Book Review on David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

The famous David Hume’s representation of the mind as the theater expresses the salient philosophical argument that there is no such thing as an enduring self or the unchanging, persistent identity throughout one’s life changes. A few centuries later, David Eagleman’s neuroscience perspective reiterates the same concept with more confidence and scientific evidence.

According to Eagleman, the mind is a parliament of coexisting incognito “youse,” where by which the brain synaptic pathways along with underlying zombie systems (subconscious, genetics, and chemical structures) are choosing one from the group of incognito actors to the piloted life ride. Despite all of the parliament voices and actors in one’s head, neuroscience still insists on existing deterministic brain wiring to be the most observable and therefore, the most important aspect of the scientific data collection; for example, the frontal lobe damage results in losing a moral compass. Besides the underlying determinism, neural transmissions also exhibit leaps and jumps in their quantum level of functioning, which also makes neuroscience an appealing interdisciplinary field of study.

Eagleman’s book is a great read giving everyone interested in science, the discourse on the personhood, and identity construction various perspectives on why contemporary neuroscience is necessary to complement modern medical, social sciences, and Humanities, and thus become a part of our awareness nowadays.

The “Incognito” read is a wild, changing highway lines, ride:
1) one can learn that the neuroscientists today can substitute one sensory system with another –like seeing with a tongue–by using proper scientific, technological, and engineering skills;
2) that our mind is able to change paths unexpectedly;
3) that one hides so many competing roles inside the brain, which could be triggered momentarily;
4) or that one could just sleepwalk to a new love not knowing why, but the brain’s inside double, the host, leads a person in love straight to that finish line.

The biggest value of this book is the ethical perspective in explaining that the contemporary legal system should depart from “blameworthiness and guilt” inflicted onto sudden offenders whose behaviors exhibit extreme flights from normality–from sexual obscurities to the killing of others. The application of the law is necessary, says Eagleman, but he also stresses that the use of the neuroscience approaches along with the punishment might rehabilitate a person’s mind while in the prison system.

Highly suggest to go for the “Incognito” ride–you will be entertained, educated, and surprised with the author’s creative writing style, which this review tends to slightly replicate.

Originally published September 25, 2012:


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