Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Book Report: Incognito

David Eagleman’s book Incognito describes the intersection of biology and consciousness.  He begins, “Take a close look at yourself in the mirror.  Beneath your dashing good looks churns a hidden universe of networked machinery.  The machinery includes a sophisticated scaffolding of interlocking bones, a netting of sinewy muscles, a good deal of specialized fluid, and a collaboration of internal organs chugging away in darkness to keep you alive.  A sheet of high-tech self-healing sensory material that we call skin seamlessly covers your machinery in a pleasing package.” (p. 1)  Obviously, he has a way with prose.

He explores, at a general level, the questions of philosophy, psychology, and biology, with excursions into chemistry and physics.  It’s all informative and entertaining.  We are led to reflect on what makes us who we are, and this is not an easy or comfortable process at times.  It’s a useful bunch of brain gymnastics with a side of soul-searching.

I personally found the section on criminal justice to be… odd.  Yes, his arguments about free will do have implications for how we deal with transgression and protection and rehabilitation.  He presents an interesting batch of proposals that make, if nothing else, an interesting thought experiment.  He is very invested in this particular experiment, however.  The overall feel of the discussion resembles that family dinner where someone makes the mistake of bringing up a particular conspiracy theory and Uncle Frank goes off the rails, again, even though he is totally reasonable on every other subject.

Overall, a good book and well worth reading!  Go brains!

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