David Eagleman

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David Eagleman
BornApril 25, 1971 (1971-04-25) (age 48)
Alma materRice University, Baylor College of Medicine, Salk Institute
Known forTime 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, The Runaway Species
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship, Science Educator of the Year – Society for Neuroscience
Scientific career
InstitutionsStanford University

David Eagleman (born April 25, 1971) is an American neuroscientist, author, and science communicator. He teaches as an adjunct professor at Stanford University and is CEO of NeoSensory, a company that develops devices for sensory substitution.[1] He also directs the non-profit Center for Science and Law, which seeks to align the legal system with modern neuroscience.[2] He is known for his work on brain plasticity,[3] time perception,[4] synesthesia,[5] and neurolaw.[6]

He is a Guggenheim Fellow and a New York Times bestselling author published in 32 languages.[7][8][9][10][11] He is the writer and presenter of the Emmy-nominated[citation needed] international television series, The Brain with David Eagleman.[12]


Eagleman was born in New Mexico to Arthur and Cirel Egelman, a physician and biology teacher, respectively.[13] Eagleman decided to change his name from Egelman after discovering alternative spellings in personal genealogy research.[14] An early experience of falling from a roof raised his interest in understanding the neural basis of time perception.[15][16] 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.[17] He earned his PhD in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in 1998, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute.

Eagleman is currently an adjunct professor at Stanford University, after directing a neuroscience research laboratory for 10 years at Baylor College of Medicine. He serves as the Chief Science Advisor for the Mind Science Foundation, and is the youngest member of the board of directors of the Long Now Foundation. Eagleman is a Guggenheim Fellow,[18] a Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies,[19] and a council member on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Neuroscience & Behavior.[20] He was voted one of Houston's Most Stylish men,[21] and Italy's Style fashion magazine named Eagleman one of the "Brainiest, Brightest Idea Guys" and featured him on the cover.[22] He was awarded the Science Educator Award by the Society for Neuroscience.[23] He has spun off several companies from his research [24], including BrainCheck,[25] which develops portable cognitive testing and concussion detection, and NeoSensory,[26] which uses sound-to-touch sensory substitution to feed data streams into the brain, as described in his TED talk.[3]

Eagleman has been profiled in magazines such as the New Yorker,[4] Texas Monthly,[27] and Texas Observer,[28] on pop-culture television programs such as The Colbert Report[29] and on the scientific program Nova Science Now.[30] Stewart Brand wrote that "David Eagleman may be the best combination of scientist and fiction-writer alive".[31] Eagleman founded Deathswitch, an internet based dead man's switch service, in 2007.[32]

As opposed to committing to strict atheism or to a particular religious position, Eagleman refers to himself as a possibilian,[33][34] which distinguishes itself from atheism and agnosticism by studying the structure of the possibility space.

Scientific specializations[edit]

Sensory substitution[edit]

In a TED talk,[3] Eagleman unveiled a method for using sound-to-touch sensory substitution to feed data streams into the brain.[35] In 2015 he launched a venture-funded company, NeoSensory, headquartered in Palo Alto, California.[36]

Time perception[edit]

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.[37][38][39] Areas for which he is known include temporal encoding, time warping, manipulations of the perception of causality, and time perception in high-adrenaline situations.[40] In one experiment, he dropped himself and other volunteers from a 150-foot tower to measure time perception as they fell.[41] 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".[42]


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.[43] By this technique he has tested and analyzed thousands of synesthetes,[44] and has written a book on synesthesia with Richard Cytowic, entitled Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia.[5] Eagleman has proposed that sensory processing disorder, a common characteristic of autism,[citation needed] may be a form of synesthesia[45]

Visual illusions[edit]

Eagleman has published extensively on what visual illusions[46] tell us about neurobiology, concentrating especially on the flash lag illusion and wagon wheel effect.

