12:39 pm
Fri August 24, 2012

David Eagleman Gets Inside Our Heads



This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. Up next, discovering the universe inside your skull, and it is a universe. According to my next guest, a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue contains as many nerve connections as there are stars in the Milky Way - billions and billions just in a tiny bit of your brain. Never mind the other three pounds of brain matter. It's a vast world inside our skulls, and much of it operates without us really knowing or thinking much about it or even understanding it.

The secret life of the brain is the subject of David Eagleman's latest book and a focus of his work as a neuroscientist. He is here. It's "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." Dr. Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor's College of Medicine, also director of the Laboratory of Perception and Action and director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law there. He joins us from KUHF in Houston. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: Thanks, Ira, good to be here.

FLATOW: The secret lives of the brain, not the life of the brain but the lives of the brain.

EAGLEMAN: Well, it turns out there's so much happening under the hood there that we're not consciously aware of, and it turns out you're not one thing. In other words, brains aren't like a computer program that run and make decisions. Instead it's like there are competing programs in there.

And as a result, the analogy I use in the book is that the brain's more like a parliament, with different political parties that have different drives(ph), and you only have one output channel for your behavior. And so all these parts of your brain are always battling it out to steer the ship of state.

FLATOW: All the time. Give us an idea.

EAGLEMAN: All the time.

FLATOW: What kind of argument - what kind of mud-throwing is going on in the parliament of our brain in there?

EAGLEMAN: Well, we're all familiar with, let's say, temptation. So if I offer you some warm chocolate chip cookies, part of your brain wants to eat that, part of your brain says don't eat it, you're going to get fat, and you argue with yourself, maybe you contract with yourself. You say OK, I'm going to eat it, but only if I promise that I'm going to work out tomorrow.

And so the question is: Who's talking with whom here? It's all you, but you have parts of your brain that are invested in impulses and gratifying those impulses. You have other parts of your brain that care about the long term. They understand you as a creature who lives through time. And everything in between. All these different time scales, different drives, and so they always have to fight it out under there.

FLATOW: Yeah, 1-800-989-8255, talking with David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." And the brain has been kept secret for so many years, it's...

EAGLEMAN: That's right. The reason I use the word secret in there is because the most remarkable thing to me as a neuroscientist, as I spent my career studying this, is the vastness of the operation going on in there. The brain, it's commonly noted, is the most complicated thing we've ever found in the universe. Every single thing you do is underpinned by lightning storms of brain activity, even the simplest things.

Just lifting a cup of coffee to your mouth is an enormously complicated act, as we know from trying to make robots do even simple things. And yet all of this happens invisibly for you. When you lift the coffee, you don't know anything about the nerves and the tendons and the muscles and the exquisite symphony of signals that allows it to happen. It just seems to happen for free.

FLATOW: Yeah, you know, just even - to me what's very fascinating, I know all of the things that go on in your brain, but just knowing where you are in time and space, right? You know, you're sitting or standing, keeping your balance, knowing where you are, knowing the spatial relationships, how you can reach out and touch something and not miss it.

EAGLEMAN: That's right, although, you know, this leads to an interesting point, which is that you buy, you believe whatever your brain serves up to you. And so the example you just made about knowing where you are in time and space, we're not always so accurate at. So when you are asleep and dreaming, you believe you have all kinds of things going on in time and space that are not true. So it turns out whatever your neural circuits are feeding up to you, you buy that and take that to be reality, but it's not always necessarily the case.

And things like visual illusions are very interesting to neuroscientists. They're also interesting to third-graders, and then everyone else forgets about them. But the reason they're interesting to neuroscientists is because we think that we open our eyes and we're seeing the world.

But in fact what visual illusions demonstrate is there's a lot of computation going on under the hood to construct this illusion of vision, and it's only when we can find these little cracks in the system that we say, wow, it ain't what you think it is going on out there. Instead, what's happening is your brain is doing massive computations and deciding what the best story is for what's out there, and then you believe that, the conscious you.

