Book Review: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

Title: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
Author: David Eagleman
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1847679383
Genre: Non-Fiction
PP: 272 pages
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

An unremarkable looking man is walking by a bakery, looks through the window, breaks it with his fist, and grabs a chocolate éclair. As the offending hand draws the stolen éclair towards the horrified man’s mouth, his other hand grabs the arm with the éclair grasping hand and tries to force it back. It’s a ridiculous scenario, a man fighting with himself on a public sidewalk, one arm struggling with the other as the poor man screams at the offending hand over which he seems to have no control. Something out of a Jim Carey movie? Perhaps. It could also be an actual manifestation of alien hand syndrome, a side effect of split brain surgery in which one hand has a mind of its own. Alien hand syndrome is one of many brain conditions detailed by David Eagleman in his heady book about the brain, Incognito.

This writer has no science or medical background yet even he could understand (mostly) Eagleman’s text about our most current understanding of the human brain, a marvel of the universe that has begrudgingly revealed some its secrets to investigators and kept hidden so many more.

Incognito is a book of answers and a book of questions. We learn that 15% of women have four color receptors, not three like the rest of us. These tetra chromatic women actually see colors that others can’t. Then again because of the variations in our individual brains, reality can be subjective. When we look at something red, are we seeing the same thing? Are our perceptions of size, color, and light universally the same? According to Eagleman our brain constructs our reality. We may think that we’ve just had a brilliant inspiration, but our subconscious had already come to the realization minutes before sharing it with our conscious mind.

I did enjoy reading Incognito and found it understandable and for the most part well paced. Eagleman introduces his chapter topic immediately, develops and elaborates it and then reviews it at chapter’s end while making connections to what has come before. He then foreshadows the next chapter’s topic while connecting it to the preceding topic.

The author presents some interesting and intriguing questions about the culpability of those with brain disorders or chemical imbalances. We are not all equal – our judgment influenced by experiences, toxins, or drug use by self or by one’s mother. A latter chapter about determining criminals’ punishment based on what we know about that person’ brain and degree of culpability becomes tedious at times and more about the criminal justice system than the brain.

A person interested in the workings of the brain should enjoy this book. Eagelman concludes that the brain is a perplexing masterpiece still full of mystery and magic for those seeking to unlock its secrets.


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