INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New York Times JUNE 10, 2011 - by Jennifer Schuessler
David Eagleman, who hits the hardcover nonfiction list this week at number fourteen with Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain is the kind of guy who really does make being a neuroscientist look like fun. His experiments tend to involve things like dropping people off amusement park thrill rides (to measure the way time seems to slow down during near-death experiences) and hanging out in the studio with Brian Eno and the drummer from Coldplay (to see how professional timekeepers stay precisely on the beat). He wears hip ankle boots and designer jeans while dashing between TED talks and his lab at Baylor. In his spare time, Eagleman has even written an acclaimed collection of speculative short stories, Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives, that will be staged as a full opera in London next year. He's also getting some traction with his efforts to start a new quasi-religious movement called Possibilianism, which aims to move beyond the dueling certitudes of traditional religion and atheism to explore radical what-ifs about the universe and human consciousness. One story in Sum, for example, considers the possibility that life on earth may be just a brief, pleasurable vacation from our true existence as gigantic beings doing the heavy lifting of holding up the cosmos. ("If you are thinking of dying," Alexander McCall Smith wrote in the Book Review in 2009, "this book may not exactly increase your peace of mind.")
In Incognito Eagleman engagingly sums up recent discoveries about the unconscious processes that dominate our mental life, including his own pioneering work in time perception. His contention that we are always living a little bit in the past, thanks to the time it takes the conscious mind to coordinate different sensory signals, may give comfort to deadline-challenged journalists. His claim that smaller body size correlates with living more closely in the moment (the benefit of a shorter spinal cord) has already cheered up another beleaguered demographic. "I once mentioned this in an NPR interview, and I got flooded by e-mails from short people," Eagleman told the New Yorker in April. "They were so pleased. For about a day, I was the hero of short people."