FLATOW: Yeah, can you change people's perception of time, make them think something is happening in a certain sequence when it's not, or time is slowing down, things like that?

EAGLEMAN: So this is the work my lab has been doing for the last decade or so. It turns out that not only is vision a construction of the brain that's manipulable, but so is time. There are temporal illusions that we've discovered, just like visual illusions, and it turns out it's quite easy to manipulate these things.

And what that demonstrates is that time is not just flowing past like a river the way Newton thought about it or most people do think about it, but it turns out that it's a - it's something that the brain is actively constructing. And in answer to your question, yes, we can make - in the laboratory we can make you believe that something happened before something else, even though it was the other way around.

So let me give you a one-second example of this. If I have you press a button, and that causes a flash of light, then you, you know, immediately figure out that you're causing the flash of light by pressing the button. But now let's say I insert a very small delay in there, so when you hit the button, there's a tenth of a second before the flash of light.

Now, it turns out, it's such a small delay, you don't even notice it, but if you train up on that, let's say you press the button 10 times, and now I remove that delay, when you next hit the button, and the flash happens immediately, you will think that the flash happened before you pressed the button.

In other words, there's an illusory reversal of action and effect. You will think that you didn't cause that flash, and instead you'll say, oh, it happened just before I got there. And the reason this is important is because when my student and I discovered this a few years ago, I realized, my gosh, that's exactly what schizophrenic patients do. They have what's called credit misattribution, where they'll do something, and they'll say, whoa, it wasn't me, I didn't do it, I wasn't the one who caused that.

And what I realized is that at bottom, making causality judgments is a temporal issue. You have to - you have to learn the order that I put out the motor act, then I got the sensory feedback, therefore I'm the one who caused it. But if you get the timing wrong by even a few thousandths of a second, you're going to have a completely different interpretation of the world.

And what I hypothesized at that time is that schizophrenia might fundamentally be a disorder of time perception, and the more I started looking into this, the more I think this is probably right.

For example, you're always generating an internal voice and listening to it. You're always talking to yourself on the inside. But imagine now you got the timing wrong so that you think you heard the voice before you generated it. That would be an auditory hallucination. You would have to interpret that as somebody else's voice.

So if schizophrenia is fundamentally a disorder of time, and that's what we're studying right now, that suggests entirely new rehabilitative strategies. Instead of pumping people full of meds, what if we could just sit them down and have them play videogames that recalibrate their timing?

So this is why studying very basic science things like time can really end up having a lot of importance for bigger issues.



FLATOW: If it's - could it be that simple?

EAGLEMAN: Oh, it - who knows. I mean, like any scientific theory, there are 100 ways this could go wrong. But it might be. It might be that at bottom there's a fundamental problem in schizophrenia that leads to fragmented cognition and then these strange interpretations and stories about what's happened in the world.

FLATOW: Well, we always talk about the nature-nurture problem on anything in the body or the mind. Could there also be the nature side, which is some sort of inherited chemistry imbalance that might cause it, and might that be causing the time delay that you're talking about?

EAGLEMAN: Yes, I mean the general story with the nature-nurture question is it's a totally dead question because the answer is always both. And when it comes to schizophrenia, you do find identical twins, one of whom ends up expressing schizophrenia, and one does not, and that's how we know that there's this interaction.

Even things like smoking marijuana when you're a teenager has a correlation with expressing schizophrenia later if you have the genetic predisposition for that. So - but all that tells us is that time perception is a biological issue. In other words, if you have this particular set of genes mixed with this set of experiences, that can make the system go awry in a very particular way.

And I think what that is is, in the way of time perception, that's what - that's the part that's breaking.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's see if we can get some phone calls. Lots of people want to call. Let's go to Gary in our nation's capital, in Washington. Hi, Gary.

