Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brainby Michael S. Gazzaniga
There is no "you" consciously making decisions. So how do we make decisions? How can we have free will if we don't pull the levers on our own behavior? What moral and legal implications follow if we don't have free will? Who's in Charge? is a primer for a new era in the understanding of human behavior that ranges across neuroscience, psychology, ethics,/em>
There is no "you" consciously making decisions. So how do we make decisions? How can we have free will if we don't pull the levers on our own behavior? What moral and legal implications follow if we don't have free will? Who's in Charge? is a primer for a new era in the understanding of human behavior that ranges across neuroscience, psychology, ethics, and the law with a light touch but profound implications.
The more we learn about the human brain, the more puzzling the question of free will becomes.
Forty years ago, cognitive neuroscientist Gazzaniga (Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique, 2008, etc.)—the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara—pioneered the study of the different functions of the right and left hemispheres of the human brain. Since then, it has become clear that what characterizes the human brain is not simply its size—after all, Neanderthal brains were larger—or even the greater connectivity of our neurons than occurs in the brains of our chimpanzee cousins. Neuropsychologists have established that the human brain is composed of specialized modules, local circuits that each operate automatically. "The end result is thousands of modules, each doing their own thing," writes the author, so that "our conscious awareness is the mere tip of the iceberg of non-conscious processing." This capability allowed us to create culture and technology, our hallmark as a species, but we are left with a disturbing question: "[W]hy do we feel so unified and in control" if our conscious experience is the result of "positive feedback" from modules that are each acting independently in response to environmental challenges? Gazzaniga goes on to pose the deeper question of whether can exist if "the thoughts that arise from our minds are also determined," as can be shown experimentally by brain scans. If the brain is made up of subsystems without any one locus of control, can the concept of free will have any meaning? The author examines this knotty question from many different angles and offers a simple analogy to explain how, in his view, consciousness and moral responsibility emerge from social interaction. In other words, the rules of traffic are collective and cannot be reduced to the behavior of individual cars.
A fascinating affirmation of our essential humanity.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author
Michael S. Gazzaniga is internationally recognized in the field of neuroscience and a pioneer in cognitive research. He is the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of many popular science books, including Who’s in Charge? (Ecco, 2011). He has six children and lives in California with his wife.
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Who's in Charge? (Free Will and the Science of the Brain), by Michael Gazzaniga is a "popular" presentation of the latest ideas about what mind is and how it is associated with the brain. He covers many topics from quantum mechanics, and chaos theory, to address issues of unpredictability at the subatomic level, to the behavior of neurons, and on to the organization and operation of brain processes. In addition, he makes the connections with present brain characteristics to evolutionary pressures experienced by hominids. All of the general material is well presented in a rather light mood (not my preference) but well done. However, to me the most interesting thing was his presentation of the concept of emergence vis-a-vis all types of systems and, of course, with particular reference to the brain/mind relationship. Finally, he explores how our present and future understanding of the brain/mind will have to have an affect on legal and moral decision making endeavors. As a non neuroscientist or psychologist, I found the book very informative, but someone familiarly with these fields may find it rather pedestrian. Also, sometimes (not very often) his writing is not very clear, and can be misleading for a short period, and I found the light mood to be a little annoying. However, I also found the "conclusion" to be too non specific and rather open ended, but on the whole, it is definitely worth reading if you wish to be brought up to speed on the most current ideas in his field.
Intended for lay people, the author did a superb job.