Archive for April, 2012

Incognito: the Secret Lives of the Brain” by David Eagleman

The brain is just several ounces of neural tissue, not particularly durable and pretty vulnerable if it were not for the bone shell it resides in. Still, it is the seat of all control operations of any living creature that possesses even the most rudimentary brain and is capable of doing a number of amazing things, several things all at the same time. Yet is also one of the most mysterious organs known, its many and varied functions only sketchily understood, in part because of its complexity and complex internal structure, hidden from view and direct manipulation deep within the skull, accessible for the most part only indirectly and therefore very difficult to investigate directly.

Incognito: the Secret Lives of the Brain” is a book by a neuroscientist, David Eagleman. which attempts to shed some light on the subject. It is a book primarily destined for the lay person and is designed to show just how the brain is so complex and mysterious, yet understandable if only by a process of observation and deduction.

Commentary: This book mirrors much of what I’ve been thinking regarding the internal processes of the brain, although I was coming to the subject through the “brain as a computer” paradigm. The brain may be just one organ but it comprises many, many separate sections and functions, some of which are complimentary and some of which are even combative. It is a wonder that it even functions at all, and, of course, anyone can come up with examples from personal observation or experience when it doesn’t in one way or another, small or large.

My one biggest annoyance was that it was just a little too superficial for my tastes. It talked a lot about the what of the brain and its functions but not so much on the how and why of it. Granted, this book was intended for the general audience but I would have liked to see a little more meat to the descriptions and more space devoted to contemplation of the causes of how the brain does what it does. There are some flashes of that, as for example the description of how baseball players track fly balls in the outfield, where they do not automatically calculate the trajectory to figure out where to run to to catch the ball: instead, they watch the track of the ball and if it appears to deviate from a straight line, meaning they or the ball are moving away from the path, they change direction to return it to a straight line. But mostly the brain is treated as a black box of many internal devices, left unexplored.

My other annoyance was that it doesn’t mention hypnosis at all in the text, and only once in a footnote, remarking how it can affect the results of a particular type of test results.

Recommendation: For the average reader who wants to understand more about the operation of the brain, this would be a good start. However, it is rather shallow for someone who wants a more in-depth explanation of the various brain functions, and almost worthless for any one who wants to understand the particular subject of hypnosis functions.

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