GARY: Hi. I want to - I want to know whether Mr. Eagleman, whether he believes that brain creates mind or whether he believes they are two separate, interacting entities. And I want to know whether he believes his answer is a well-informed opinion or a scientific fact.

EAGLEMAN: Thank you so much for that very important question, Gary. First of all, we essentially never use the term scientific fact, because all science ever gives us is the best story at any given moment where the weight of evidence best supports it, but things always turn over.

As far as the question about whether brain creates the mind, whether the mind is an emergent property of the physical system, that's, I would say, the main hypothesis in modern neuroscience, is that somehow the mind emerges from the brain. And I'll tell you why.

It's because in Descartes' time, for example, Descartes suggested that the brain and the mind are two separate issues. You've got your physical stuff, but then you've got this other thing, your soul, and these are separable. But Descartes never saw patients with brain damage.

And it turns out when you see people with strokes and tumors and traumatic brain injury and so on, the lesson that emerges and becomes very clear is that you are irrevocably tied to this three pounds of tissue in your skull. And when it changes, you change.

When it gets damaged, things change with you. You lose the capacity to name animals or understand music or see colors. Or your decision-making changes. Your risk aversion changes. Your capacity to simulate possible futures and evaluate them - these all change when the brain changes. And that's how we know that these are tied together. They're inseparable.

Now whether the mind is nothing but the emergent property of the brain, that has yet to be proven. As I said, it's the driving hypothesis in the field. But we'll only really know that once we get to a point where we can simulate a brain in its entirety, and then we'll ask it. Hey, how do you feeling there? And, you know, we'll see if it passes the Turing test or, you know...

FLATOW: Right.

EAGLEMAN: ...seems to be a conscious being. So that's so - that's where it stands, is we think probably the mind is an emergent property of the brain, but we don't know it for sure.

FLATOW: Is consciousness a synonym for the mind?

EAGLEMAN: You know, it can be. I usually just refer to consciousness as the part of you that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning, because everybody knows what I mean by that.

FLATOW: Yeah, yeah.

EAGLEMAN: You know, when you're asleep, you've got the same brain, but there's some bit that's missing there, and that's the part we call consciousness, your awareness of what's going on around you - of the world that way.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255 is our number, talking with David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain" on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

And what is the difference between subconscious mind and your unconscious mind?

EAGLEMAN: Thank you for that. Those are synonymous. Those are equivalent terms.


EAGLEMAN: Freud used the term subconscious, and then modern neuroscience, in certain ways, wants to distinguish itself from some Freudian ideas. And so many people now use the term unconscious for that, which is a little unfortunate, first of all, because Freud actually had several very good ideas. Not all of them are right, but he had some good ideas.

The other thing is that unconscious is a bit of a confusing term, because it's also what happens when you go into a coma. But what - in this conversation, when we use the word unconscious, we mean all the stuff happening under the radar of conscious awareness.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

EAGLEMAN: So, you know, your heartbeat, your respiration, the peristalsis in your gut and essentially everything you think and believe and so on is happening in ways that you don't have acquaintance with or access to in your brain.

FLATOW: Let's go to Stu(ph) in Palo Alto. Hi, Stu.

STU: Hi, Ira. How are you?


STU: I just was really wondering if science has learned anything recently about the concept of deja vu. In other words, you walk into a room and you see something, and you swear you've seen that before. Have your studies shown anything more about that?

EAGLEMAN: Yeah. Thanks for the question. It turns out deja vu probably doesn't have to do with time. Instead, it has to do with memory, and specifically with matching a template. So when you walk into a place where you actually have been before, you're doing some sort of matching where you say, ah, yes, this, there, and that room's there and this person's over here. And it all sort of clicks together, and that's familiarity.

And what happens sometimes is you walk into a place, and your brain is struggling to match a template that sort of works, that mostly works, but it's not quite clicking into place. And that seems to be what happens with deja vu.

