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

4.4 out of 5 stars 460 customer reviews

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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.
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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: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (460 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,814,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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? )
It isn't often that I will refer to a non-fiction, "pop" science, book as a page turner, but this one is. I enjoyed absolutely every chapter and, like a good novel, really hated to see it end.

Is it narcissistic for humans to be fascinated by the study of our own minds? Probably. But let's face it. The human mind is REALLY interesting, even if we do have to say so ourselves. And David Engleman makes this topic easy to understand with plenty of real-life examples interwoven with the scientific study. Some of the conclusions are expected, some are shocking, and some are important enough to change social policy (if we believe them). This is the print equivalent of a great episode of NOVA. When it's over, you've been entertained, but more importantly, you've learned something. And for those of us who love to read, doesn't that simple desire lay hidden at the base of each reading selection we make?

If you want to really dig deeper into the scientific studies themselves, a comprehensive bibliography is included at the end of the book. You can continue to research to your heart's content by tracking down his source material and reading it for yourself.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. I highly recommend it.
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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"I think - therefor I am" said Descartes. Each one of us is much more than what we can ever think - shows David Eagleman in this fascinating book - Incognito. Not only that, but it is amazing that we are aware only of a very small part of our brain. All of us strongly believe that we are in control of ourselves (at least most of the time) and so responsible for our actions. However our conscious self is more like the CEO of a large company that coordinates and supposedly directs the various divisions. The CEO may set the goals for the company, but he gets only a summary view of the situation and is seldom aware of the details. Similarly different sections of the brain work more or less independently - some through hard wired circuits that evolved over millions of years and others through culture and habits. We believe we are in charge but we are actually driven by what our brain (or more importantly different parts of our brain) perceives and tells us - surprisingly including what we see!

The ancients always exhorted us to understand ourselves - whether it is the Greek Delphi saying `Know Thyself' or the Indian upanishads with the cryptic `Thathwamasi' which can roughly translated to `That is you'. But they would have never expected the complexity that is in our brains. Fully understanding how the brain works is the holy grail for neuroscientists - however Mr.Eagleman explains how far away we are from this goal.

Our actions are driven by our brain and at the end of the day, the brain is only a set of neurons interacting through electrical and chemical signals. This is easily proven by the effects of various drugs on the brain and how it immediately affects what we think or do.
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