Summary of "Incognito: The secret lives of the brain"

tl;dr; We’re to a certain degree not the ones driving the boat. People have little capacity to choose or explain their actions, motivations, and beliefs, and the captain’s wheel is steered by the unconscious brain, shaped by innumerable generations of evolutionary selection and a lifetime of experiences. Instead of blaming people for anti-social actions, we should asses how modifiable their behaviour is, and act base on that information. Meanwhile the scrience has to proove or disprove if we’re merely pure biological machines or there’s something more we don’t know about.

We’re able to get mad at ourselves, or make promises to ourselves. But who we’re making promises to? Or more exactly - who’s holding us accountable. It feels like your mind has 2 parts to it - conscious and unconscious.

We live in a medium, but how do we know that it’s warm, bright, wet, safe… Our brain gives us an overview of the world we’re in, but our conscious part is conscious of just enough to get by. We’re not aware of a huge number of things until necessary (feet are cold, pain in the stomach, the buzzing of the fridge). It is flexible (neuroplasticity) and can learn using new senses (e.g. using tactile displays, or reading braile).

A lot of the observations are only partially based on the outside input - and are often reconstructed/enriched by the brain based on past experiences. Aka internal data is not generated by external sensory data, but modulated by it. For example people with visual loss can still “see” halucinations, or even belive that they see when they’re totaly blind. Our brain is “loopy” - everything is connected to everything. Aka different senses can influence each other. Say vision and hearing - you may hear someone talking from the right, but if you see taht person moving its lips in front of you, your brain will adjust that information. This allows your brain to make predictions - put your hand in front of the ball long before it gets near you, otherwise you’ll not have time to catch it. So perception reflects the active comparison of sensory inputs with internal predictions. Which brings another interesting points - awarness occures when sensory data violates predictions. Otherwise when everything is as predicted - awarness is not necessary. This predictability that you develop between your sensory inputs and the resulting sensations is the reason you can’t tickle yourself.

Brain is aware of some things, but many more things happen in background “automatically” - walking, breathing, discerning voices in a noisy crouwd… And we don’t have direct access to how all those things work. But they’re not the same for everyone - we “burn these jobs into circuitry” when we first learn them. So we control what will be burned down into unconscious mind. This is a way of optimizing the processing that the brain does.

Our brain is designed to generate behaviour that is appropriate to our survival as species. The brain evolved with our bodies and was tailored for survival by our hunter-gatherer ancestors for 99 percent of species’ evolutionary history. Our psyches evolve, just like eyes and thumbs. Babies are born with some pre-programmed ability to reason about objects, physical causality, numbers, the biological world, the beliefs and motivations of other individuals, and social interactions. All of that is stored in the DNA. And to most of these - our consciousness doesn’t have access.

Our brain is constructed by an amalgam os subsystems, which overlap and compete. The consciousness tries to make sense and explain the winning thought resulted from the competition of all these subsystems. But at different times, the final decision may tip to one side or the other. And this define us - we’re different at different points of time.

So are we blameworthy if we’re not really in direct control of our decisions and actions? But this is the wrong answer to ask. We should rather ask if we’re modifiable - aka can we stir/train the behaviour towards a socially acceptable one?

Is this all based on pure materialism? Are we are nothing but the product of billions of years of molecules coming together and ratcheting up through natural selection, that we are composed only of highways of fluids and chemicals sliding along roadways within billions of dancing cells, that trillions of synaptic conversations hum in parallel, that this vast egglike fabric of micron-thin circuitry runs algorithms undreamt of in modern science, and that these neural programs give rise to our decision making, loves, desires, fears, and aspirations? Or maybe there’s something more that we don’t know about? We don’t know the answer yet, and it may take a while for science to proove or disproove one side or the other.