And, of course, some people think that deja vu is really where you're maybe seeing a step ahead into the future. And if anyone ever tells that to you, the next time they have deja vu, just take out $20 and say, I will give you these $20 if you tell me what's going to happen next. And, of course, they can't actually tell you what happens next. It's just that everything that happens, they think, yeah, I kind of knew that.

FLATOW: Mm. Yeah. 1-800-989-8255. Before the break, I want to - do you think we can - we will actually be able to model the mind in its totality with computers or - artificial intelligence has not really worked out.

EAGLEMAN: Yeah. I mean - look, I mean, AI, you know, from the 1960s, we've been throwing the smartest people on the planet at that problem, and it's a total failure in terms of, you know, in terms of where we've actually gotten. I expected, by this point...


EAGLEMAN: ...we would have robots everywhere. We'd have C-3PO. And we don't. And what that illustrates is it's just a really, really hard problem. And so I think the game has changed a bit, so that what we're really wanting to do now is figure out, well, how did Mother Nature solve the problem? She had billions of years and trillions of experiments in parallel, and she's come up with tricks that we haven't even dreamt of yet. And so the new game is to go inside the head and figure out what's actually getting implemented there.

And as far as whether we'll ever be able to simulate the mind in its entirety, it's a totally open question. I mean, we will be able to - who knows, 30 years or something - run a full-scale simulation of a brain. And then the question is, is that sufficient? Can you reproduce the brain in zeroes and ones? Or is there something special about the wet biological stuff that's necessary?

FLATOW: Yeah, because it has all those connections, you know, that we need to have all of those connections for a reason, so...

EAGLEMAN: Right. I mean, you can simulate all the connections, but is there something special, for example, some quantum-mechanical property that happens inside neurons? And people debate this vigorously on all sides. The fact is it's just not known, and we'll just have to get there and simulate it to know that answer.

FLATOW: Yeah, have to get some more Aplysia experiment. Eric Kandel will come on and talk this over with you. OK. We're going to take a break. Our number: 1-800-989-8255. Talking with David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." If you'd like to, as I say, give us a call: 1-800-989-8255. You can tweet us, @scifri. Let the tweets coming in, and also, we can talk about it on our Facebook page and our website. So stay around. More questions and some answers after this break. Don't go away. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.


FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. Talking with David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." A great read, it's very, very interesting if you want to think about the mind. David, you describe in your book the story of Charles Whitman. He's a man who, in Austin in 1966, shot more than 40 people, killed his wife and his mother. We all heard about that, those of us old enough, like me, to remember that. But it's an interesting case. Tell us about that case.

EAGLEMAN: Well, for those who don't remember or know about the story, he climbed up on the tower at the University of Texas in Austin, yeah. And he opened fire randomly on people. He killed pedestrians. He killed the people who came to help them. He killed the ambulance drivers who came to help them. And it was such an act of random violence. And when the Austin police finally got to the top and killed him, of course, what everyone wanted to know is who is this guy? And what they discovered was that it was a surprise.

There was nothing about this guy that would have presaged that kind of behavior. So he was an engineering student. He works as a bank teller. He had been an Eagle Scout. And what they pieced together, eventually, by looking at his diary and also at the suicide note he wrote the night before is that Whitman was very smart, first of all. He has a very high IQ. He was very insightful. And he said, over the course of the year before this happened, something inside of me is changing, and I don't understand it.

But I'm becoming somebody different. And I've got this irrational anger, and I can't control this anger. And he went to see a psychiatrist in 1966, but he didn't get any relief from that. And he said in his suicide note, when this is all over, I want an autopsy to be performed. And that's exactly what happened. And they discovered that he had a brain tumor that was growing, and it was impinging on a part of his brain called the amygdala, which is involved in fear and aggression.

And he was introspective enough and insightful enough to know that something was changing and to demand this autopsy. And that's, you know, just one of hundreds of cases that we can talk about where somebody's brain changes and their behavior changes. And this again illustrates the point that we are tied to this biology, we're the sum total of this biology. And this leads to - this lead us right in the heart of a very deep question about things like culpability and blameworthiness.

