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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain - David Eagleman 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 surprising that drugs, alcohol, brain injury, and evolutionary forces exert power over us that we are not always aware of while it is going on, but according to the science Eagleman reports there is more to it than that. In an experiment in which people were asked to lift their fingers at the time of their choosing, the conscious brain impulse to move was preceded by unconscious brain activity. Is this proof that the conscious decision to move a finger is governed by the unconscious mind? I’m not sure. And if it is proof, would that carry over into every kind of decision? Does the unconscious mind really have invisible, almost god-like power over every thought and action?While I am not convinced that the freewill/determinism question has been fully answered--neuroscience is still a very young field of knowledge--the first five chapters of Incognito are full of fascinating, persuasive examples that demonstrate how the reality we perceive with our conscious minds bears sometimes only a rough resemblance to what is actually happening. When reading Incognito I frequently broke off to share these examples with whoever was around me. There are illustrations you can try yourself, for instance there is a graphic that allows you to prove to yourself that your eyes have a blind spot, a gap in vision that your unconscious brain fills in based on what is probably there. In the final chapters of Incognito Eagleman uses the latest information from brain science to draw logical but sometimes counterintuitive and unsettling conclusions about the future of the justice system. With little or no freewill, what should society do with criminals? Since the unconscious operates on a “team of rivals” model in which conflicting impulses struggle for control, Eagleman would have incarceration based on the neuroplasticity of the offender—that is on how likely it is that the criminal’s brain could respond to reconditioning techniques. Those who could be reconditioned so that they would no longer cause damage to society would be; those who couldn’t be reconditioned because of frontal lobe impairment or other brain defects would be warehoused. Even though neuroscience is still in its infancy there is a lot of riveting information here about how the brain works. You don’t have to agree with all the conclusions Eagleman draws in this book for it to be worth reading. Incognito is a great book for sparking deep and engaging discussions.