If the conscious mind—the part you consider to be you—is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?
In this sparkling and provocative new book, the 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?
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: May 2011
From the book
There's Someone In My Head, But It's Not Me
Take a close look at yourself in the mirror. Beneath your dashing good looks churns a hidden universe of networked machinery. The machinery includes a sophisticated scaffolding of interlocking bones, a netting of sinewy muscles, a good deal of specialized fluid, and a collaboration of internal organs chugging away in darkness to keep you alive. A sheet of high-tech self-healing sensory material that we call skin seamlessly covers your machinery in a pleasing package.
And then there's your brain. Three pounds of the most complex material we've discovered in the universe. This is the mission control center that drives the whole operation, gathering dispatches through small portals in the armored bunker of the skull.
Your brain is built of cells called neurons and glia--hundreds of billions of them. Each one of these cells is as complicated as a city. And each one contains the entire human genome and traffics billions of molecules in intricate economies. Each cell sends electrical pulses to other cells, up to hundreds of times per second. If you represented each of these trillions and trillions of pulses in your brain by a single photon of light, the combined output would be blinding.
The cells are connected to one another in a network of such staggering complexity that it bankrupts human language and necessitates new strains of mathematics. A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighboring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
The three-pound organ in your skull--with its pink consistency of Jell-o--is an alien kind of computational material. It is composed of miniaturized, self-configuring parts, and it vastly outstrips anything we've dreamt of building. So if you ever feel lazy or dull, take heart: you're the busiest, brightest thing on the planet.
Ours is an incredible story. As far as anyone can tell, we're the only system on the planet so complex that we've thrown ourselves headlong into the game of deciphering our own programming language. Imagine that your desktop computer began to control its own peripheral devices, removed its own cover, and pointed its webcam at its own circuitry. That's us.
And what we've discovered by peering into the skull ranks among the most significant intellectual developments of our species: the recognition that the innumerable facets of our behavior, thoughts, and experience are inseparably yoked to a vast, wet, chemicalelectrical network called the nervous system. The machinery is utterly alien to us, and yet, somehow, it is us.
THE TREMENDOUS MAGIC
In 1949, Arthur Alberts traveled from his home in Yonkers, New York, to villages between the Gold Coast and Timbuktu in West Africa. He brought his wife, a camera, a jeep, and--because of his love of music--a jeep-powered tape recorder. Wanting to open the ears of the western world, he recorded some of the most important music ever to come out of Africa. But Alberts ran into social troubles while using the tape recorder. One West African native heard his voice played back and accused Alberts of "stealing his tongue." Alberts only narrowly averted being pummeled by taking out a mirror and convincing the man that his tongue was still intact.
It's not difficult to see why the natives found the tape recorder so counterintuitive. A vocalization seems ephemeral and ineffable: it is like opening a bag of feathers which scatter on the breeze and can never be retrieved. Voices are weightless and...
"A stunning exploration of the 'we' behind the 'I'. Eagleman reveals, with his typical grace and eloquence, all the neural magic tricks behind the cognitive illusion we call reality." - Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
"Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness." - New Yorker
"Your mind is an elaborate trick, and mastermind David Eagleman explains how the trick works with great lucidity and amazement. Your mind will thank you." - Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine
"A fun read by a smart person for smart people...it will attract a new generation to ponder their inner workings." - New Scientist
"Written in clear, precise language, the book is sure to appeal to readers with an interest in psychology and the human mind, but it will also please people who just want to know, with a little more clarity, what is going on inside their own skulls." - Booklist
"Original and provocative...Incognito is a smart, captivating book that will give you a prefrontal workout." - Nature
"Incognito is fun to read, full of neat factoids and clever experiments...Eagleman says he's looking to do for neuroscience what Carl Sagan did for astrophysics, and he's already on his way." - Texas Monthly
"Although Incognito is face-paced, mind-bending stuff, it's a book for regular folks. Eagleman does a brilliant job refining heavy science into a compelling read. He is a gifted writer." - -Houston Chronicle
"A popularizer of impressive gusto...[Eagleman] aims, grandly, to do for the study of the mind what Copernicus did for the study of the stars." - New York Observer
"The journey to the heart of neurological darkness is also a kind of safari, and we spend a lot of time taking in the marvelous birds...Incognito proposes a grand new account of the relationship between consciousness and the brain. It is full of dazzling ideas, as it is chockablock with facts and instances." - The New York Observer
"Incognito does the right thing by diving straight into the deep end and trying to swim. Eagleman, by imagining the future so vividly, puts into relief just how challenging neuroscience is, and will be." - Boston Globe
"Appealing and persuasive." - Wall Street Journal
"Eagleman has a nice way with anecdotes and explanations...delightful." - The Observer's Very Short List
"Eagleman presents difficult neuroscience concepts in an energetic, casual voice with plenty of analogies and examples to ensure that what could easily be an overwhelming catalog of facts remains engaging and accessible...the ideas in Eagleman's book are well-articulated and entertaining, elucidated with the intelligent, casual tone of an enthusiastic university lecturer." - The Millions
"A fascinating, dynamic, faceted look under the hood of the conscious mind...Equal parts entertaining and illuminating, the case studies, examples and insights in Incognito are more than mere talking points to impressed at the next dinner party, poised instead to radically shift your understanding of the world, other people, and your own mind." - Brain Pickings
"Eagleman engagingly sums up recent discoveries about the unconscious processes that dominate our mental life." - The New York Times Book Review
"Fascinating...Eagleman has the ability to turn hard science and jargon into interesting and relatable prose, illuminating the mind's processes with clever analogies and metaphors." - Salt Lake City Weekly
"A great beach read." - Philadelphia City Paper