Incognito Book Cover


The Secret Lives of the Brain
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What’s inside

Our brain is divided into two parts: the conscious mind, and the subconscious mind. Unknown to us, the subconscious part of our brain is constantly working and influencing our thoughts. It also greatly impacts our behavior and feelings. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, tells us that we are not aware of many things regarding the functioning of our brains. The author explains how and why we have no conscious knowledge about the working of the brain. It is a wide-ranging book that also observes the development and current state of brain science. Surprisingly, our conscious thoughts have very little impact on our life. Most of our life and behavior is driven by our subconscious mind. Most of our successes aren’t ours to celebrate. Neither can we blame ourselves for our failures. “If our brains were simple enough to understand them, we wouldn’t be smart enough to understand them.”

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LESSON 1. Our feelings, thoughts, and actions are beyond our control.

Being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions is a common myth that most people believe to be true. Many people think that they have command over every emotion that they experience. Surprisingly, neurosciences prove them to be false. Much of our brain activity stems from completely physical and biological processes. One is not aware of these processes, and their ability to influence them. 

Our vulnerability can be observed in the way our brain processes alterations and changes. For example, people are affected by accidents, death, and illnesses. 

An example of this phenomenon is the case of a 40 year-old man. His wife of twenty years suddenly observed his obsession with child pornography. He developed this obsessive behavior out of the blue. After a medical test, the doctors discovered a massive tumor that had developed in the part of his brain that was responsible for decision making. The ‘orbitofrontal cortex’ is responsible for the major decision making tasks of the brain. Once, the surgeons performed the surgery and took the tumor out, his sexual desires returned to normal.  

Despite these more prominent instances, there are other subtle instances where we do not have any control and command over our minds. This inability to manipulate and control our minds is often for the best. Most processes in our brain, like decision making, work best automatically. Our conscious mind would actually hamper the process and slow it down. 

For example, you ask a musician to focus only on their fingers and its movements, while they’re playing a piece. The musician will find this to be very difficult and the music will not be quite good. It is much easier if she concentrates on the music. Her fingers will play as if on auto-pilot and she will be able to perform the song without the commands from her conscious mind

The author also asks us to consider the example of baseball. The author makes mathematical calculations about the speed of the fastballs and the process of decision making. He questions why the batsmen rarely miss the fastballs. He concludes by saying that, they leave the conscious part of their brain behind, the one that is needed for making decisions. They act naturally, by instinct. It is similar to the way we might duck if something comes towards us suddenly. 

LESSON 2. Reality is just a hallucination.

If we take a look outside, we come across an image that is known to us. Do you believe that

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Famous quotes from Incognito

