NiteTalk: Smartening Up with David Eagleman

053111 david eagleman

He's conjured wondrous tales of the afterlives (Sum). He's explored the phenomena that allows some to hear colors and to see sounds (Wednesday is Indigo Blue). He turned the book into an app and gave us an interactive way of reasoning (Why the Net Matters). Now, with Incognito, he's popped the lid off our skulls and showed us how we think. He's David Eagleman, director of Baylor's Laboratory for Perception and Action, and he's coming to Books and Books. Niteside got with the neuroscientist so we all could smarten up.

Is it true that time seems to fly when we're getting old? Indeed, people typically experience the feeling that time slows down as they get older. For example, a childhood summer seems to last forever, while a summer in later years seems to flash past. This perception seems to be a function of memory: the more memories you lay down about an event, the longer it seems to have lasted in retrospect. When you're a child, everything is novel; your brain, working hard to learn the rules of the world, writes everything down.

As you age, you figure out the patterns of the world. That knowledge comes with benefits, of course, but also at the disadvantage that your brain doesn't write down as many memories. In a sense, it's seen it all before. And as a result, time appears to have gone by more quickly: at the end of the childhood summer, you look back on many novel memories; at the end of the adult summer, it's mostly the same old story.

Is there any way we can slow down that (mis)perception? Seek novelty.  Do things like drive a different route to work each day. Take vacations in strange, foreign places. Shun routine.

What other misperceptions occur in our brains as we age? Alas, so many! One I discuss in the book is the Illusion of Truth effect: if you've heard a statement before, you're more likely to believe it's true, whether or not it actually is. Politicians and advertisers capitalize on this all the time.

Is there a remedy for that too?
Always exercise critical thinking.

How much of who we are and what we do is tied to biology anyway? As far as we can tell, most of it. We've known this for decades as a result of Nature's experiments -- in other words, from people who get brain damage due to stroke, traumatic injury, cancer, degenerative disorders, and so on. The main lesson is that when the brain changes, you change. Your personality, your dreams, your fears, your beliefs, your understanding of the world -- all of these are irrevocably tied to the three pound organ between your ears.

David Eagleman will be reading from and discussing Incongito on Wednesday June 1 8pm at  Books and Books 265 Aragon Avenue Coral Gables. For more information call 305-442-4408 or log on here.

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