Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman 
submitted by Caren

David Eagleman, who is scheduled to speak at the Main location of the Louisville Free Public Library on July 19th , is quite an interesting man. As an undergrad at Rice University, he studied British and American literature and thought of becoming a writer. After his sophomore year, he took a sabbatical from his education and volunteered in the Israeli army. Afterwards, he spent a semester at Oxford studying political science and literature, and then moved to Los Angeles to work as a screen writer and standup comedian. Eventually, he earned a PhD in neuroscience and now directs a lab at Baylor College of Medicine.

I have been thinking about Incognito for days after having finished it. There are so many fascinating ideas to ponder. He begins by saying that your consciousness makes up only a tiny part of your brain. Most of your brain functions on autopilot and you are unaware of what is going on in there. How you function, who you are really, is dependent on many factors entirely outside of your control. He notes that psychologists think of the brain as having dual controls: reason and emotion. The ancient Greeks also held this opinion, saying that you are a charioteer, trying to stay centered, in a vehicle pulled by the white horse of reason and the black horse of passion. Eagleman posits that there are probably many more than two systems of control. He says the brain is a ďteam of rivalsĒ.

Eaglemanís fascination with the brain began early. When he was eight years old, he fell from the roof of a house being built in his neighborhood. He still remembers that time seemed to slow down as he fell, to the point that he even remembers the thought coming to him as he fell, that this is how Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole. He has since spent a lot of time studying the brainís perception of time. He says that, when your life is threatened, your amygdala becomes very active, recording every detail, which makes time seem to slow down. The more detail the brain records, the longer the moment seems to last. This is also an explanation for the way in which time seems to speed up to the aged, while time seems to move slowly to a child. An older person has so much experience with the world, he no longer needs to note and record the number of details about life that a child does. All of this is to say that time, along with many other of our perceptions, is largely a construct of our own minds.

Read this book and marvel at the intricate interplay of cells, hormones, chemicals, and impulses that make up you. And one last note: while youíre at it, pick up David Eaglemanís highly acclaimed piece of fiction, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, which consists of a series of thought experiments about different possibilities that could await us at the end of this life.


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