Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain – Book Review

After reading David Eagleman;s Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, it’s easy to see the future of writing is in good hands. Even better, the future of writing about a subject that would have most readers snoring by Page 3. Or, if they were eReading the work on a Nook, Kindle Fire or iPad, one might think the readers would be wandering off to apps that let them check their email or move to eBay, but it won’t happen.

Eagleman is a deceptively cagey writer, who actually knows how to put together a sentence of more than three emoticons and four XOXOs – a tribute to the writing skills of some of his generational colleagues so that you learn something about concepts that you had, perhaps, thought were either boring or had no reach into your daily life.

Laboring under this premise is false because you soon learn the Eagleman is a man who knows his subject thoroughly as he is one of the future’s top neuroscientists. Yet, he’s more; he is a science writer who, like some of the science reporters that CNN or NBC actually pay, knows his topics and can actually make them interesting.

After reading this work, you have more than a fair to middling idea that there’s a lot more going on behind what you see with your eyes and what you hear and that’s how we get through our days. Why do you put on your left sock first and then your right? Why do you drive one way on one day to a stop while on another day you take a completely different route. Yes, you have a rational explanation quite ready: it’s easier to raise my left leg first and my Mom made me learn to do it that way.

Each of these is plausible and quite likely true but what levels of your mind do you use to make these and other decisions during the course of your day? What would happen if you put on the right sock first? Would your universe turn upside-down? (In the case of clothing, you’d probably have a bad day and be cranky because “I chose the wrong tie;” “This shirt’s collar is too tight,” or “The sleeves just don’t feel right.” Yet, if you put your socks on correctly everything would be fine. As to your daily trips, well, we’ll leave that one to your imagination.)

It’s Eagleman, whose light touch with the word and excellent use of the proper examples at the right points, who shines here and strips away our preconceptions about how or why we do things. At some times, certain areas of your mind work with your eyes, ears and even your own body chemistry to produce your actions. All of these pieces are working together or forming new alliances – albeit temporary ones – with other areas of your mind and the layers that Eagleman exposes to produce how you handle a situation or how it handles you.

The brain is a fascinating topic that requires a deft touch or the book will be left on the shelf or unread on the eReader, but not David Eagleman’s “Incognito.” In fact, after reading it you’ll find there’s nothing incognito about your brain anymore. It’s out there for you to see and it can’t just hide behind the old “because I’ve always done it this way” because Eagleman shows that while you think that’s the way your brain works, it may end up with “I’ve always done it…” thinking but you used a whole different set of your brain to get you there.