The brain runs its show incognito.

Interview of neuroscientist David Eagleman by NPR Books

Eagleman’s new book, Incognito, examines the unconscious part of our brains — the complex neural networks that are constantly fighting one another and influencing how we act, the things we’re attracted to, and the thoughts that we have.

Eagleman refers to consciousness as “a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot.”  His book investigates this fact and its implications in decision making.   He explains how the mind does enormous amount of work to reach the moment when you can gleefully say, “I just thought of something!”  He emphasizes how we often take credit for our ideas without considering the “the vast, hidden machinery behind the scenes.”

When an idea is served up from behind the scenes, your neural circuitry has been working on it for hours or days or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations.

The key takeaway is that “the brain runs its show incognito.”

Highlights via Amazon

  • Consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts.
  • Instead of reality being passively recorded by the brain, it is actively constructed by it.
  • A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighboring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
  • The brain generally does not need to know most things; it merely knows how to go out and retrieve the data. It computes on a need-to-know basis.
  • illusion-of-truth effect: you are more likely to believe that a statement is true if you have heard it before—whether or not it is actually true.
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