Neuroscientist David Eagleman exposes the hidden workings of the human mind in his most recent book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. He explains a complex, astonishing paradox and one of the most important discoveries about our species: most of what makes us behave in various ways is determined by a nervous system we do not know well at all.
Eagleman, who directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, uses powerful metaphors and analogies to take hold of and illustrate the complex dynamics of the human mind:
He makes an important point about how our creative ideas gestate for long periods deep in the subconscious mind, but then emerge in a way that fool us into thinking they are spontaneous gifts of sheer genius:
The conscious you—the I that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning—is the smallest bit of what’s transpiring in your brain. Although we are dependent on the functioning of the brain for our inner lives, it runs its own show. Most of its operations are above the security clearance of the conscious mind. The I simply has no right of entry. Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot. This book is about that amazing fact: how we know it, what it means, and what it explains about people, markets, secrets, strippers, retirement accounts, criminals, artists, Ulysses, drunkards, stroke victims, gamblers, athletes, bloodhounds, racists, lovers, and every decision you’ve ever taken to be yours (4).
However, you’re an odd kind of newspaper reader, reading the headline and taking credit for the idea as though you thought of it first. You gleefully say, “I just thought of something!”, when in fact your brain performed an enormous amount of work before your moment of genius struck. When an idea is served up from behind the scenes, your neural circuitry has been working on it for hours or days or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations. But you take credit without further wonderment at the vast, hidden machinery behind the scenes. And who can blame you for thinking you deserve the credit? The brain works its machinations in secret, conjuring ideas like tremendous magic. It does not allow its colossal operating system to be probed by conscious cognition. The brain runs its show incognito (7).Eagleman's book has tremendous implications for learning. I encourage my students to fully engage themselves in their education to feed that "hidden machinery" with the great ideas of the humanities (including science and math). Then their minds can use those ideas to build a platform for seeing beyond the status quo, recombining those formative ideas into the next great ones.
Here's another book worth reading on the subject:
How would you respond? Be creative!