science | June 25, 2013

Brain Vs Mind: David Eagleman On The True Driver Of Our Behavior

With the onset of President Obama's BRAIN Initiative, neuroscience has been pushed to the forefront of public discourse. David Eagleman, a renowned neuroscientist and science speaker, has argued that we've barely scratched the surface of what we know about our brains. What's more, we are still trying to uncover the way our physical brains and conscious minds intertwine. How does your brain impact what you do and how you think? Why does the mind seem oblivious to the bodily functions the brain is controlling? When you suffer a trauma or change to your brain, does the mind change with it?

"There's an enormous gap between what our mind has access to and what the brain is actually doing," Eagleman says in a PopTech keynote he gave last year. The bestselling author explores the intriguing connection between our conscious minds and our brains. "When the brain changes, he argues, "you can change also." This idea can have a dramatic impact on the legal system. If we learn that an otherwise normally behaved person has become suddenly violent due to a brain tumor, how does that impact the sentencing that person receives? Are they deemed responsible? Not only that, but should sentencing be altered if removing the tumor will restore their previously normal behavior?

These issues were recently addressed in The Atlantic. Eagleman shared his perspective in the article: "We may someday find that many types of bad behavior have a basic biological explanation," he says, "[and] eventually think about bad decision making in the same way we think about any physical process, such as diabetes or lung disease." There's still a hotly contested debate, however, over the idea of free will. Eagleman argues that whether or not it exists, it's still a small part what determines our behavior. It's mind over matter; brain over mind. In his talks, Eagleman delves into these complex questions. His keynotes are accessible and eye-opening—showing us both how much, and how little, we know about our most vital organ.