David Eagleman

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David Eagleman
David Eagleman speaking at UP2011.jpg
Eagleman speaking at the UP Conference, 2011
Born April 25, 1971 (1971-04-25) (age 51)
Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Neuroscience, Writing
Institutions Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University
Alma mater Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, Salk Institute
Known for Time perception, brain plasticity, synesthesia, neurolaw. PBS television series: The Brain with David Eagleman. Books: Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, Incognito, The Brain: The Story of You
Notable awards Guggenheim Fellowship, Science Educator of the Year – Society for Neuroscience

David Eagleman (born April 25, 1971) is an American neuroscientist and writer at Baylor College of Medicine, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is known for his work on brain plasticity,[1] time perception,[2] synesthesia,[3] and neurolaw.[4] He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a council member in the World Economic Forum, and a New York Times bestselling author published in 28 languages.[5][6][7][8][9] He is the writer and presenter of the six-hour television series, The Brain with David Eagleman on PBS.[10]


Eagleman was born in New Mexico to a physician father and biology teacher mother.[2] An early experience of falling from a roof raised his interest in understanding the neural basis of time perception.[11][12] He attended the Albuquerque Academy for high school. As an undergraduate at Rice University, he majored in British and American literature. He spent his junior year abroad at Oxford University and graduated from Rice in 1993.[13] He earned his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in 1998, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute.[2]

Eagleman directs a neuroscience research laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. He sits on boards of several arts organizations and is the youngest member of the Board of Directors of the Long Now Foundation. Eagleman is a Guggenheim Fellow,[14] a Next Generation Texas Fellow,[15] a Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies,[16] and a council member on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Neuroscience & Behavior.[17] He was voted one of Houston's Most Stylish men,[18] and Italy's Style fashion magazine named Eagleman one of the "Brainiest, Brightest Idea Guys" and featured him on the cover.[19] He was awarded the Science Educator Award by the Society for Neuroscience.[20] He has spun off several companies from his research, including BrainCheck,[21] which develops portable cognitive testing and concussion detection, and NeoSensory,[22] which uses sound-to-touch sensory substitution to feed data streams into the brain, as described in his 2015 TED talk.[1]

Eagleman has been profiled in popular-press magazines such as the New Yorker,[2] Texas Monthly,[23] and Texas Observer,[24] on pop-culture television programs such as The Colbert Report[25] and on the scientific program Nova Science Now.[26] Stewart Brand wrote that "David Eagleman may be the best combination of scientist and fiction-writer alive".[27] Eagleman was the scientific advisor for the TNT television drama, Perception.[28] Dr. Eagleman founded an internet based dead man's switch service in 2007.[29]

As opposed to committing to strict atheism or to a particular religious position, Eagleman refers to himself as a possibilian,[30][31] which distinguishes itself from atheism and agnosticism by entertaining all possibilities.

Scientific specializations

Time perception

Eagleman's scientific work combines psychophysical, behavioral, and computational approaches to address the relationship between the timing of perception and the timing of neural signals.[32][33][34] Areas for which he is known include temporal encoding, time warping, manipulations of the perception of causality, and time perception in high-adrenaline situations.[citation needed] In one experiment, he dropped himself and other volunteers from a 150-foot tower to measure time perception as they fell.[35][36] He writes that his long-range goal is "to understand how neural signals processed by different brain regions come together for a temporally unified picture of the world".[37]


Synesthesia is an unusual perceptual condition in which stimulation to one sense triggers an involuntary sensation in other senses. Eagleman is the developer of The Synesthesia Battery, a free online test by which people can determine whether they are synesthetic.[38] By this technique he has tested and analyzed thousands of synesthetes,[39] and has written a book on synesthesia with Richard Cytowic, entitled Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia.[3] Eagleman has proposed that sensory processing disorder, a common characteristic of autism,[citation needed] may be a form of synesthesia [40]

Visual illusions

Eagleman has published extensively on what visual illusions [3] tell us about neurobiology, concentrating especially on the flash lag illusion and wagon wheel effect.

Neuroscience and the law

Neurolaw is an emerging field that determines how modern brain science should affect the way we make laws, punish criminals, and invent new methods for rehabilitation.[4][41][42] Eagleman is the founder and director of Baylor College of Medicine's Initiative on Neuroscience and Law.[43]



Eagleman's work of literary fiction, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, is an international bestseller published in 28 languages. The Observer wrote that "Sum has the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius",[7] The Wall Street Journal called Sum "inventive and imaginative",[44] and the Los Angeles Times hailed the book as "teeming, writhing with imagination".[8] In the New York Times Book Review, Alexander McCall Smith described Sum as a "delightful, thought-provoking little collection belonging to that category of strange, unclassifiable books that will haunt the reader long after the last page has been turned. It is full of tangential insights into the human condition and poetic thought experiments... It is also full of touching moments and glorious wit of the sort one only hopes will be in copious supply on the other side."[6] Sum was chosen by Time Magazine for their 2009 Summer Reading list,[45] and selected as Book of the Week by both The Guardian[46] and The Week.[47] In September 2009, Sum was ranked by Amazon as the #2 bestselling book in the United Kingdom.[48][49] Sum was named a Book of the Year by Barnes and Noble, The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and The Scotsman.

