June 18, 2011

neuroscientist David Eagleman on the competing nature of self

From an interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman on his new book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

Wired.com: So if we’re not consciously directing our own decision-making, how do our brains handle the process?

Eagleman: I make this argument about the brain being like a team of rivals. I synthesize a lot of data to show that you are not one thing, but instead your brain is made up of these competing networks that are all battling it out to control this single output channel of your behavior. And so your brain’s like a neural parliament, and you’ve got these different parties in there like the Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians, all of whom love their country and feel that they know the best way to steer the ship of state. But they have differing opinions on how to do it, and they have to fight it out.

This is why we can cuss at ourselves and cajole ourselves and get angry at ourselves, and this is why you can do behavior and look back and think, “Wow, how did I do that?” It’s because you are not one person, you are not one thing. As Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I think Incognito is next on my list after The Information.


  1. Kelsey Parker on June 18th, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Not only do I want to read this book right now, but this post is incredibly relevant to my experience of life lately. My parliament is never satisfied with its outcomes.

  2. Deron Bauman on June 18th, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Amen, sister.

  3. Michael Lang on June 18th, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I find myself both intrigued by this book and terrified of finding another neuroscientist obsessed with “disproving” intent. Many days intent is the only conductor this unruly parliament’s got.

  4. Deron Bauman on June 18th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Maybe it’s about the struggle for intent.

  5. Joel Bernstein on June 18th, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    How do we reconcile this with Arrow’s Theorem?