“Incognito” Book Review

Fellow neuroscientists might claim that this book is derivative and vague, but David Eagleman’s “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brainis not written for them – it’s written for the layman.

And while the first few chapters might feel a little dense, the book builds momentum as Eagleman begins to tie the ideas together in later chapters.

Here’s some of my highlights from the book.

On how your brain interrogates the world:

Brains reach out into the world and actively extract the type of information they need. The brain does not need to see everything at once. it does not need to store everything internally; it only needs to know where to go find the information.

When getting a friend to solve a problem:

Flip a coin. If they feel a subtle sense of relief at being “told” what to do by the coin, that’s the right choice for her. If, instead, they conclude that it’s ludicrous for them to make a decision based on a coin toss, that will cue her to choose the other option.

On the democracy of your mind:

There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior.

On the two-party system: reason and emotion:

The brain contains two separate systems: one is fast, automatic, and below the surface of conscious awareness, while the other is slow, cognitive, and conscious. The first system can be labeled automatic, implicit, heuristic, intuitive, holistic, reactive, and impulsive, while the second system is cognitive, systematic, explicit, analytic, rule-based, and reflective. These two processes are always battling it out.

On the *best* way to solve a problem:

The team-of-rivals framework suggests that the best approach is to abandon the question “What’s the most clever way to solve that problem?” in favor of “Are there multiple, overlapping ways to solve that problem?”

On intuition vs. numbers:

When you compare the predictive power of the actuarial approach to that of the parole boards and psychiatrists, there is no contest: numbers win over intuitions.

As it stands now, ugly people receive longer sentences than attractive people; psychiatrists have no capacity to guess which sex offenders will reoffend; and our prisons are overcrowded with drug addicts who could be more usefully dealt with by rehabilitation rather than incarceration. So is current sentencing really better than a scientific, evidence-based approach?

On appropriate punishments:

The concept and word to replace blameworthiness is modifiability, a foward-looking term that asks, What can we do from here? Is rehabilitation available? If so, great. If not, will the punishment of a prison sentence modify future behavior? If so, send him to prison. If punishment won’t help, then take the person under state control for the purposes of incapacitation, not retribution.

Maybe at first glance this book doesn’t have much to do with business or marketing, but what better way to tap into the mind of your customer than learning more about the circuitry of their brain.

And just how much value would understanding your own brain provide you in your job search? Education? Career? Relationships?

I’m going to try and stimy my own desire for re-tweets and comments in 2012 by straying away from the social media 101 type-posts and focus on creating higher quality stimuli.

What books are you reading in 2012 that will make you think? What should I add to my reading list?

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