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George A Peknik

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Book review: 'Incognito' is a fine 'user’s manual' for the brain
By George A Peknik   
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Last edited: Thursday, November 17, 2011
Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011

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Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman is a truly remarkable read, especially for those of us who have sustained a brain injury, know someone who did, or provides services to them.

Born and raised in Albuquerque, the son of a psychiatrist and a biology teacher, an alumnus of Albuquerque Academy, and now a best-selling author of books that are a “creative endeavor to deepen our understanding of a complex world we can never fully grasp.” He currently directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law at Baylor College of Medicine. According to a New Yorker article, a brush with death at the age of eight when he fell to the ground at a building site in the Sandia foothills and landed on his nose taught David Eagleman about the mysteries of time and the brain.

The word “incognito" comes from the Latin “incognitus, unknown“ and means “having one's true identity concealed.”Here are just some of the aspects of the book that most appealed to me:

  1. “The democracy of the mind:” that there is an ongoing conversation among the different parts of the brain, and there is what he calls a”team of rivals” in there to get the job done.
  2. The brain’s "two-party system:” reason and emotion, which are always battling it out.
  3. How a baseball outfielder’s brain is the body’s computer that leads him to catch a fly ball hit way over his head.
  4. How the subconscious can lead a person to be a racist, sexist, or biased in some other way
  5. How babies at birth come equipped with inherited problem-solving and other psychological traits
  6. “Cognitive reserve:” what active seniors build up in their brains to stave off dementia by continually challenging and “using” their brains
  7. Why blameworthiness after a brutal or otherwise felonious act may be a questionable legal premise due to changes that have occurred in the brain
  8. The amazing fact that if you are the carrier of a certain set of genes, your probability of committing a violent crime skyrockets
  9. The role that pathogens (disease producers, such as bacteria and viruses) play in determining our individual behaviors in life, whether they are chemical (e.g., substance abuse by one’s mother during pregnancy) or behavioral (e.g., head injury)
  10. “Knowing yourself now requires that your understanding of the conscious you occupies only a small room in the mansion of your brain, and that it has little control over the reality constructed for you.”

Eagleman’s book is fascinating, fun, and hopeful about the study of the brain (neuroscience). As he says, "we are our brains" and that our problems are essentially brain problems that can be addressed and solved as such. You can watch him by clicking  here lecturing about the brain, how we actually perceive the world, and "Reality and its Future."

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