  1. “Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it.”
  2. -David Eagleman
  3. “We believe we're seeing the world just fine until it's called to our attention that we're not.”
  4. -David Eagleman
  5. “There is a looming chasm between what your brain knows and what your mind is capable of accessing.”
  6. -David Eagleman
  7. “You´re not perceiving what's out there. You're perceiving whatever your brain tells you.”
  8. -David Eagleman
  9. “Evolve solutions; when you find a good one, don't stop.”
  10. -David Eagleman
  11. “If an epileptic seizure is focused in a particular sweet spot in the temporal lobe, a person won´t have motor seizures, but instead something more subtle. The effect is something like a cognitive seizure, marked by changes of personality, hyperreligiosity (an obsession with religion and feelings of religious certainty), hypergraphia (extensive writing on a subject, usually about religion), the false sense of an external presence, and, often, the hearing voices that are attributed to a god. Some fraction of history´s prophets, martyrs, and leaders appear to have had temporal lobe epilepsy. When the brain activity is kindled in the right spot, people hear voices. If a physician prescribes an anti-epileptic medication, the seizures go away and the voices disappear. Our reality depends on what our biology is up to.” “A mere 400 years after our fall from the center of the universe, we have experienced the fall from the center of ourselves.”
  12. -David Eagleman
  13. “A mere 400 years after our fall from the center of the universe, we have experienced the fall from the center of ourselves.”
  14. -David Eagleman
  15. “So the first lesson about trusting your senses is: don’t. Just because you believe something to be true, just because you know it’s true, that doesn’t mean it is true.”
  16. -David Eagleman
  17. “Our reality depends on what our biology is up to.”
  18. -David Eagleman
  19. “Who you are depends on the sum total of your neurobiology.”
  20. -David Eagleman
  21. “If our brains were simple enough to be understood, we wouldn’t be smart enough to understand them.”
  22. -David Eagleman
  23. “Societies would not be better off if everyone were like Mr Spock, all rationality and no emotion. Instead, a balance - a teaming up of the internal rivals - is optimal for brains. ... Some balance of the emotional and rational systems is needed, and that balance may already be optimized by natural selection in human brains.”
  24. -David Eagleman
  25. “One of the most pervasive mistakes is to believe that our visual system gives a faithful representation of what is “out there” in the same way that a movie camera would.”
  26. -David Eagleman
  27. “If you ever feel lazy or dull, take heart: you’re the busiest, brightest thing on the planet.”
  28. -David Eagleman
  29. “Brains are like representative democracies. They are built of multiple, overlapping experts who weigh in and compete over different choices. As Walt Whitman correctly surmised, we are large and we harbor multitudes within us. And those multitudes are locked in chronic battle. There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior. As a result, you can accomplish the strange feats of arguing with yourself, cursing at yourself, and cajoling yourself to do something – feats that modern computers simply do not do.”
  30. -David Eagleman
  31. “Seeing has very little to do with your eyes.”
  32. -David Eagleman
  33. “As Carl Jung put it, “In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” As Pink Floyd sang, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”
  34. -David Eagleman
  35. “Keep in mind that every single generation before us has worked under the assumption that they possessed all the major tools for understanding the universe, and they were all wrong, without exception.”
  36. -David Eagleman
  37. “Knowing yourself now requires the understanding that the conscious you occupies only a small room in the mansion of the brain, and that it has little control over the reality constructed for you.”
  38. -David Eagleman
  39. “It is the most wondrous thing we have discovered in the universe, and it is us.”
  40. -David Eagleman
  41. “Behavior is the outcome of the battle among internal systems.”
  42. -David Eagleman
  43. “Just like a good drama, the human brain runs on conflict.”
  44. -David Eagleman
  45. “Nothing is inherently tasty or repulsive—it depends on your needs. Deliciousness is simply an index of usefulness.”
  46. -David Eagleman
  47. “Each cell sends electrical pulses to other cells, up to hundreds of times per second. If you represented each of these trillions and trillions of pulses in your brain by a single photon of light, the combined output would be blinding.”
  48. -David Eagleman
  49. “But all this doesn´t happen effortlessly, as demonstrated by patients who surgically recover their eyesight after decades of blindness: they do not suddenly see the world, but instead must learn to see again. At first the world is buzzing, jangling barrage of shapes and colors, and even when the optics of their eyes are perfectly functional, their brain must learn how to interpret the data coming in.”
  50. -David Eagleman
  51. “Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn't matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time it's not.”
  52. -David Eagleman
  53. “When the brain finds a task it needs to solve, it rewires its own circuitry until it can accomplish the task with maximum efficiency. The task becomes burned into the machinery.”
  54. -David Eagleman
  55. “Imagine for a moment that we are nothing but the product of billions of years of molecules coming together and ratcheting up through natural selection, that we are composed only of highways of fluids and chemicals sliding along roadways within billions of dancing cells, that trillions of synaptic conversations hum in parallel, that this vast egglike fabric of micron-thin circuitry runs algorithms undreamt of in modern science, and that these neural programs give rise to our decision making, loves, desires, fears, and aspirations. To me, that understanding would be a numinous experience, better than anything ever proposed in anyone's holy text.”
  56. -David Eagleman
  57. “Vision is more than looking.”
  58. -David Eagleman
  59. “The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control.”
  60. -David Eagleman
  61. “The conscious mind is not at the center of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out on a distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity.”
  62. -David Eagleman
  63. “Because vision appears so effortless, we are like fish challenged to understand water.”
  64. -David Eagleman

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About the author

David Eagleman Image

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Stanford University, a Pulitzer-nominated author of eight books, and the writer and presenter of the television series The Brain.

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Incognito Book Cover
Chapter List
  • LESSON 1. Our feelings, thoughts, and actions are beyond our control.
  • LESSON 2. Reality is just a hallucination.
  • LESSON 3. Various parts of the brain fight for command.
  • LESSON 4. Our thoughts are determined by evolution.
  • LESSON 5. Our legal system should prefer rehabilitation over punishment.
  • LESSON 6. Despite neurosciences, we cannot understand everything about the brain.
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In the summary of Incognito book, there are 6 key lessons. These lessons include:

  1. LESSON 1. Our feelings, thoughts, and actions are beyond our control.
  2. LESSON 2. Reality is just a hallucination.
  3. LESSON 3. Various parts of the brain fight for command.
  4. LESSON 4. Our thoughts are determined by evolution.
  5. LESSON 5. Our legal system should prefer rehabilitation over punishment.
  6. LESSON 6. Despite neurosciences, we cannot understand everything about the brain.

Incognito by David Eagleman was published in .

Once you've completed Incognito book, We suggest reading out Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant on Resilience as a great follow-up read.

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In the printed version of Incognito book have over 300 pages and usually takes 8-10 days to finish. However, with the Wizdom app, including its summary and audiobook, it can be completed in just 15 minutes.

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