Book Review: Incognito by David Eaglemann
For those wanting to understand the complexity of human action, you’ll have to add Incognito to your book list. David Eaglemann, the author of Incognito, is a neurologist who writes this entertaining, quick read, which is packed with facts and examples that will get your neurons working. The book argues that what you consider as “me” is only a small percentage of who you really are. In fact, that “me” is mostly your conscious mind, which scientists have long believed is only a small percentage of your mental activity.
Consciousness is not the elite fortress of the mind where the personality of uniqueness and individual preferences, hopes and desires, and feelings and behaviors seem to come from. In fact, Eaglemann actually dethrones any notion of egocentrism. At the bottom of this, Eaglemann argues that one of the few things consciousness seems to be needed for is to set goals for what should be burned into the circuitry of the brain. This circuitry, he explains in the first part of his book, is responsible for most of our action–actions like riding a bicycle are performed by muscle memory that’s been built in so that consciousness doesn’t have to be involved and an action like “seeing” is more than just visual information hitting one’s eyes but instead is information that the brain has to make sense of (not the consciousness but the brain). These are two examples out of many Eaglemann uses to demonstrate that the brain fills in gaps so that interpretation of external data and action are seemlessly woven together so that the story that you tell yourself makes sense to you.
Previous exposure leads to much of the information we use to fill in the gaps. When external input matches what the brain predicts, no consciousness is needed. However, awareness is needed when unpredictable input doesn’t match internal expectations. The brain is all about making processes the most efficient. To do this, recognizing and forming patterns are important so that the brain doesn’t have to think so much. The brain weaves stories together, just as a narrator does in storytelling, based on previous pattern formation. “The brain works around the clock to stitch together a pattern of logic to our daily lives… Fabrication is one of the key businesses in which our brains engage” to get things to make sense.
Making sense doesn’t mean being in reality, being ethical, or even being congruent with the things and others around you, but it does mean the brain operates in a story telling fashion, not necessarily reliant on conscious memory or thought. While this may raise your alarms, because who knows what story your mind could conjure up, the brain also has an area called the anterior cingluate cortex, which alerts the brain to contradictions. As well, Eaglemann believes, the more subroutines that exist in an animal, the more necessary a CEO (i.e. the consciousness) is needed to direct the different parts and to mediate between subroutines that conflict.
So, why am I, a homeopath, interested in this book? It doesn’t prove that nanoparticles do affect physiology. For that I will have to hightlight other information. But, understanding human behavior and thought process is important for the practice of homeopathy. The homeopathic process places large emphasis on understanding human behavior and experience and the story a person weaves for their self. Books like Incognito help inform the homeopath of areas of the brain that are involved in illness based on interpretation and objective signs.
Homeopathy takes a larger view of illness than pharmaceutical-based medicine. To homeopaths, “illness” is truly what the word “dis-ease” implies; it is a lacking of ease. And mental characteristics, which are gleaned from knowing the story a person weaves for him or herself, play a big part into diagnosis and assessment of health and wellness. While some of these “characteristics” would be classified as “symptoms” by modern medicine, many of them are much too subtle to be “pathology.” To a homeopath, however, they point to the ways in which people suffer and guide us toward helping people live with more ease.
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