And one of the things I do is I direct the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, and we seek to understand what's going on in different brains. It turns out brains are very different from one another. They're like fingerprints. Everyone's got them, but they're quite different. People see the world differently. They see reality differently. They have very different approaches and personalities. And our legal system essentially imagines that all brains are created equal.

If you're over 18 years old and you have an IQ of over 70, it's imagined that all brains have equal capacities for decision making, for simulating possible futures, for impulse control and so on. And it's a very nice idea, but it's demonstrably incorrect. And so a legal system that has some more science baked into it would be able to do more refined sentencing and more customized rehabilitation. As it stands now, we use incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution.

We put everybody in jail. You probably know that America incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any country in the world. And aside from any conversation we might have about the humanity of that, it's not cost effective and has extremely low utility. And as it stands out, our prison system, 35 percent of the people in the prison system have mental illness, which means that our prison system has become our mental health care system. And this is not the right thing for us to be doing.

We also stuff our prisons with drug addicts. And, you know, we know so much about the circuitry and pharmacology of the brain at this point, that there are so many fruitful things we can be doing to help people break their drug addiction rather than incarcerating them - which is expensive for us and it's damaging to the person who's incarcerated. So neuroscience and the law seeks to have a much more refined understanding about why individuals act differently. It doesn't let anybody off the hook. It doesn't exculpate anybody. But it does allow us to do customized sentencing and rehabilitation.

FLATOW: So instead of sending someone to prison where they're not going to really get rehabilitated, you recommend some other line to be taken.

EAGLEMAN: Well, right. You know, it turns out - I'm not opposed to incarceration because for - if you have a well-functioning - normally functioning brain, then that plugs right into these reward-and-punishment systems, and hopefully it might change your behavior into the future. But it doesn't do any good to incarcerate somebody whose deliberative systems in their brains are not working. You can't get a schizophrenic to break rocks in the hot summer sun and hope that that's going to change their behavior or somehow make them prosocial. So the punishment has to fit the brain. And you know, again, I have to emphasize that we'll continue to take bad actors off the street. This doesn't let anybody off the hook, but it does mean that we can do things to encourage prosocial behavior and get people back out into society when they're able to be.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. It seems like you're talking about the brain variability and possibility that tumors or other brain disorders are causing this kind of behavior. How do we know what someone's quote, unquote, "real character" is, then, if there are all these other things that is influencing your - what - who you are?

EAGLEMAN: Yeah. In "Incognito," I have a chapter called "Will the Real Mel Gibson Please Stand Up?" Because I was interested, some years ago when he got arrested in Malibu and he said to the cop, are you a Jew? And it turns out the police officer was Jewish. And Gibson spouted off with all sorts of anti-Semitic comments, really horrible stuff. And so that got on - that, you know, that leaked out, and the whole media was talking about that the next day.

So Gibson writes a couple days later a - what seemed to be a genuinely apologetic letter for this. And he said, look, I was drunk, and that's no excuse for saying things like that, he said, but it's not how I feel. Some of my best friends are Jewish - which is true. He had been hanging out at his friend's house that afternoon who's Jewish. And he's - he was very apologetic. So the question is: Who's the real Mel Gibson? The one who spouts off the anti-Semitic comments? Or the one who is contrite about that later and apologizes?

And the answer - I only bring this up as a rhetorical thing, because the answer is both. You are the sum total of what's going on in your brain. People are interestingly nuanced and complicated and can have contradictory drives and ideas inside of them. And both of those people are Mel Gibson.

FLATOW: Do you ever think of yourself as taking on the new Oliver - as being the new Oliver Sacks of our time, who writes about cases and thoughtful like you are?

