'Incognito': What's Hiding In The Unconscious Mind | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

'Incognito': What's Hiding In The Unconscious Mind

Play associated audio

This interview was originally broadcast on May 31, 2011. David Eagleman's Incognito is now out in paperback.

Your brain doesn't like to keep secrets. Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, have shown that writing down secrets in a journal or telling a doctor your secrets actually decreases the level of stress hormones in your body. Keeping a secret, meanwhile, does the opposite.

Your brain also doesn't like stress hormones. So when you have a secret to tell, the part of your brain that wants to tell the secret is constantly fighting with the part of your brain that wants to keep the information hidden, says neuroscientist David Eagleman.

"You have competing populations in the brain — one part that wants to tell something and one part that doesn't," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And the issue is that we're always cussing at ourselves or getting angry at ourselves or cajoling ourselves. ... What we're seeing here is that there are different parts of the brain that are battling it out. And the way that that battle tips, determines your behavior."

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.

"All of our lives — our cognition, our thoughts, our beliefs — all of these are underpinned by these massive lightning storms of [electrical] activity [in our brains,] and yet we don't have any awareness of it," he says. "What we find is that our brains have colossal things happening in them all the time."

On today's Fresh Air, Eagleman explains how learning more about the unconscious portions of our brain can teach us more about time, reality, consciousness, religion and crime.

Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine and directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action. He is also the author of Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia and Sum: Forty Takes from the Afterlives.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Between The Laughs, South African Comedian Hopes To Educate

Trevor Noah, a new international correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, turns a sharp eye on American policy — while answering the questions about world news that people are afraid to ask.
NPR

Will Environmentalists Fall For Faux Fish Made From Plants?

A handful of chefs and food companies are experimenting with fish-like alternatives to seafood. But the market is still a few steps behind plant-based products for meat and dairy.
NPR

Republicans Gather To Galvanize, Share Ideas At 'Freedom Summit'

On Saturday, prominent Republicans from across the country headed to Iowa for the annual Freedom Summit, which supports "pro-growth economics, social conservatism and a strong national defense."
NPR

Facebook Aims To Weed Fakes From Your News Feed

No, Macauley Culkin didn't die — that was a fake news story you saw on Facebook. This week, Facebook added a feature for reporting hoaxes. NPR's Laura Sydell explains the details to Scott Simon.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.