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Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

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3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  10,202 ratings  ·  932 reviews
If the conscious mind - the part you consider you - is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?

In this sparkling and provocative new book, renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman navigates the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate surprising mysteries: Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead?...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Pantheon Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Special K
*I am required to disclose that I received this book as a freebie from the Goodreads first reads giveaway program, but don't worry, this doesn't obligate me to say only good things.

Though I give the book four stars and have already recommended it to more people than any book I've ever read, I would strongly disagree with the first reviewer that the book is an "engaging romp" or "fun".
The book is, and should be, profoundly unsettling, though for reasons which make it all the more important to con...more
Robyn
Let me start with the easy stuff. On a literary note, this book is entertaining. However, it reads more like a series of interesting essays on neuroscience rather than a book.

Let me move on to the more interesting stuff. This book is deceptive. Eagleman uses a "slight of hand" writing style. Just as he describes how magic tricks deceive the brain, Eagleman uses this entertaining little book to advocate for a social and justice system that disregards civil rights.

How does he do this? He strings...more
Elliot
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, David Eagleman's latest book, begins with a brief recap of some of the catchiest experiments in neuroscience of the past 50 years or so. Unfortunately, I was familiar with most of the data he discussed, and had seen a number of experiments discussed more interestingly in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink (which is a bad book, but so wonderfully written!). Unlike Blink, however, Incognito will tickle the brain towards some pretty important conclusions:

1) First, Ea...more
Carolyn Lane
Neuroscientists need to be pretty smart people. Even smarter is the neuroscientist who can produce writing which is attractive and appealing to our less-informed minds. David Eagleman can.

Incognito is a wide-ranging and entertaining look at the development of our thinking about thinking, and the current state of brain-science. He covers
• how and why we have practically no conscious knowledge of what’s going on in the incredibly complex machinery of our brains, and why the “chief executive” (ou...more
Trevor
This was a much better book than I thought it was going to be and a much better book than you might think from even flicking through it. You know, there are cartoons and while this isn't a guaranteed sign that things will be bad, it is the next best thing to a guarantee.

And I listened to this as a talking book - and the author reads the book. This, too, is generally a mistake. But he did a reasonable job even here, although, to be honest, I think he would have been better served with a professio...more
M0rningstar
May 21, 2011 M0rningstar rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Ever land on a question in the Never-Ending Book Quiz about a book that you've read but remember very little of? Ever find that, despite drawing a blank on the multiple choice answers, you usually get it right if you just go with the first choice that pops into your head? Ever wonder why? Then this book is for you.

Incognito is an engaging and eye-opening romp through fundamental questions related to human consciousness, perception, and free will, as seen through the lens of neuroscientific resea...more
Taylor
It's the same-old, same-old (if you've ever read a book about the brain) for the first 75%, and then some new stuff about how neuroscience can and should change the criminal justice system in the last part. I did like this comparison: finding out that we don't have as much control over ourselves as we thought we did is like astronomers discovering that the earth was not the center of the universe. It shouldn't depress us; it should invigorate further study. Not too much to apply to teaching in t...more
Lis
Another hard one to review. If I were going by the first few chapters, it would have been not only five stars, but one of my personal 'Best Books of 2011'. However, in the last two thirds the content took a nose dive into absurdity. The author first attempts to prove that we have no free will, because much of our behavior is ruled by the subconscious. Um...last time I checked, my subconscious was still *me*. Then, the author puts forward a case that because criminals do bad things, they are clea...more
Jaylia3
This very interesting and thought provoking book by neuroscientist David Eagleman is a little disorienting. After all, based on the numerous observations and scientific experiments he details Eagleman’s conclusion is that we have no freewill. I may think I am considering options, making decisions, and choosing, for instance, what book to read, but according to scientists who study these things I am not in charge, if by “I” what I mean is the “I” that I know--my conscious mind. It’s not surprisin...more
Vegantrav
Do you believe in libertarian free will or Cartesian dualism? If so, David Eagleman’s Incognito will radically challenge your beliefs.

Incognito is probably the best work of nonfiction that I have read this year (2011), and it is also one of the best books on neuroscience that I have read in quite some time. Some of the material here has been presented elsewhere (if you have read works on neuroscience or consciousness by scientists and philosophers like Antonio Damasio, V. S. Ramachandran, Joseph...more
Myth
Disclaimer: I have not actually finished this book and do not know if I will.

As someone who's very interested in neurology this book does have it's good moments, but they're largely eclipsed by a bunch of dumbing down.

I don't blame Eagleman, I know it's people in the publishing industry who probably pushed this book to be like this. Following is my reaction to each element I found annoying. There's a summary at the end.

