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Incognito: The Hidden Life of the Brain Hardcover – April 1, 2011


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Hardcover, April 1, 2011
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847679382
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847679383
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (327 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,307,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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"

About the Author

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Actions as well as the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. His scientific research is published in journals from Science to Nature, and his neuroscience books include Live-Wired: The Shapeshifting Plasticity of the Brain and Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia. He is also the author if an internationally bestselling book of fiction, Sum: Tales from the Afterlives.

More About the Author

I'm a neuroscientist during the day and a writer at night. As a believer in the endeavor of popular science, I travel frequently to give public lectures. It has been an incredible pleasure to meet warm, funny, like-minded readers everywhere I visit.

Customer Reviews

I have read Eagleman's book with great interest.
Karsten Koch
The more we understand how the brain works, the better understanding we will have about ourselves and society.
Book Shark
It is the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time.
Book Fan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,682 of 1,851 people found the following review helpful By whiteelephant on June 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps I shouldn't have read this book. I am a neuroscientist, and clearly this is meant for a lay audience, however I often enjoy such books for their concise synthesis of research and the freedom they give the author to speculate. Unfortunately it became clear quickly that this would not be such a book - p.19 announces that the author is from the Malcolm Gladwell school of nonfiction "Why was Topsy the elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1919? ... is there a real Mel Gibson? ... why do strippers make more money at certain times of month?" Ask intriguing questions, link them with vague explanations, file them under a catchy one-word title, and voila NY Times bestseller. While I have little doubt that this book will do well commercially and be enjoyed by many, I cannot recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in neuroscience.

While chapter two is a solid introduction to perception as inference, it is downhill from there. It becomes clear that Eagleman is not interested in any systematic review of the unconscious factors that influence our decisions, but is merely interested in presenting flashy examples. This by itself wouldn't be so objectionable, if he had actually come up with interesting and novel examples, instead of simply reciting old standards and cribbing from other authors. Eagleman has borrowed so much of his material that V.S. Ramachandran should demand royalties. However, Eagleman apparently hasn't read Ramachandran carefully enough, as he references his paper "Why do gentlemen prefer blondes?", apparently unaware that the paper was satirical. How embarrassing.

Eagleman attempts to go beyond the flashy examples in Chapter 5, declaring that the brain is a "team of rivals." This reference to D.K.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not only fascinating, but beautifully written. An example: "Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot" (pg 4). To anyone interested in the mind, it will be an illuminating read, because even if you have heard of some of the individual experiments mentioned in this book, this book pulls them all together into a revealing exploration of what the non-conscious part of the brain does, and how this all relates to aware consciousness.

As I read it, I feel like I am watching an excellent science documentary series. It is the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time. However, a caveat: cognitive science and artificial intelligence are some of my areas, so I do not know how interesting the book will be as a popular science book for the general audience.

The book contains some proposals, predictions, and speculations that are not yet borne out. It makes some strong claims about what consciousness is not, and how it emerges from the activities of the non-aware parts of brain activity. I find this interesting, but to some, this may detract. It certainly sets the stage for future work.

The one chapter that did not work so well was where he speculated on the legal system and how our notions of punishment should be altered as a consequence of things learned about neurology. It was less grounded and just contained a lot of hand waving.

There was an interesting profile of the author recently published in New Yorker magazine (April 25, 2011, p. 54-65). For me it made the book even richer by having first read the profile, to understand the interests, motivations, and background of the author. If you are interested in reading this book, you may enjoy reading the New Yorker profile first.
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222 of 263 people found the following review helpful By Bee VINE VOICE on April 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I thought I already knew quite a bit about neuroscience and human behavior, but I learned so much from this book that my mind is still reeling. While reading Incognito, I actually experienced the kind of spiraling mind-expansion that I haven't felt since...well...never mind....

The book, which is grounded in a massive amount of neuroscience research, is written in a conversational manner with lots of analogies and metaphors that make the information both accessible and retrievable. For example, consciousness is described as being like the CEO of a very large company, having little awareness of the details of day-to-day operation, responsible only for setting major goals and for adapting to major changes. While his metaphors become redundant at times (especially "team of rivals," a phrase repeated so often as to become irritating), the author is generally skilled at finding ways to explain complicated processes in a straightforward manner. He also creates opportunities for active engagement by providing optical illusions and mental exercises that help the reader actually experience some of the idiosyncrasies of the brain.

Since I had read some of the Amazon reviews before finishing the book, I was apprehensive about the penultimate chapter on the justice system and the concept of culpability. I thought the main point would be that nobody should be held culpable for misdeeds because so many of our actions are not under our control. But the author clearly states that "explanation does not equal exculpation." He does, however, suggest that although we don't currently have the scientific sophistication to find the biological underpinnings of all deviant behavior, we have learned enough to suggest that we will keep finding more explanations.
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