The Brain | David Eagleman

Summary of: The Brain: The Story of You
By: David Eagleman


Embark on a fascinating journey to understand the intricate workings of the human brain with ‘The Brain: The Story of You’ by David Eagleman. In this book summary, you will uncover the science behind the brain’s ability to change and adapt, shaping our personalities and perceptions of the world around us. Learn about the role of plasticity, how our brains interpret information from our sensory organs, and how the subconscious plays a part in decision-making. Furthermore, explore the significance of empathy, decision-making processes, and the exciting future possibilities of brain technology.

The Brain and Personality Changes

Our brains are constantly changing and adapting to new situations, which shapes our personalities. As we age, we lose synaptic connections that haven’t been reinforced by repetition, resulting in a change in personality traits. The brain’s ability to learn by repetition is known as plasticity, and it’s not just limited to children. Adult brains are also capable of change, as demonstrated by a study on taxi drivers in London who developed a precise memory of over 25,000 streets, 20,000 landmarks, and 320 different routes after four years of training. This exercise strengthened certain connections in their brains, resulting in a change in their personalities. The case of Charles Whitman, a man who committed a brutal murder, shows how a tumor in the brain that affects the part responsible for fear and aggression can also drastically change one’s personality traits. Every person we meet, film we watch, or book we read shapes who we are, and this understanding of brain plasticity provides insight into the possibilities of personal growth and change.

The Brain’s Interpretation of Reality

Our perception of reality is not just limited to what our eyes see. The brain interprets information obtained from all sensory organs to create a perception of the world. This explains why people who regain sight after being blind have trouble adapting to visual information. The brain relies on all sensory organs, and the loss of activity in one area can lead to overcompensation in others. Synesthesia is a condition where sensory perceptions are mixed up with one another, which shows that our interpretation of reality is not limited to one sense. Sensory organs provide the brain with information interpreted as reality, but this information is never more than an impression of the world.

The Power of Your Subconscious

Discover the role your subconscious plays in your actions and decisions and why it is essential to functioning normally.

Have you ever wondered how much control you have over your actions? The truth is, you have little access to the part of your brain that controls the steering wheel. But don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds, and it’s actually vital to functioning normally.

Your brain has the ability to perform practiced skills subconsciously, making it easier to do things without thinking too hard about them. This was evident in a study of a ten-year-old champion sport stacker and the author. While the author expended huge amounts of energy trying to complete a cup-stacking routine, the ten-year-old’s brain was at rest. Why? He had performed similar routines so often that his brain had physically changed, and cup-stacking no longer required him to engage his conscious brain.

But the subconscious doesn’t just come into play during competitive sports. It’s also likely to be in control when you’re making everyday decisions. The technical term for this kind of subconscious activity is priming, meaning that sensory data influences our perceptions even when we’re not aware of it.

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller demonstrated this in a study that compared how much money female dancers at strip clubs earned at various stages of their menstrual cycle. He found that men gave dancers who were ovulating twice as many tips as their non-ovulating counterparts. Why? Men subconsciously picked up on subtle changes in the women’s appearances that were caused by higher estrogen levels.

Other studies report similar findings, such as how a bad smell in the air can make you think of someone’s behavior as immoral and how holding a warm drink in your hand can make you describe your relationships with others warmly.

In conclusion, your subconscious plays a significant role in your actions and decisions. It helps you complete practiced skills without exerting too much effort and influences your perceptions without your knowledge.

The Neuroscience of Decision-Making

The brain is responsible for decision-making, from basic choices to life-defining ones. Sensory and emotional feedback trigger different parts of the brain until a decision is reached. The brain’s preference for short-term gain can lead to regrettable decisions. Ulysses Contracts can help individuals stave off temptation and make better choices.

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