Synopses & Reviews
The father of cognitive neuroscience and author of Human
offers a provocative argument against the common belief that our lives are wholly determined by physical processes and we are therefore not responsible for our actions
A powerful orthodoxy in the study of the brain has taken hold in recent years: Since physical laws govern the physical world and our own brains are part of that world, physical laws therefore govern our behavior and even our conscious selves. Free will is meaningless, goes the mantra; we live in a determined world.
Not so, argues the renowned neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga in this thoughtful, provocative book based on his Gifford Lecturesone of the foremost lecture series in the world dealing with religion, science, and philosophy. Whos in Charge? proposes that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain just as cars are constrained by the traffic they create. Writing with what Steven Pinker has called his trademark wit and lack of pretension, Gazzaniga shows how determinism immeasurably weakens our views of human responsibility; it allows a murderer to argue, in effect, It wasnt me who did itit was my brain. Gazzaniga convincingly argues that even given the latest insights into the physical mechanisms of the mind, there is an undeniable human reality: We are responsible agents who should be held accountable for our actions, because responsibility is found in how people interact, not in brains.
An extraordinary book that ranges across neuroscience, psychology, ethics, and the law with a light touch but profound implications, Whos in Charge? is a lasting contribution from one of the leading thinkers of our time.
"Are our actions determined solely by physical processes, or is the mind its own master? This age-old philosophical conundrum gets a terrific, if ultimately indecisive, analysis in this engrossing study of the mechanics of thought. Gazzaniga (Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique), a leading cognitive neuroscientist, draws on cutting-edge research, including his fascinating experiments with 'split-brain' patients, to diagram the Rube Goldberg apparatus inside our skulls. Beneath our illusion of an in-control self, he contends, thousands of chaotically interacting neural modules governing motion, senses, and language unconsciously make decisions long before we consciously register them; the closest thing to a self is a brain module called 'the interpreter,' which spins a retrospective story line to rationalize whatever the nonconscious brain did. (Brain injuries can make the interpreter tragicomically muddled, leading patients to claim that their hand doesn't belong to them or that their relatives are imposters.) The author's reconciliation of that deterministic model with the idea of free will is less successful, requiring 'a unique language, which has yet to be developed'; until then, we can only invoke muzzy notions from complexity theory. Though he doesn't quite capture the ghost, Gazzaniga does give a lucid, stimulating primer on the machine that generates it. B&w illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Big questions are Gazzaniga's stock in trade." New York Times
"Gazzaniga is one of the most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world." Tom Wolfe
"Gazzaniga stands as a giant among neuroscientists, for both the quality of his research and his ability to communicate it to a general public with infectious enthusiasm." Robert Bazell, Chief Science Correspondent, NBC News
The author of Human
, Michael S. Gazzaniga has been called the "father of cognitive neuroscience." In his remarkable book, Who's in Charge?
, he makes a powerful and provocative argument that counters the common wisdom that our lives are wholly determined by physical processes we cannot control. His well-reasoned case against the idea that we live in a "determined" world is fascinating and liberating, solidifying his place among the likes of Oliver Sacks, Antonio Damasio, V. S. Ramachandran, and other bestselling science authors exploring the mysteries of the human brain.
About the Author
Michael S. Gazzaniga is the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, the founding director of the MacArthur Foundations Law and Neuroscience Project, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. He lives in California.