Neuroscience and the law[edit]

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.[6][47][48] Eagleman is the founder and director of the Center for Science and Law.[49][50]


Eagleman wrote and hosted The Brain with David Eagleman, an international television documentary series for which he was the writer, host, and executive producer[51][52][53][54][55][56] The series debuted on PBS in America in 2015,[57] followed by the BBC in the United Kingdom and the SBS in Australia before worldwide distribution. The New York Times listed it as one of the best television shows of the year.[58] In 2016, the series was nominated for an Emmy Award.

In 2018 he made a Netflix documentary, The Creative Brain, based on his book The Runaway Species with Anthony Brandt. In that documentary, he interviews creators such as Tim Robbins, Michael Chabon, Grimes, Dan Weiss, Kelis, Robert Glasper, Nathan Myhrvold, Michelle Khine, Nick Cave, Bjarke Ingels, and others.[59]

Eagleman serves as the scientific advisor for the HBO television series Westworld.[60][61] He previously served as the science advisor for the TNT television drama, Perception, starring Eric McCormack as a schizophrenic neuropsychiatrist.[62] In that role, Eagleman wrote one of the episodes, Eternity.[63]



Eagleman's work of literary fiction, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, is an international bestseller published in 32 languages. The Observer wrote that "Sum has the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius",[9] The Wall Street Journal called Sum "inventive and imaginative",[64] and the Los Angeles Times hailed the book as "teeming, writhing with imagination".[10] 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."[8] Sum was chosen by Time Magazine for their Summer Reading list,[65] and selected as Book of the Week by both The Guardian[66] and The Week.[67] In September 2009, Sum was ranked by Amazon as the #2 bestselling book in the United Kingdom.[68][69] Sum was named a Book of the Year by Barnes and Noble, The Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and The Scotsman.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain[edit]

Eagleman's science book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain is a New York Times bestseller[7] and was named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon,[70] the Boston Globe,[71] and the Houston Chronicle.[72] Incognito was reviewed as "appealing and persuasive" by the Wall Street Journal[73] and "a shining example of lucid and easy-to-grasp science writing" by The Independent.[74] The book explores the brain as being a "team of rivals", with parts of the brain constantly "fighting it out" among each other.[75]

The Runaway Species[edit]

In 2017 Eagleman and co-author Anthony Brandt (a music composer) wrote The Runaway Species, an examination of human creativity. The book was described by the journal Nature as "A lively exploration of the software our brains run in search of the mother lode of invention… It sweeps the reader through examples from engineering, science, product design, music and the visual arts to trace the roots of creative thinking."[76] The Wall Street Journal wrote that "the authors look at art and science together to examine how innovations — from Picasso’s initially offensive paintings to Steve Jobs’s startling iPhone — build on what already exists... This manifesto of sorts shows how both disciplines foster creativity."[77]

The Brain: The Story of You[edit]

In 2015, The Brain came out as a companion book to the television series The Brain with David Eagleman.

Brain and Behavior: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective[edit]

In 2016, Eagleman co-authored this Cognitive Neuroscience textbook with Jonathan Downar. The textbook is published by Oxford University Press, and is used by many universities around the world, including Stanford and Columbia.

Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia[edit]

Eagleman's book on synesthesia, co-authored with neurologist Richard Cytowic, compiles the modern understanding and research about this perceptual condition. The afterword for the book was written by Dmitri Nabokov, the son of Vladimir Nabokov, a famous synesthete. The book won the Montaigne Medal for "books that illuminate, progress, or redirect thought".[78]

Why the Net Matters[edit]

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.[79] 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".[80] 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.[81] 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.


