The neuroscientist, broadcaster and author on the evolution of the brain, the mystery of consciousnesss, and why the next generation will be much smarter than us.
David Eagleman is an American neuroscientist, bestselling author and presenter of the BBC series The Brain, as well as co-founder and chief executive officer of Neosensory, which develops devices for sensory substitution. His area of speciality is brain plasticity, and that is the subject of his new book, Livewired, which examines how experience refashions the brain, and shows that it is a much more adaptable organ than previously thought.
For the past half-century or more the brain has been spoken of in terms of a computer. What are the biggest flaws with that particular model?
It’s a very seductive comparison. But in fact, what we’re looking at is three pounds of material in our skulls that is essentially a very alien kind of material to us. It doesn’t write down memories, the way we think of a computer doing it. And it is capable of figuring out its own culture and identity and making leaps into the unknown. I’m here in Silicon Valley. Everything we talk about is hardware and software. But what’s happening in the brain is what I call livewire, where you have 86bn neurons, each with 10,000 connections, and they are constantly reconfiguring every second of your life. Even by the time you get to the end of this paragraph, you’ll be a slightly different person than you were at the beginning.
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"Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness."
- The New Yorker
"David Eagleman may be the best combination of scientist and fiction-writer alive."
- Stewart Brand
"A popularizer of impressive gusto...[Eagleman] aims, grandly, to do for the study of the mind what Copernicus did for the study of the stars."
- New York Observer
"David Eagleman offers startling lessons.... His method is to ask us to cast off our lazy commonplace assumptions.
- The Guardian
"What Eagleman seems to be calling for is a new Enlightenment."
- Sunday Herald
"David Eagleman is the kind of guy who really does make being a neuroscientist look like fun."
- New York Times
"[A] neuroscientist and polymath."
- Wall Street Journal