David Eagleman Thumbnail

David Eagleman

David Eagleman is an American neuroscientist, author, and science communicator. He teaches neuroscience at Stanford University and is CEO and co-founder of Neosensory, a company that develops devices for sensory substitution. He also directs the non-profit Center for Science and Law, which seeks to align the legal system with modern neuroscience and is Chief Science Officer and co-founder of BrainCheck, a digital cognitive health platform used in medical practices and health systems He is known for his work on brain plasticity, time perception, synesthesia, and neurolaw.

Books Mentioned on the Lex Fridman Podcast #119 with David Eagleman:

Understanding the Malleable Mind: Insights from David Eagleman on Lex Fridman’s Podcast

In a compelling episode of the Lex Fridman podcast, guest David Eagleman, a renowned neuroscientist and author, delves into the fascinating realm of neuroplasticity and the livewired brain. This article captures the essence of their conversation, shedding light on the intricacies of the human mind and its remarkable ability to adapt and evolve.

The Mystery of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity, as Eagleman explains, is the brain’s ability to reconfigure itself physically in response to the demands of our environment and experiences. Unlike the static hardware and software paradigm, our brains are dynamic entities, continually reshaping themselves. Eagleman introduces the term “liveware” to describe this phenomenon, emphasizing the constant and intricate changes that our neural pathways undergo throughout our lives.

The Brain’s Adaptability: A Double-Edged Sword

One of the most striking points in the discussion is the brain’s incredible adaptability. Eagleman illustrates this with examples of children who undergo hemispherectomies yet retain or regain their cognitive functions. This adaptability isn’t without its nuances, though. The brain’s plasticity diminishes with age, but it varies across different regions, influenced by the stability or variability of the data it receives. This feature underscores the potential for rehabilitation and learning but also highlights the challenges of changing ingrained patterns.

The Future of Neuroscience and Engineering

Eagleman envisions a future where the principles of the livewired brain are applied to engineering, creating devices that can adapt and reconfigure like our neural pathways. He suggests that understanding the brain’s mechanisms could revolutionize technology, making our tools as adaptable and resilient as our minds.

Ethical and Societal Implications

The conversation also touches on the broader implications of understanding the brain’s malleability. It raises questions about the nature of free will, the essence of individuality, and how society might change if we can harness and direct our neural plasticity more effectively. Eagleman and Fridman ponder the ethical, legal, and social implications of a future where we can profoundly understand and possibly manipulate the brain’s structure and functions.

Expanding Human Perception: The Future of Neuroplasticity with David Eagleman

In the continued conversation with David Eagleman on the Lex Fridman Podcast, the discussion delves into the essence of intelligence and its relation to the brain’s live-wired nature. Eagleman asserts that our superiority in intelligence, even compared to other mammals, stems from our brain’s unparalleled capacity to reconfigure and adapt. This live wiring allows humans to find new paths and solutions, something that current AI and machine learning systems are still striving to emulate.

Building Intelligent Systems: Lessons from Biology

Eagleman suggests that if we aspire to create intelligent machines, we should start with understanding the biological drive for survival and relevance. He contrasts the adaptability of a wolf, which can continue to thrive even after losing a limb, with the rigidity of the Mars Rover, which becomes inoperative when it encounters unexpected obstacles. This highlights the importance of creating systems that can adapt and reconfigure themselves in real-time, much like our brains.

Fear, Mortality, and Human Motivation

Discussing the works of philosophers like Ernest Becker and the concept of terror management theory, Eagleman touches on the profound impact of mortality on human motivation and cognition. While the fundamental drive to survive might underpin much of human behavior, our day-to-day actions are influenced by complex layers of goals, social interactions, and personal aspirations.

NeoSensory: A Glimpse into Sensory Expansion

Eagleman introduces his venture, NeoSensory, which focuses on expanding human perception through non-invasive means. By converting sound into patterns of vibration on a wristband, they enable deaf individuals to “hear” through their skin. This technology not only aids those with sensory deficits but also opens the door to augmenting human experience by adding entirely new senses, like infrared vision or magnetic field detection.

The Potential and Challenges of Brain-Computer Interfaces

While discussing the future of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) like Neuralink, Eagleman acknowledges their potential but also notes practical limitations. The non-invasive approach of NeoSensory offers a more immediately viable and less risky alternative for sensory augmentation and could pave the way for more complex integrations of technology with human perception.

Reading Recommendations and Reflections

Eagleman shares some of his favorite books, ranging from fiction like Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” to influential scientific works like Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” He emphasizes the importance of wide and varied learning as the raw material for creativity and innovation. Concluding the conversation, Eagleman offers advice to the younger generation: stay adaptable, be curious, and don’t be afraid to follow your passions, however unexpected they may be.