A review of David Eagleman’s Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain.

About five years ago I read Julian Jaynes book "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". That book (which is favorably mentioned in Incognito) really opened my eyes to the idea that the mind is not a singular entity as your intuitive consciousness would have you assume. Jaynes proposed two separate facilities (bicameral) at work in people’s minds but I immediately had the thought: why stop at two? It seems to me that humans and pretty much anything with a complex brain is really a collection of multifarious cognitive actors. Incognito is a collection of facts and stories about how this manifests itself even if we don’t normally stop to appreciate it.

The book talks neuroscientifically about why sometimes we want to eat cake and sometimes we know that eating cake is a bad idea. It talks about personality changes brought on by brain region changes. It covers illusions that are apparent to some of the brain’s machinery but fools other parts.

If you have never considered the fact that minds are made of separate cognitive actors, this book is a great introduction to the idea. It makes a pretty strong case. If like me, you’ve completely accepted this idea long ago, the book contains a well-chosen collection of supporting evidence.

The book is well-written, reasonably organized, quite interesting, and even moderately entertaining. Far from being neuroscience wonkishness, the ideas in this book are quite helpful to normal people on a day to day basis. I have found over the years, for example, that it is much wiser to treat "individuals" as more of a "team". This helps soften the cognitive dissonance from radical mood swings and flaky people. Knowing your own mind’s true character can help too in keeping your own thoughts and goals coherent so that goals are more sensibly set and realistically achieved.