I thought I already knew quite a bit about neuroscience and human behavior, but I learned so much from this book that my mind is still reeling. While reading Incognito, I actually experienced the kind of spiraling mind-expansion that I haven't felt since...well...never mind....
The book, which is grounded in a massive amount of neuroscience research, is written in a conversational manner with lots of analogies and metaphors that make the information both accessible and retrievable. For example, consciousness is described as being like the CEO of a very large company, having little awareness of the details of day-to-day operation, responsible only for setting major goals and for adapting to major changes. While his metaphors become redundant at times (especially "team of rivals," a phrase repeated so often as to become irritating), the author is generally skilled at finding ways to explain complicated processes in a straightforward manner. He also creates opportunities for active engagement by providing optical illusions and mental exercises that help the reader actually experience some of the idiosyncrasies of the brain.
Since I had read some of the Amazon reviews before finishing the book, I was apprehensive about the penultimate chapter on the justice system and the concept of culpability. I thought the main point would be that nobody should be held culpable for misdeeds because so many of our actions are not under our control. But the author clearly states that "explanation does not equal exculpation." He does, however, suggest that although we don't currently have the scientific sophistication to find the biological underpinnings of all deviant behavior, we have learned enough to suggest that we will keep finding more explanations. This has some major implications for our justice system; the author explains it better than I can. All I will say is that this issue is extremely thought-provoking.
The final chapter begins with an eloquent brief description of the evolution of science and philosophy leading to the current efforts to find a "deeper understanding of the inner cosmos." He arrives at a humble conclusion regarding our current state of knowledge ("Does it seem reasonable that we are the first ones lucky enough to be born in the perfect generation, the one in which the assumption of a comprehensive science is finally true?") paired with a trust that the scientific method will keep revealing more about the wonders of the universe both outside and inside of our brains.
One of the more intriguing facts revealed in this book is that one part of the brain invents stories to justify what another part sees or feels. Our brains constantly look for order and reason, even when there is none, leading us to regularly reach erroneous conclusions. Now apply this to politics or intimate relationships. Thinking about the implications makes my head spin. And here's another thing I've learned. Just because that is my reaction in no way predicts that it will be yours. But if you are interested in human thought, feeling, and behavior or if you are interested in the interplay between biology and environment, I'm pretty sure that you will find this to be a stimulating, thought-provoking, and yes, maybe even a mind-blowing book.