Saturday, April 20, 2013


Tremendous advancements have been made in neural science research, helping us understand how our brain works.   In Incognito, David Eagleman points out that we are conscious of only a small part of what goes on in our brain.  We are not normally aware of how we move our feet while walking or riding the bicycle, or how we move our fingers while typing or playing the piano.  Men are attracted to women with dilated pupils, paler (blond) women, and women at the peak of fertility in their menstrual cycles - without knowing why.

The brain is a massively parallel machine, with many parts performing the same function using different methods.  It is like a democracy with many factions competing to determine the final, single outcome.  There is no single “me”. 

We are also highly influenced by our biology: genes and the delicate balance in the functioning of our brain.  A man is much more likely than a woman to be in prison and a murderer.  A gentle and well-liked man can suddenly become violent or a sexual maniac who cannot control himself - because of damage to the frontal lobe of his brain.  We can, obviously, be easily influenced by alcohol, cocaine, other drugs, and the environment around us.  For example, only a small number of men are actually in prison or are murderers, and the probability of doing so is heavily influenced by the way that they grow up.

These are all very fascinating and convincing.  We may not be fully in control of ourselves - that I have to agree with. But then he suddenly claims that “all activity in the brain is driven by other activity in the brain,” ...  “we can’t find the physical gap in which to slip free will.”

There is obviously a big jump from the solidly-backed-up “we may not be in complete control” to the yet-to-be-proven “we have no control at all.” The book makes a lot of convincing observations backed by solid research; then it suddenly slips in a conclusion with tremendous implications with a flimsy pretext.  This is the result of either carelessness, or sneaky sleight-of-hand.

This is one of those many books that open with a bang but close with a whimper.

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