EAGLEMAN: Interesting. I mean, so there's only one Oliver Sacks, and I love him. You know, I think maybe I've got a slightly different niche in the ecosystem, because he's a neurologist who sees patients. I'm a neuroscientist who runs a research laboratory. And so I get the great opportunity to be living during this blossoming of modern neuroscience. You know, I'm using every available technology, from genetics to neuroimaging, to deep-brain stimulation in patients, to really get to explore things hopefully at even the next level.

FLATOW: You know, it seems like neuroscience is really, as you say, the hot new thing. We see the prefix "neuro-" on everything: neuro-economics, neuro-education.

EAGLEMAN: Neuro-radio. That's what this is. Yeah.


EAGLEMAN: It turns out, you know, it turns out - yeah, I've noticed that, as well. And sometimes, that prefix has meaning. Often, it has very little meaning or none. It's probably a spectrum, so I have no - for example, I happen to really care a lot about K-through-12 education, and I've noticed that everybody calls everything neuro-education now. And sometimes it's predicated on some kind of good ideas, and sometimes it's totally meaningless. So one has to be careful, too, when interpreting that.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Because it's just there to get your attention if we call it neuro-something.

EAGLEMAN: Yeah. Exactly. It's just - it's - yeah.

FLATOW: Let's go to Mary in Vacaville, California. Hi, Mary.

MARY: Yeah. Hi. Yeah, I was wondering if there's any scientific research - well, I guess there is - in sleep. What could you tell us about that that you find most interesting? And I've been reading about sleep architecture, a term I hadn't heard before, and how it's constructed in levels down, up, down, up, and then it seems there's a lot still to be learned about that.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. My apologies to those in Vacaville, California.

MARY: Yes, you got it.

FLATOW: I'm sorry. I even know where that is. Go ahead. David, you want...


MARY: (Unintelligible) California.

EAGLEMAN: Yeah. Well, thank you for that question, Mary. Sleep is one of my favorite topics. I wrote an article five years ago called "Ten Unsolved Question of Neuroscience," and to me, one of the biggest ones is: Why do brains sleep and dream? And there are several theories. There have been historically many ideas about this, but I'll tell you which one seems the most correct at this point, which is it has everything to do with learning and memory.

It has to do with consolidation of the information that you pull in during the day. So the brain is like a piece of hardware that runs two different software programs, very different programs. So when you're awake, you're pulling in lots of information. Then you go to sleep, you switch over the whole factory and you run, really, a different program going on there, which takes out the neural trash and puts things together, and it's absolutely necessary. As, you know, if you deprive somebody of sleep, they'll spin into delusion and madness, eventually.

FLATOW: Yeah. Thanks, Mary. I want to go Dan in Tucson, because he has a similar sort of question. Dan?

DAN: Yeah. I had a very similar question. Had to do - my father used to ponder the fact of whether we had previous-life experiences, and he was pretty skeptical. But the one question he couldn't answer is: How are we able to envision new people, places and things in our dreams? And I was wondering if maybe you could talk to how we could create these images if we had not experienced them before.

EAGLEMAN: Well, thanks for that question. And I love it, because that's one that I've been asking since I was a little kid. And, in fact, I thought so deeply about that question, that I started having really funny dreams about that question. And in my dream, I was in a restaurant and I stood up and I said, OK, everybody quiet. I said, I know that you're a construction of my head, and how did you get here?

And I went up to one of my dream characters and I said, show me what you have in your pockets. And so he pulled out his pockets. He had some coins and some Chapstick and whatever. And I thought: How does my brain construct this so quickly, where whatever question I pose, it will cook up some answer? So I also find that a terrific question, how the brain does it. We don't have any evidence, not a shred of evidence suggesting that this is explained by previous life experience, although, you know, every - science has broad table, and we can keep many hypothesis on that table, but there's no evidence supporting that at the moment.

DAN: But I will say, let's assume that it's just a construction, a generation of the brain - as Shakespeare said, coinage of your brain - that it just illustrates how much is going on under that hood that you don't have access to.

