Incognito | David Eagleman

Summary of: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
By: David Eagleman


Embark on a fascinating journey through the intricate workings of the human brain, and discover how much of our mental activity transpires behind the veil of consciousness. In ‘Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain’ by David Eagleman, unravel the mysteries of the brain as it operates on autopilot, makes vital decisions, and constructs reality. Delve deep into complex brain disorders, and how understanding our cognitive limitations can have profound implications on our legal systems and social policies. Open your mind to the possibility that perhaps, we are indeed more than the sum of our neurons.

The Power Of Unconscious Mind

Your conscious mind is not in control of your life as you think, the unconscious mind plays a significant role in decision-making. Neuroscience proves most of your brain activity stems from purely physical and biological processes of which you’re unaware, and which you are unable to influence. This lack of control can be advantageous in some aspects like decision-making, playing music, and playing sports.

The Illusion of Reality

Our brain constructs reality using a mix of signals from our senses, making what we perceive more of a hallucination than reality. This is why people with Anton’s syndrome hallucinate a visual reality despite being blind. Our brain gives meaning to squiggles of black on white, like the words in a book. The operations of our neurons happen subconsciously, making us unaware of the constant tiny eye movements our brain controls.

The Brain’s Warring Subsystems

Our brain comprises several subsystems with different functions that often compete for control over our behavior. We have separate rational and emotional brain systems that are necessary for a normal life. Emotions may be swift and irrational, but they help us to quickly make the unimportant decisions needed in daily life. Understanding that there are several subsystems helps explain peculiar phenomena such as a person cursing at herself or a smoker who wishes to quit but keeps smoking because different parts of the brain are in conflict.

Evolution and the Human Brain

Evolution shapes our cognitive and taste preferences and guides our mating choices.

Our cognitive functioning is largely determined by evolution. It sets the limits of our cognitive abilities and determines the range of tasks we excel at. Our ancestors’ needs determined the range of our thought process. For instance, humans are terrible at mathematical computations as it was not needed for hunter-gatherers. On the other hand, we excel at social problem-solving like monitoring cheaters.

Similarly, our taste preferences also depend on evolution. We find some foods tasty, which helped our ancestors in their survival. Our aversion to fecal matter is a result of its harmful microbes. Moreover, our mating choices are also guided by evolution. We tend to be attracted to humans and not other species as cross-breeding with other species is pointless.

The human brain evolved in response to our ancestors’ needs, and our thoughts and behavior reflect that. Evolution is an essential component in shaping our cognitive abilities, taste preferences, and even our mating choices.

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