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
Peter from the National Coalition Against Censorship writes, “Some say book banning isn’t even a problem anymore, so we should ditch Banned Books Week altogether. That’s a terrible idea.”
Kate in Dorchester, England makes gorgeous brass wrist-cuffs decorated with vintage literary, cartographic and scientific imagery: there’s Poe’s Raven; the periodic table; anatomical dentistry drawings; Newton’s laws of motion; the human spine; a map of the Thames and the Tower of London; a tape-measure; the human foot’s bones; and headlines from Jack the Ripper’s killings […]
You know, every once in a while you run into a real gem on Amazon. A self-published work by an “outsider” author who must also function as their own publisher. When you find a gem like that, you drop to your damn knees and thank Jeff Bezos for creating a space where this sort of […]
Power up your gadgets in the most unexpected places with the extremely compact SolarJuice battery pack. SolarJuice charges up at home like your average battery pack, but also lets you add extra juice on-the-go using its built-in solar panel—so you’ll never be left unplugged from the digital world.4.5 Stars on Amazon!Simultaneously charges 2 devices at […]
Hold your camera to higher standards with the brand-new iBlazr 2, the most advanced LED flash to date. Simply attach to your smartphone, tablet, or DSLR camera. Conveniently sized and wireless, this premium flash will let you easily take amazing photos in low light situations. It’s a literal snap to use: simply attach to your […]
Moment of truth: Is “Microsoft Office Expert” on your resume, but not totally accurate? This pay what you want bundle will not only help you brush up on old skills, but teach you advanced techniques that will impress your current and future boss. From intricate Excel formulas to Outlook organization hacks, you’ll not only boost […]