Book Review: ‘Incognito: Secret Lives of the Brain’ by David Eagleman – Mind-bending causer of tube-based embarrassment

When should you read this book? Somewhere private, so when you do all the weird and wonderful experiments in the book you don’t look like a loon. Or, if you’re like me, you could just read it on the tube.

Where there’s a will there’s a brain

Incognito is a non-fiction book written by a neuroscientist. So far, so dry – but luckily the author’s style makes for a very accessible read.

And quite a scary one.

The thesis of the book is that free will might actually be an illusion, based on the amount of activity that goes on in the brain from which the conscious mind is totally excluded.

In fact, there might not be any flexibility in what you think at all.

In one memorable moment, Eagleman recounts an experiment in which a subject is told to raise their finger, but indicate by speaking when they decide to do it.

As you might expect there’s a gap between the speaking and the finger raising (in terms of neuroscience – to us common muppets there would be no delay). However, your brain indicates movement activity up to a second before you’ve decided to speak!!!

MIND. BLOWN.

(Mad) girl on the train

I read some of this on my commute, which attracted some attention; Incognito is most definitely an interactive book.

By which I mean: Eagleman makes statements about the brain which you refuse to believe until you’ve done his experiment and proved it to yourself.

And then… everything starts to seem… unreal… who are we? Where are we? DOES THE SPINNING TOP FALL OVER OR NOT?!?!

I had a few of these moments on the tube, for example bringing my kindle closer to and further away from my left eye, to identify the blind spot where my brain was making up what it thought I should be seeing.

Yes, you all have a blind spot in both of your eyes. And your brain just invents what it thinks should be there, like that cool brush tool on Photoshop.

If you don’t believe me buy the book and prepare to question everything you know.

Representation of electric signals in the brain

Sounds a little hard going…

It’s really not – Incognito is really easy to read. And it’s pure surprise and delight in a neat yellow package.

You may baulk at the idea of reading a book on neuroscience, but I would urge you to do it. It may change the way you think forever.

Or maybe it won’t. Maybe your brain has already decided to change the way it thinks by choosing to buy the book and before that deciding to go to the bookshop and before that reading this blog and before -**EXPLODES**

light 8_10

Next up: ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng

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