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Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  27,936 ratings  ·  1,911 reviews
If the conscious mind—the part you consider you—accounts for only a tiny fraction of the brain’s function, what is all the rest doing? This is the question that David Eagleman—renowned neuroscientist and acclaimed author of Sum—answers in a book as accessible and entertaining as it is deeply informed by startling, up-to-the-minute research.
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published May 31st 2011 by Pantheon
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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 ·  27,936 ratings  ·  1,911 reviews

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Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
5★ from both sides of my brain
The only David Eagleman book I’d read was my favourite book, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, a collection of extremely short extremely thought-provoking stories. So I really wasn’t sure what to expect from a book from his “day job” as a neuroscientist. I needn’t have worried.

While this is a non-fiction book about the biology of the brain, it is just as intriguingly thought-provoking as Sum. There are footnotes and an extensive reference list and index, for th
Petra X living life blissfully,not through books!
What intrigued me about this book were some of the questions it is going to answer: why is your foot on the brake faster than your brain at seeing danger? Why, no matter where your attention might be, you can always hear your name mentioned in a conversation even if you weren't involved in it? How can you get angry with yourself? Who is upset with whom? I'd never even thought of these things, let alone that that the answers were neurological. ...more
Manuel Antão
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Superstrings vs. The Brain: "Incognito - The Secret Lives of the Brain" by David Eagleman

"Experimentation and transformation in both art and science spring from the same root - to understand, to encapsulate the world. This is why I've ever found reductionism (and scientism) drearily limiting and worthily pompous - that utilitarian speculation over what art 'is for', that misapprehension of art as a kind of elaborate trickery, only read
May 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*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
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read! What a fascinating book. Not only full of interesting ideas, but also hugely readable.

It's a mouthful, but relevant, to mention that the author is director of Baylor College of Medicine's Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, at Stanford University.

As the book progresses, it can be seen as an argument for assessing and handling criminals differently. Eagleman thinks we should pay much more attention to the physical and psychological factors which may influence individual crim
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Dave Cullen
Incognito is incredibly fascinating. I never tire of reading about the brain, an organ so complex that I doubt scientists will ever fully understand it. The book is packed with some the most astounding facts I've ever read, most of which I'd never heard of before or even considered. My favorite brain fact is in this book, still, years after I read Incognito and after reading other brain books.

The topic has the potential to be textbook-like, but readers shouldn't be scared of Incognito. Eagleman
Apr 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology, science
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
Carolyn Lane
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Alisa Kester
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Isil Arican
Mar 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Very simply narrated neuroscience book that explains some of the interesting neuroscientific phenomena. The writer has a easy to read style with many examples, and even though he does not go deep, he tells a lot about interesting things surrounding cognitive science. If I was a new reader to the area, probably I would have liked the book better and would give more stars. However, it was not very fulfilling for me, since I read a lot about on the same subject, and some of them were much better an ...more
Daniel Chaikin
Mar 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-favorites
One of the most enjoyable audio books I've listened to. Eagleman has me thinking about the mysterious and various parts of the brain, about how slow and inefficient our consciousness is and about how much goes on unconsciously, deep in the brain, and about all the odd things that happen to people because of tumors, strokes and brain injuries, and about how complex the brain is, and about how little we understand it (his analogy is that it is like studying earth from orbit in space).

He has anothe
Sublime. Absolutely Sublime.

I've said it time and time again that an outstanding book is one that leaves me speechless with incomprehensible gibberish being the only sounds you hear. After all, how can I summarize what is already so eloquently told by the book itself? It's an experience you must go through yourself.

Most of us are aware that our brain can be split simply into two parts; the conscious and the unconscious. But beyond that, do we consider anything? Do we even care? Surely the most
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
29 Оct 2014: Just finished editing the Bulgarian translation. My inner selves--as is their wont at the end of a road--are still in a jumble. A more coherent review coming soon. ;)

What I'd like to note right now is: this is another book I highly recommend to scientists and laymen alike. If you've ever struggled with questions such as "Telepathy? What do you mean, reading my mind? Am I supposed to have only one of them?" or "So who is the real me? The one who passionately believes in ahimsa and no
Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Cassandra Kay Silva
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow what a surprise this one was! A must read!
Feb 11, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Farha Crystal
Jul 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: david-eagleman
Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Why do you hear your name being mentioned in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? How is it possible to get angry at yourself—who, exactly, is mad at whom? :D

Mr. Eagleman shows through examples how often our behavior is regulated by factors we don’t control. And, the answer to "Who/ What am I?" is a never-ending search process unti
Mar 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuroscience
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
Dec 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, biology
This book starts off with a really poor introduction. Poor, because it tries too hard, is hyperbolic, and contains two glaring errors!

More on those later. The book runs the gambit of freshman-level psychology with the Freud, the subconscious, chicken sexing (not as dirty as it sounds), priming, synesthesia, etc. It introduces a theory of mind based on a team of rivals, which is pretty neat.

The author puts in his two cents on the justice system. He calls for less emphasis on modifiability rather
Martha Love
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
This was very enlightening - and I don’t think I’ll be able to think the same way about driving, or making choices, or anything I do or think again! I’ve mentioned this book in several conversations I’ve had with people recently, but now that I’m sitting down to write a review, I’m not sure that I can actually put my finger on exactly what I liked about this book - there was so much to take in, that a brief review can hardly do it justice.

Some of the things I thought were especially interesting
Lynne King
Jan 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disappointed
I'm fascinated with anything to do with the brain and this was recommended to me. So when I saw all the reviews and that it was a New York Times best seller, I thought this has got to be good and immediately ordered the book.

I soon discovered I just didn't like the style of writing, the way in which the subject was explained, skim-read looking for something really good to catch my interest, found very little, and sailed through to the end of the book at page 254.

What did interest me though were
Jun 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incognito by David Eagleman shows us how the human mind works at a deeper level. The author is a neuroscientist and a professor at Stanford University. Though the book has been written for the general reader, it is more than a 'pop-neuroscience' book. He raises interesting as well as disturbing questions about crime, punishment, the organization of society and 'the myth of human equality'. There are quite a few insights to glean from it:

• Our conscious mind is only aware of a tiny fraction of wh
Loy Machedo
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Sep 28, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is mostly a very readable account of some of the standard weird things your brain does, but it does contain a very valuable discussion of a serious nature, too. David Eagleman shows through examples how often our behaviour is ruled by factors we don’t control — things in our brain that we may not even know about, but which nonetheless change us. And of course that poses a big question when it comes to criminal behaviour: can we be blamed for “choosing” to do something when we only “cho ...more
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David Eagleman is an internationally bestselling author, a TED speaker, and a Guggenheim Fellow. He teaches neuroscience at Stanford University and is CEO of a neurotech startup, Neosensory. At night he writes. His books have been translated into 33 languages.

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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.” 81 likes
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