Many years ago I watched a standup comic on television explain that the President of the United States has no more control over the country than the bulldog hood ornament on a Mack Truck has in controlling where the truck goes. He was exaggerating but he had a point.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has a similar argument about the human brain. Our conscious brain (our "I") is the tiny chrome bulldog, while our non-conscious brain is doing the driving. His highly-readable pop science book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, offers dozens of persuasive examples to support the idea that our conscious brain is at the tip of our behavioral iceberg.
Here's a few questions Eagleman asks in Incognito:
Why can your foot jump halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Why do strippers make more money at certain times of month, even while no one is consciously aware of their fertility level? Is there a true Mel Gibson? What do Odysseus and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common? How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war? Why are people whose name begins with J more likely to marry other people whose name begins with J? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? Why did Supreme Court Justice William Douglas deny that he was paralyzed?
Eagleman's answer to all of these questions is that the non-conscious brain is made up of many signal processors, honed by eons of evolution, that compete and cooperate with each other to make decisions that eventually make their way to the tip of the cognitive iceberg, where the "I" takes credit.
I think Eagleman is probably right, but I'm also the kind of person who is easily persuaded by attractively presented arguments and Eagleman, who is an accomplished fiction writer (see Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives) is a good story teller, so that has to be figured into my feeling that he's onto something. In any case, this was one of the most entertaining books about the brain that I've read.
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
An interview with David Eagleman, neuroscientist
David Eagleman: We live in the past…literally
Comic adaptation of David Eagleman story about the afterlife
The fabulous Shelly Bond, former DC Vertigo editor and head honcho, just launched a kickstarter for an anthology called Femme Magnifique that she’s doing in conjunction with Kristy and Brian Miller at HiFi Color.
The Science Fiction Writers of America has released the ballot for this year’s Nebula awards, nominated for and voted upon by the organization’s members; the ballot lists novellas, short stories, novelettes, YA novels (the Andre Norton award), dramatic presentations (the Bradbury award), and novels — including two debut novels I reviewed in 2016: Nisi Shawl’s […]
An excellent excerpt from Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz’s The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy on Motherboard explains how Section 1201 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act — which bans tampering with or bypassing DRM, even for legal reasons — has allowed corporations to design their products so that using […]
Making people aware of goods and services in the digital age requires an array of new strategies from social media and email to number-crunching tools like Google Analytics. To get a handle on the techniques used to capture attention and convert traffic into dollars in a crowded online environment, the Full-Stack Marketer Bundle offers 22 hours of training to get […]
Having a luxurious bed isn’t just a fairy tale from a catalog; it is a real, affordable possibility with offerings like this Olive+Owen bedroom set. If you’re thinking of doing some “spring cleaning”, this bed set is an easy way to completely upgrade your room in one purchase.This 20-piece collection has all of the expected slumberland elements, […]
Python is immensely popular in the data science world for the same reason it is in most other areas of computing—it has highly readable syntax and is suitable for anything from short scripts to massive web services. One of its most exciting, newest applications, however, is in machine learning. You can dive into this booming […]