Dumbing it down: Too much repetition and unnecessary metaphors. I do not kn...more
keith koenigsberg
The first downfall of this book is, it is Malcolm Gladwellian in construction. The author pulls in anecdotes and creates his own analogies from "common sense" to make his point. After a while, you get the sense that he is just using the stories and studies which suit his purposes, and leaving the rest out. Very anecdotal. A quick look online and I found a few of his scientific assertions to be half-truths at best. What a shame.

The second downfall is that the author isn't half the writer that Mal...more
Martha Love
Eagleman raises more questions about the human condition than answers and I find this delightful. I am giving this book a 5 star rating because I think he did a superior job of citing and giving his opinions of the research in neuroscience at the time of the writing of it and because he intrigues my own mind to explore his ideas further.

I particularly like what Eagleman has to say about the enteric nervous system and it's importance as an example of running as a human system that is not regulat...more
Dennis
I was disappointed. I had expected more hard science and more detailed medical and biological evidence. The author chose to stay with big ideas such as the inability of persons with certain medical conditions to control their behavior. The primary hard evidence that he gives against the proposition that we have free will is the Libet experiments from the 1970's. These experiments show that brain potentials rise before we are consciously aware of them and that our responses are likely the result...more
Cheryl in CC NV
I've been sitting on this for a couple of weeks, thinking about how deep a review I want to give it. I've decided not too much.
GR reviewer Elliot does the most fantastic job - read his.

I'll first address a couple of points I see in other reviews. Yes, it is much like many other psychology and neuroscience books - but it's one of the most up-to-date and accessible ones available right now, so if you're new to the field, start here.

Yes, he does have a chapter about the criminal justice system, bu...more
Shaun
Synethesia, in it dozens of varieties, highlights the amazing differences in how individuals subjectively see the world, reminding us that each brain uniquely determines what it perceives, or is capable of perceiving. This fact brings us back to our main point here--namely, that reality is far more subjective than is commonly supposed. Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it.
.

I have nurtured an ongoing interest in the biological basis for behav...more
John
Imagine a person riding an elephant, nudging it along and sometimes unable to stop the movement and direction of the elephant. Who is the stronger of the two? The elephant. Can the rider direct the elephant? Sometimes. Some people analogize the conscious mind to that rider and the unconscious mind to the elephant.

Incognito states this concept more elegantly, "Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive e...more
Janice
A wonderful, engrossing book. Just a smattering of stuff I learned: People more often get married to others with the same first letter of their first name than would be expected by chance. (It's called implicit egotism.) Women's cycles don't really become synchronized when they live together, sorry, sitcom writers. The illusion-of-truth effect means you're more likely to believe that a statement is true if you've heard it before, even if you're told the statement is false. Julian Jaynes' 1976 th...more
Derek
This book was excellent. I thought it was well written, left out a lot of advanced topics and medical terminology for parts of the brain and really explained what's going on.

I feel there is a lot of basic psychology information in this book, but none of it I was familiar with. I was able to read and understand every page of this book, and I even had moments of goosebumps and laughter when it brought certain things to my attention that I thought about but could never really ponder it. This explai...more
Marc Kozak
Jul 17, 2013 Marc Kozak rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marc by: NPR
Shelves: bill-nye
Did I really have any choice in writing this review? Was I always going to?

Is there something embedded in my genes that determined I would not only enjoy the act of reading books, but be tremendously curious how about my brain works as well? What aspects of my childhood environment played a subtle part in shaping my introspective being, leading me to ponder what it means to have a consciousness? How much of the act of typing these letters is under my conscious control, and are there parts of my...more
Michael
David Eagleman's Incognito sets itself as a book which attempts to illuminate the unconscious workings of the inner mind, how perceptions form the world around us and the underpinnings of perception itself. Given Eagleman's background and current scientific status as an active researcher in the science of vision and perception I had expected a book much like Jospeh LeDoux's Synaptic Self; that is a book which gives not only a thorough historical perspective of the subject but a strong explanatio...more
Cheryl Gatling
The more I read this book, the less I liked it. He starts out by talking about how many brain processes function automatically, without our conscious self being aware of it, or having control over it. I enjoyed reading the summaries of interesting research studies, and the tales of people who were brain-damaged in different ways. But all of this leads up to a discussion of how we should reform the justice system. He writes, and I quote, that "criminals should always be treated as incapable of ha...more
Book
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

"Incognito" is a fascinating look into our brain and the secrets that it reveals. It's a wonderful book that covers recent findings of mainly the unconscious processes of our brains. Neuroscientist and best-selling author, David Eagleman takes the reader on a journey of discovery of our brains; an enjoyable and enlightening ride that makes the young field of neuroscience fun and informative. This instructive 304-page book is composed of...more
Egypt Scholars Scholars
كتابنا لهذا اليوم لعالم الأعصاب ديفد إيجلمان، و هو بعنوان:

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

و هو رحلةٌ حقيقيةٌ مليئةٌ بالتشويق و الإثارة يسبر فيها الكاتب أغوار الدماغ و يتجول بين جنبات و ثنايا المخ و يغوص في بحر أسراره المدهشة.

يقرر الكاتب في أول صفحة من الكتاب أن مخ الإنسان - الذي لا يتجاوز وزنه الكيلو و النصف- يعد أعقد و أعجب و أغرب كيان تم اكتشافه في الكون، و يبرر الكاتب هذا الوصف بما في المخ من بناء متراكب معقد يتألف من ملايين ملايين الخلايا و العقد و الروابط العصبية.

و بعد عرض مختصر ل...more
Kater Cheek
INCOGNITO is at its heart, a pop science book about neurology. I saw this in the bookstore and pegged it as interesting, but didn't realize I'd read something else by this author until holding the book in my hands. Eagleman is the author of the fiction collection SUM: Forty Tales of the Afterlife, which I have also read and reviewed.

Since I've read more than one book about neurology, and more than one pop science book, I was pessimistic that Eagleman would offer insights I hadn't already encount...more
Loy Machedo
Loy Machedo’s Book Review – Incognito by David Eagleman

1. Why does your foot hit the break pedal before you are conscious of danger ahead?
2. Why do you hear your name in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to?
3. Why is a person whose name begins with J more likely to marry another person whose name begins with J?
4. Why is it so difficult to keep a secret?
5. How is it possible to get angry at yourself: who, exactly is mad at whom?
6. Are some marriage partners more likely to ch...more
Maarten
Blew my mind (on many levels)...

I will not attempt to write a long review for this. The content Eagleman presents to us in this book is far too beautifully complicated, yet contageously communicated.

I'd say everyone with a higher than average introspective urge will be drawn to this book from the first pages on. It will question all you thought you knew about your well-molded behaviour over the years and the principles you set, those things you would mention to define 'you'.
It is rather depressi...more
Ms.pegasus
Aug 27, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in psychology
Welcome to Neuroscience 100 ... One can imagine Professor Eagleman standing in a lecture hall of freshman students delivering lectures from the chapters of this book. We learn about the importance of unconscious neural activity, beginning with the elementary process of sight. Drawing on experiments with optical illusions, eye movements, and observations, Eagleman demonstrates the brain's role as a interpreter of visual input. One of his most interesting examples is of a subject who was blinded a...more
Mark
At the end of this book, David Eagleman says "This book was written over the course of a few years by several different people, all of whom were named David Eagleman, but who were somewhat different with each passing hour."

This isn't just a clever allusion to his growth as a person, but a restatement of a fundamental premise of this book -- that our mental lives are made up of many subparts, most of which are inaccessible to us (thus the title). This is a theme that has been sounded in other pop...more
Ibrahim Ahmed
جميل ان تقرأ كتاباً يتحدث عن الدماغ وبلغة علمية بسيطة يسهل فهمه للقارئ الغير مختص، يركز هذا الكتاب على مكونات ودور الدماغ على طبيعة اللاشعور وتأثيره في السلوك البشري، في عالمنا العربي نحتاج لمثل هذه الكتب لرفع مستوى الوعي بدور الدماغ في سلوكيات الإنسان أو بعض الأمراض التي يربطها الناس عادةً بمس الجن ، وكما ذكر المترجم في المقدمة عن أهيمة الاطلاع على آخر ما توصلت إليه الإبحاث العلمية لما يتصل بالقضايا التي يهتم بها المسلمين مثل مسألة الرؤية البصرية للهلال ولا يمكن الوثوق بالعين البشرية ثقة مطلقة...more
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Book Nerds: Sept/Oct Book Selection 4 3 Oct 06, 2014 08:28PM  
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David Eagleman is a neuroscientist, a New York Times bestselling author, and a Guggenheim Fellow. During the day he runs a neuroscience research laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. At night he writes. His books have been translated into 23 languages.
More about David Eagleman...
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization Livewired: How the Brain Rewrites its Own Circuitry Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia 40

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“Imagine for a moment that we are nothing but the product of billions of years of molecules coming together and ratcheting up through natural selection, that we are composed only of highways of fluids and chemicals sliding along roadways within billions of dancing cells, that trillions of synaptic conversations hum in parallel, that this vast egglike fabric of micron-thin circuitry runs algorithms undreamt of in modern science, and that these neural programs give rise to our decision making, loves, desires, fears, and aspirations. To me, that understanding would be a numinous experience, better than anything ever proposed in anyone's holy text.” 30 likes
“Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it.” 16 likes
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