EAGLEMAN: The fact that your brain can make up plots that you think the conscious you wouldn't have thought of, or sometimes in dreams, there's a joke that you find quite funny and you think, well, I wouldn't have thought of that joke. But something in your head did, presumably, and so it's just a good consciousness razor about how much is happening in the factory down there.

FLATOW: Rod Serling made a whole career out of this sort of dreaming.


FLATOW: I'm talking with David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain," on SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow.

So much to talk about, so much to discuss. But before we go, I have a few minutes left. I want to talk to you about "Perception," the TV show. You are the science advisor for that, correct? Tell us a bit about that.

EAGLEMAN: That's right. Well, it's been a real pleasure for me. So it's - so "Perception" is a new show on TNT. It's about a neuroscientist who happens to be schizophrenic, and he happens to, every week, end up in some situation where he helps the FBI solve crimes. So you might think that the plot is, you know, it's a little unlikely, but no more so than any other television show. But what's lovely about it is that every week, the show gets to introduce some new issue in neuroscience, some disorder, some strange thing about memory, about face blindness, about whatever it is. And the talented scriptwriters for this show, you know, spin a wonderful narrative around this with plot twists and everything else.

But I think it gives viewers a real opportunity to dig in and learn something new about science. And I'm a real believer in the endeavor of dissemination of science, the popularization of science. And I think, you know, I mean, in the end, it's television, and one can criticize all day long. But, in fact, it gives people - it plants seeds for deeper exploration for all the millions of people who watch the show and think, well, that's interesting. I've never even heard of that. Maybe I should look into neuroscience a little bit more deeply. So I'm really happy about it.

FLATOW: Yeah. We've had the - I think the producer of the program has been on, talking about it. And we're great believers here that entertainment and the arts and - have a great connection to the sciences as a way of understanding both of them and...

EAGLEMAN: Yeah, yeah.

FLATOW: stimulating conversation about both of them. Do you come up with any of the ideas, or do they run an idea past you? Or you say, hey, this is a great idea for us for a show.

EAGLEMAN: The way it works is I sat down with the writer. It was actually Skype meeting, but I met with the writer several times. And I said, look, here are ideas that you guys could use as, you know, as the scene, you grow something out of it. So, you know, there's this disorder. There's this symptom. There's this thing that happens. And then they go off. And months later, they, you know, pass a script over to me. And then I go through - my job then is to go through and make sure everything's factually correct.

FLATOW: That's great. That's great.


FLATOW: And so now, you've done with "Incognito." What - where do you go from here? What interests you now?

EAGLEMAN: Well, I've got my next five books under contract. So...


FLATOW: Really?

EAGLEMAN:'s moronic. Yeah, yeah.

FLATOW: Five of them.

EAGLEMAN: Yeah. It's a little painful, but...

FLATOW: Can you give us some idea what your - what kinds of things you're looking into?

EAGLEMAN: Sure. I mean, my next book is about time. It's about everything I've been doing this last decade in the world of time perception, because it's such an amazing world, I think, and it's a little-known world. So I'm doing it on time. I've got a book on neurolaw, because it's a, you know, it's a really important topic, I think. I have a book on brain plasticity - in other words, how the brain is always rewriting its own circuitry on the fly and what that means, and how we could build machines modeled off that. So, you know, the book is all about the brain, but it ends with this call for bio-inspired machinery of a totally different type than we build now. And then two textbooks for undergraduates.

FLATOW: Wow. Well, you want to keep busy, don't you?


EAGLEMAN: I'm finding ways to fill my time. Yeah.

FLATOW: David, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.

EAGLEMAN: Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: And if it's - you filled that very well. David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain." He is a neuroscientist at Baylor's College of Medicine, also director of the laboratory of Perception and Action, director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and the Law, and takes time to talk with us and write books and stuff like that. Thanks for being with us again today.

EAGLEMAN: A pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: