The Secret Life of the Mind

I recently had the great pleasure of reading Mariano Sigman’s The Secret Life of the Mind: How Your Brain Thinks, Feels, and Decides, a book first published in 2015. This book offers an exciting tour of a great variety of recent neuroscience research into areas like these:

  • What cognitive abilities seem to be built-in to neonates and infants? How do they think and learn, and how can we tell?

  • How much of our choices take place are beyond – and prior to – our conscious awareness of them? Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

  • How well can we “read” the thoughts of people who for whatever reason cannot express them in the moment (dreamers, infants, vegetative patients).

  • Which brain structures are responsible for which aspects of decision making and conscious experience?

Although the book heavily emphasized unconscious and innate behaviors, I didn’t get the sense that Sigman vered off into the kind of facile adaptationist arguments that you’re likely to find in other popular brain books. It’s not that he ignores the effects of language, learning, or culture, but they are not the central theme of the book.

I can strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in cognitive neuroscience. This is a compelling and fascinating read.