  • The Runaway Species, co-authored with Anthony Brandt, Catapult, 2017.
  • Brain and Behavior: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective, co-authored with Jonathan Downar, Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • The Brain with David Eagleman, a PBS television series, 2015.
  • The Brain: The Story of You, Canongate, 2015.
  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, Pantheon, 2011
  • Why the Net Matters: How the Internet will save Civilization, Canongate, 2010.
  • Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia, co-authored with Richard Cytowic, 2009, MIT Press.
  • Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, Pantheon, 2009. (Fiction)


  1. ^ NeoSensory
  2. ^ The Center for Science and Law
  3. ^ a b c David Eagleman TED talk, March 18, 2015.
  4. ^ a b The Possibilian: David Eagleman and the Mysteries of the Brain, The New Yorker, April 25, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Cytowic RE and Eagleman DM (2009). Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  6. ^ a b The Brain on Trial, David Eagleman, The Atlantic, July 2011
  7. ^ a b Inside the List, New York Times, June 10, 2011
  8. ^ a b Alexander McCall Smith, Eternal Whimsy: Review of David Eagleman's Sum, New York Times Book Review, June 12, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-06-14.
  9. ^ a b 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.
  10. ^ a b David Eagleman's Sum (book review), Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-02-08.
  11. ^ International editions of SUM. Retrieved on 2015-03-19.
  12. ^ PBS: The Brain with David Eagleman
  13. ^ BCM dissertation acknowledgements
  14. ^ Jumping to conclusions
  15. ^ Radiolab: Falling, September 2010.
  16. ^ Ripley, Amanda (2008). The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why. Crown Books. pp 65–67.
  17. ^ "Association of Rice Alumni". Rice.edu. Archived from the original on June 4, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
  18. ^ Guggenheim Fellowship Awards 2011
  19. ^ "David Eagleman".
  20. ^ "World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Neuroscience & Behaviour" (PDF).
  21. ^ Houston Magazine's Men of Style 2011
  22. ^ David Eagleman, Style magazine, December 2011, Issue 12, pp 75–80.
  23. ^ Science Educator Award, Society for Neuroscience, October 2012.
  24. ^ Google Scholar
  25. ^ BrainCheck
  26. ^ Neosensory, Inc
  27. ^ Is David Eagleman Neuroscience’s Carl Sagan?
  28. ^ The Soul Seeker: A neuroscientist's search for the human essence, Texas Observer, May 28, 2010.
  29. ^ Colbert Report: David Eagleman, Aired July 21, 2011.
  30. ^ Profile: David Eagleman, Nova Science Now, Aired February 2, 2011.
  31. ^ Introduction to Eagleman lecture at the Long Now Foundation, April 1, 2010.
  32. ^ [1], Houston Chronicle, January 9, 2007.
  33. ^ Beyond god and atheism: Why I am a possibilian, David Eagleman, New Scientist, September 27, 2010.
  34. ^ Stray questions for David Eagleman, New York Times Paper Cuts, July 10, 2009.
  35. ^ Novich SD & Eagleman DM (2015). Using space and time to encode vibrotactile information: toward an estimate of the skin’s achievable throughput. Experimental Brain Research. 233 (10): 2777-2788.
  36. ^ NeoSensory
  37. ^ Eagleman DM (2009). Brain Time. In What's Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science. Ed: Max Brockman. Vintage Books.
  38. ^ Burdick, A (2006). The mind in overdrive. Discover Magazine, 27 (4), 21–22.
  39. ^ Eagleman, DM (2008). "Human time perception and its illusions" (PDF). Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 18 (2): 131–6. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2008.06.002. PMC 2866156. PMID 18639634.
  40. ^ Stetson C, Fiesta MP, Eagleman DM (2007). Does time really slow down during a frightening event? PLoS One. 2(12):e1295.
  41. ^ Choi, CQ. Time doesn't really freeze when you're freaked, MSNBC, December 11, 2007.
  42. ^ Eagleman Stanford website
  43. ^ 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.
