Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

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What is the book “Incognito” about?

Every person knows everything about himself. We are sure that we can orient in the world around us in a proper way, make decisions freely, think clearly and evaluate things reasonably. But is it actually so? David Eagleman studies this question in his book. He concludes that a thing, which we consider as freewill is nothing more than a result of our brain activity, which in its turn, the same as our organism, depends on human biology.

The tiny mutations in the particular genes determine and change human behavior. For example, the damage of the frontal cortex during the Huntington’s disease that caused by mutation of one gene can lead to the changes in personality: the ill patients become aggressive, hypersexual and in some cases, they ignore social norms, and they are prone to impulsive acts as well. It appears long before the uncontrolled external signs such as sudden and spastic movements of the limbs shown up.

Our essence depends on our biology, and we can’t escape it as Eagleman believes. You may advise a Huntington’s chorea patient to demonstrate his freewill and stop to twitching his hand, but he is unable to do it.

Our essence depends not only on our genes. Drugs, neurotransmitters, hormones, and virus can also manipulate our behavior. But what about consciousness and our brain by which we orient and act?

As Eagleman thinks, the capabilities of our brain are enormous, but they remain unrevealed. It is like the tip of the iceberg, where the rest of subconscious part is situated under the water, and it is difficult to get.

We don’t get the words “the thought is material” in the literal sense but as a metaphor. Is it even possible that a thought could be material? It has no form, no weight, no color and no scent. But it is actually material because the physical changes in our brain alter our thoughts. In a deep sleep, there are no thoughts. Some bizarre thoughts appear during falling asleep.

Our thoughts depend on the situation, food and other stimulators such as cigarettes, coffee and physical activity throughout the day. The body condition influences on the brain condition, which determines the state of our thoughts. That is why thought is material, and the material is primary.

We will get frustrated if during the car accident we get some bruises or our car gets some damage, but it won’t change our conscious experience. However, in case if this person injures the smallest part of his brain tissue, it may turn his ability to understand music, to name the animals, to assess risk and to make decisions and so on.

Our world is directly related to our biology. Our hopes, dreams, fears, instincts, ideas, and desires depend on the brain and its changes. The brain itself is a difficult and mysterious system, which is situated somewhere outside of our understanding and intuition that may be considered as something supernatural and ultimate, according to Eagleman.

Summary and 10 Ideas of “Incognito”

Idea № 1. The central part of our actions, thoughts, and feelings are not under conscious control.

Idea № 2. The brain is responsible for the gathering of information, and it takes over control besides our will.

Idea № 3. Thinking has not magic, but mechanic base.

Idea № 4. Everything that we see is an illusion in a way.

Idea № 5. The brain doesn’t need the whole model of the world. It must find out on the spot where and when we should take a look.

Idea № 6. Different modules of the brain, which don’t depend on each other, form a visual system.

Idea № 7. Different impulses of the brain work as a team of enemies.

Idea № 8. The emotional and the rational systems compete with each other in the brain.

Idea № 9. The emotional and the rational systems compete for our long and short-term wishes.

Idea № 10. Our wishes, including the insane ones, are connected with our biology. Our dreams change according to the changes in the biology.

Idea № 11. The human’s behavior, which is intimately connected with his biology and the features of the brain working, will cause fundamental changes in the judicial system and in a concept of guilt itself one day.  

Review “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain”

The book is quite impressive. You will find out a lot of interesting and unknown facts, and you will look at yourself, your personality and concept of will from another point of view. Our conscious is simply the tip of the iceberg, whose the most significant part is hidden from us. Our brain is a masterpiece, claims Eagleman. The newest technologies help us to study it as well as ourselves like the most incredible species in the entire University.

Pros and Cons:

  • Here you can find some original ideas, engaging examples and a straightforward narrative.

About Author David Eagleman

Author of the book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the BrainDavid Eagleman (April 25, 1971, Albuquerque, USA) is a famous popularizer of science. In 1998 he received a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine and spent the postdoctoral period at the Institute of Biological Research. Salk. Currently, he is an associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and the head of a laboratory specializing in research on perception and deeds. Scientific interests: sensory substitution, a perception of time, synaesthesia, visual illusions, neuroscience and the Law. The founder of BrainCheck companies (development of portable devices for cognitive testing and diagnosing of brain concussions) and NeoSensory (development of sensory replacement technologies “sound – kinesthetic perception”).

In 2015, on the channels of PBS (USA), Air Force (Great Britain), SBS (Australia) with great success was shown a series of programs “Brain”, authored and produced by David Eagleman; on its basis, the same name book was published.

Watch and listen to his thoughts. 

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