began as what I often call a toilet book. That is a book that you can read in the boy's or girl's room (whichever's appropriate). Simple ideas. Easy to pick up and drop - you don't have to pour over the theism.
In many ways - all popular science writing should aspire to such a term; "toilet book". It means the ideas being put across are presented in such a way that the reader doesn't need to read a paragraph, close the book, think through the material and try to absorb the ideas and then go back and read it again.

Anyway, good or bad it begun as a "toilet book" - a bit of fun - with some clever and exceptionally simple experiments you are invited to conduct (as simple as shutting one eye and looking again at the image printed on screen) to prove Eagleman's current point.

Eaglemans writing is concise, yet jovial.

He's gathered to fascinating case studies to support the statements he is making and, as standalone discussions they are fascinating. Having a flick through the book to refresh my memory on some of these and I'm struck with their sheer volume. Split-brain procedures - Blindsight - Parasomnia - Anosognosia - all with their specific examples.

Eagleman then moves to the implications. The book never drowned me in terms and gargon, yet remained scientific in its approach to all of Eaglemans thinking - always backed up with evidence and referring and developing subjects already covered.

Personally I felt (and what is any review if not a personal feeling) that chapter 5, which talked predominantly around individual culpability for behaviours, though fascinating as all other chapters, may have indulged in Eaglemans personal interest in reforms to the legal process a little too much for me. The point was well made, as I had come to expect, but then laboured somewhat. This however, represents the only criticism I can conjure, and it is a minor one.

The overall experience of this book is wholly uplifting - the ideologies, like so many scientific understandings, can sound as if they would strip a person of their feeling of worth, hope inspiration and all the other necessary elements to living a full and content existence. These particularly strip from you your feeling of self. You are just a product of the machinery you happen to be formed of and the environment in which this machine was placed. Shattering your assumptions about yourself and thus utterly rocking your world (Especially if your coming at this book from a `completely new to the subject' point of view) - but when read as statements ideas such as this always sound as if they would crush the human spirit. When the time is taken to explore the beauty behind nature (rather than filling in the gaps with the intuition that was built for wholly alternate purposes than to conclude the mechanics of existence - and thus are woefully inadequate for the task) the eloquence of creation fill you with such awe and the understanding sharpens your comprehension of the world and it's going's on that my life is richer for the reading of this book - and so to could you're be!

A `must read'.

I shall be looking for other Eagleman books.

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on 17 May 2016
This is a really interesting and informative book about the latest research into the workings of the brain. It is slightly disconcerting to find that we are not as 'in charge' of ourselves as we think we are but, on the other hand we don't have to worry as much as we do, as turning it over to the brain to sort out whilst we are consciously thinking of other things, is a definite plus. I think we will all have had the experience of waking up to find a decision we couldn't make is now made, usually with a feeling of relief attached to it. (I keep hoping it will work with the EU referendum decision but it probably has too much information to sift through!) I was pleased to see affirmation that we can recognize people we have seen fairly briefly by movements or habits that the brain has stored and comes back in almost a 'deja vu' way. I had this experience recently and if I had known there was independent corroboration of this fact, I could have called the police without worrying that they would think I was paranoid. I have found that I am able to recognize several traits that I am now likely to see as prejudice in myself and try to make more independent assessments of individual people rather than judgements. It is quite freeing. I knew this before but I let it slide at times and now I don't.
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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!

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