  44. ^ Novich, SD; Cheng, S; Eagleman, DM (2011). "Is synesthesia one condition or many? A large-scale analysis reveals subgroups" (PDF). Journal of Neuropsychology. 5 (2): 353–371. doi:10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02015.x. PMID 21923794.
  45. ^ The blended senses of synesthesia, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2012.
  46. ^ https://eagleman.com/papers/Eagleman.NatureRevNeuro.Illusions.pdf
  47. ^ The Brain and The Law, Lecture at the Royal Society for the Arts, London, England, April 21, 2009.
  48. ^ Eagleman DM, Correro MA, Singh J (2009). Correro, Mark A.; Eagleman, David M. (April 9, 2009). "Why Neuroscience Matters For a Rational Drug Policy". Cite journal requires |journal= (help), Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology.
  49. ^ The Center for Science and Law
  50. ^ "You are your brain" – David Eagleman on transforming the criminal justice system, Reason TV, April 2010. Retrieved on 2012-02-19.
  51. ^ "David Eagleman's New TV Show 'The Brain' Gets Inside Your Head". Newsweek. October 15, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  52. ^ "David Eagleman Wants You to Meet Your Brain". New York Magazine. October 14, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  53. ^ Gareth Cook (October 6, 2015). "Exploring the Mysteries of the Brain - David Eagleman answers questions about his major PBS series". Scientific American.
  54. ^ David DiSalvo (October 13, 2015). "The Cosmos Inside Your Head: Neuroscientist David Eagleman Tells The Story Of The Brain On PBS". Forbes Magazine.
  55. ^ Daniel Bor (October 1, 2015). "Neuroscience: The mechanics of mind". Nature. 526 (7571): 41–42. Bibcode:2015Natur.526...41B. doi:10.1038/526041a.
  56. ^ Michael Hardy (October 14, 2015). "Is David Eagleman Neuroscience's Carl Sagan?". Texas Monthly.
  57. ^ "The Brain with David Eagleman". Public Broadcasting Service.
  58. ^ "The Best TV Shows of 2015". New York Times. December 7, 2015. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  59. ^ "The Creative Brain on Netflix".
  60. ^ "Free will, AI, and vibrating vests: investigating the science of Westworld". Science. May 2, 2018. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  61. ^ "'Westworld' Science Advisor Talks Brains and AI". Discover. June 7, 2018. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  62. ^ Internet Movie Database, Full Cast & Crew, Perception
  63. ^ Internet Movie Database, Eternity episode of Perception
  64. ^ Stark, A. In Our End Is Our Beginning, Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2009.
  65. ^ TIME Magazine's 2009 Summer Reading list, July 13, 2009.
  66. ^ Nick Lezard, Life after life explained, The Guardian, June 13, 2009.
  67. ^ Book of the week: Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman, The Week, March 6, 2009.
  68. ^ Stephen Fry tweet sends book's sales rocketing, The Guardian, September 11, 2009.
  69. ^ Stephen Fry's Twitter posts on David Eagleman novel sparks 6000% sales spike, The Telegraph, September 11, 2009.
  70. ^ Amazon.com Best Science Books of 2011
  71. ^ Boston Globe: Best Books of the Year 2011
  72. ^ Bookish: Best Books of 2011
  73. ^ The Stranger Within, Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2011
  74. ^ Incognito review, The Independent, April 17, 2011
  75. ^ Fresh Air with Terry Gross (May 31, 2011). "'Incognito': What's Hiding In The Unconscious Mind". National Public Radio (U.S.) WHYY, Inc. Press the blue button to hear the audio of the interview.
  76. ^ Jones, Dan (2017). "Neuroscience: The mother lode of invention". Nature. 550 (7674): 34–35. Bibcode:2017Natur.550...34J. doi:10.1038/550034a.
  77. ^ Fall Books for Tech Lovers—and Those Who Want to Escape It, Wall Street Journal, Oct 5, 2017
  78. ^ Montaigne Medal Winners
  79. ^ A new species of book, BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, December 13, 2010
  80. ^ Watch Me, Read Me, New York Times Magazine, January 16, 2011
  81. ^ DBW Innovation Awards longlist, retrieved January 16, 2011.

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