Why the Net Matters

In 2010, Eagleman published Why the Net Matters (Canongate Books), in which he argued that the advent of the internet mitigates some of the traditional existential threats to civilizations.[50] In keeping with the book's theme of the dematerialization of physical goods, he chose to publish the manuscript as an app for the iPad rather than a physical book. The New York Times Magazine described Why the Net Matters as a "superbook", referring to "books with so much functionality that they're sold as apps".[51] Stewart Brand described Why the Net Matters as a "breakthrough work". The project was longlisted for the 2011 Publishing Innovation Award by Digital Book World.[52] Eagleman's talk on the topic, entitled "Six Easy Ways to Avert the Collapse of Civilization", was voted the #8 Technology talk of 2010 by Fora.tv.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Eagleman's science book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain is a New York Times bestseller[5] and was named a Best Book of 2011 by Amazon,[53] the Boston Globe,[54] and the Houston Chronicle.[55] Incognito was reviewed as "appealing and persuasive" by the Wall Street Journal[56] and "a shining example of lucid and easy-to-grasp science writing" by The Independent.[57] A starred review from Kirkus described it as "a book that will leave you looking at yourself--and the world--differently".[58] To provide some important critical balance, one review in The Guardian reported that "[t]his book belongs to a popular trend of neuro-hubris – wildly overstating the ramifications of a science that is still in its infancy. The true fascination of neuroscience lies not in bombastic philosophical claims but in the fine detail of brain function, illustrations of the mind-brain problem, and the human interest of case histories." [59]



  1. 1.0 1.1 David Eagleman TED talk, March 18, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 The Possibilian: David Eagleman and the Mysteries of the Brain, The New Yorker, April 25, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cytowic RE and Eagleman DM (2009). Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Brain on Trial, David Eagleman, The Atlantic, July 2011
  5. 5.0 5.1 Inside the List, New York Times, June 10, 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 Alexander McCall Smith, Eternal Whimsy: Review of David Eagleman's Sum, New York Times Book Review, June 12, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-06-14.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Geoff Dyer, Do you really want to come back as a horse?: Geoff Dyer is bowled over by a neuroscientist's exploration of the beyond, The Observer, June 7, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-06-12.
  8. 8.0 8.1 David Eagleman's Sum (book review), Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-02-08.
  9. International editions of SUM. Retrieved on 2015-03-19.
  10. PBS: The Brain with David Eagleman
  11. Radiolab: Falling, September 2010.
  12. Ripley, Amanda (2008). The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why. Crown Books. pp 65-67.
  13. "Association of Rice Alumni". Rice.edu. Retrieved 2008-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Guggenheim Fellowship Awards 2011
  15. The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law Next Generation Project Texas Fellows, retrieved on September 5, 2011
  16. [1]
  17. "World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Neuroscience & Behaviour" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Houston Magazine's Men of Style 2011
  19. David Eagleman, Style magazine, December 2011, Issue 12, pp 75-80.
  20. Science Educator Award, Society for Neuroscience, October 2012.
  21. BrainCheck
  22. Neosensory, Inc
  23. Is David Eagleman Neuroscience’s Carl Sagan?
  24. The Soul Seeker: A neuroscientist's search for the human essence, Texas Observer, May 28, 2010.
  25. Colbert Report: David Eagleman, Aired July 21, 2011.
  26. Profile: David Eagleman, Nova Science Now, Aired February 2, 2011.
  27. Introduction to Eagleman lecture at the Long Now Foundation, April 1, 2010.
  28. http://eagleman.com/blog/item/52-tnts-perception
  29. [2], Houston Chronicle, January 9, 2007.
  30. Beyond god and atheism: Why I am a possibilian, David Eagleman, New Scientist, September 27, 2010.
  31. Stray questions for David Eagleman, New York Times Paper Cuts, July 10, 2009.
  32. Eagleman DM (2009). Brain Time. In What's Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science. Ed: Max Brockman. Vintage Books.
  33. Burdick, A (2006). The mind in overdrive. Discover Magazine, 27 (4), 21-22.
  34. Eagleman DM (2008). Human time perception and its illusions. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 18(2):131-6.
  35. Choi, CQ. Time doesn't really freeze when you're freaked, MSNBC, December 11, 2007.
  36. Exploring Time (documentary), Discovery Channel, 2007
  37. Eagleman Lab website, retrieved on 2015-10-15
  38. Eagleman DM, Kagan AD, Nelson SN, Sagaram D, Sarma AK (2007). A standardized test battery for the study of Synesthesia. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 159: 139-145.
  39. Novich SD, Cheng S, Eagleman DM (2011). Is synesthesia one condition or many? A large-scale analysis reveals subgroups. Journal of Neuropsychology. 5:353-371.
  40. The blended senses of synesthesia, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2012.
  41. The Brain and The Law, Lecture at the Royal Society for the Arts, London, England, April 21, 2009.
  42. Eagleman DM, Correro MA, Singh J (2009). "Why Neuroscience Matters For a Rational Drug Policy" PDF (125 KB), Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology.
  43. "You are your brain" - David Eagleman on transforming the criminal justice system, Reason TV, April 2010. Retrieved on 2012-02-19.
  44. Stark, A. In Our End Is Our Beginning, Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2009.
  45. TIME Magazine's 2009 Summer Reading list, July 13, 2009.
  46. Nick Lezard, Life after life explained, The Guardian, June 13, 2009.
  47. Book of the week: Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman, The Week, March 6, 2009.
  48. Stephen Fry tweet sends book's sales rocketing, The Guardian, September 11, 2009.
  49. Stephen Fry's Twitter posts on David Eagleman novel sparks 6000% sales spike, The Telegraph, September 11, 2009.
  50. A new species of book, BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, December 13, 2010
  51. Watch Me, Read Me, New York Times Magazine, January 16, 2011
  52. DBW Innovation Awards longlist, retrieved January 16, 2011.
  53. Amazon.com Best Science Books of 2011
  54. Boston Globe: Best Books of the Year 2011
  55. Bookish: Best Books of 2011
  56. The Stranger Within, Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2011
  57. Incognito review, The Independent, April 17, 2011
  58. Kirkus Reviews – Incognito, April 15, 2011.
  59. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman – review, The Guardian, April 23, 2011.

External links