David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action as well as the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. His scientific research has been published in journals from Science to Nature, and his neuroscience books include Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia, Why the Net Matters, Live-Wired, and the newly released Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. He is also the author of the internationally best-selling book of fiction Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.
From his Q & A with Noah Charney at The Daily Beast:
What is your favorite course to teach?--Marshal Zeringue
“Neuroscience and the Law.” It’s a course I’ve built from scratch over several years, and the students are grad students, med students, law students, undergrads, lawyers, judges, and ethicists. That makes for shockingly rich discussion and debate. The material is where the rubber really hits the road in terms of applying the lessons of modern neurobiology to the way we think about building social policy and living together.
You are particularly good at making complex ideas accessible to the widest possible audience. Not all professors can do this. Is there a conscious translation of complex idea to accessible analogy that goes through you, or would you explain your approach in another way?
I just follow the rule I tell all my students: if you can’t explain it to an eighth grader in a way that he/she would understand it, then you don’t understand it. As a corollary, one must understand the importance of narrative. Our brains have evolved to care about story. If you want to penetrate the brain of a listener, wrap the information in things they care about.
You have written fiction and non-fiction, as well as academic texts. How does your approach differ between genres?
In academic texts there is a particular landscape of facts that needs to be surveyed. In nonfiction one chooses a particular path through that landscape, taking the reader on a special journey of your choosing. In fiction one takes off into the...[read on]