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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really engaging book on neuroscience and free will
Having little background in neuroscience or philosophy, I wasn't sure what to expect when my Philosophy of Science professor recommended this book. However, after just a few sentences, the well-crafted, extraordinarily lucid writing pulled me into a landscape of neurotransmitters and metaphysics, providing fascinating case studies, ethical quandaries, and engaging...
Published on March 1, 2010 by N. Rood

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph of Anecdotal Evidence and Educated Assumptions
This book is an enjoyable read for anyone just getting into neurophilosophy or with an interest in how neuroscience relates to free will. The threat to free will addressed by Eliezer Sternberg (a precocious medical student with philosophy and neuroscience degrees) is neurobiological determinism. If the brain 'controls' the mind, and the brain is a physical system...
Published on June 7, 2010 by L. C. Taylor


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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really engaging book on neuroscience and free will, March 1, 2010
By 
N. Rood (Houston, TX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
Having little background in neuroscience or philosophy, I wasn't sure what to expect when my Philosophy of Science professor recommended this book. However, after just a few sentences, the well-crafted, extraordinarily lucid writing pulled me into a landscape of neurotransmitters and metaphysics, providing fascinating case studies, ethical quandaries, and engaging scientific explanations. Asking fundamental questions about the freedom of choice and moral responsibility, the author isn't afraid to battle head on with difficult, looming questions that seem irreconcilable with current scientific data.

Not only was the book fascinating to read, but it forced me to confront many issues about determinism and free will that have bothered me for ages. Time and time again I came across issues I've thought about but have never known how to articulate. My Brain Made Me Do it not only takes on these discussions, but it makes it accessible and understandable, which as a student I can easily say is no easy feat for most authors. Perhaps because the author is still a student himself, his impressive book manages to tackle really complex philosophical and scientific ideas in a way that is both engaging and approachable.

Weaving in beautifully written examples about law, politics, literature, and science, the author argues that biological determinism is not the answer. Rather, as human beings, we have the gift of consciousness, which allows us to make moral deliberations - to create, to discover, to communicate. Our minds don't work like algorithms, and it is our "boundless reasoning" that makes us so unique and capable. Although our understanding of consciousness and free will is limited, neuroscience, according to the author, does not repudiate moral responsibility.

I highly recommend this inspiring book to anyone who has ever made a decision and wondered whether it was really in your control.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph of Anecdotal Evidence and Educated Assumptions, June 7, 2010
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This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
This book is an enjoyable read for anyone just getting into neurophilosophy or with an interest in how neuroscience relates to free will. The threat to free will addressed by Eliezer Sternberg (a precocious medical student with philosophy and neuroscience degrees) is neurobiological determinism. If the brain 'controls' the mind, and the brain is a physical system governed by the laws of physics and chemistry, then the mind is also physically determined. It follows that, given enough information, each mental state may be predictable - or more than that: predetermined, as much as the the tides or any other natural phenomenon. The book's final chapters are Sternberg's attempt to resolve the neurobiological mind with some vestige of free will (not clearly defined). The final theory is workable, though not completely vetted.

Sternberg covers a lot of ground in terms of fascinating studies and observations, from Mike Gazzaniga's split brain patients with 'dual consciousness' to the defense lawyer Clarence Darrow's brilliant oration that the two privileged young men, Leopold and Loeb, cannot be held morally responsible for their premeditated murder of a friend, because they were biologically predestined to do it. In terms of anecdotes and 'evidence', this book is very interesting. Sternberg cites his sources well and follows up with a reading list.

However, Sternberg, with just a bachelors degree in philosophy under his belt (which is all I have, I should add), makes assumptions that are at times glaringly obvious and occasionally insidious. Unfortunately, that is no small problem for this project, which uses the empirical evidence to construct rational arguments made for and against an enduring concept of free will.

The most frustrating assumptions Sternberg makes result from his drawing a hard line between the brain and the mind. He begins the book by defining the mind as neuroscience is coming to understand it, but his arguments use the folk concept of the mind (as some sort of non-physical, spirity-type thing); that is, of course, incoherent with the scientific view. Toward the beginning of the book, it seemed as though there would be no way for free will to exist without a non-physical cause - which I think is an extreme version of the common sense idea of free will. The modus ponens and modus tollens arguments he sets up lead to seemingly significant conclusions, but have very questionable premises. Despite several transgressions of this sort, this book is very well researched, generally well-reasoned, and overall a very interesting read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not great, June 15, 2010
This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
I bought this book with the expectation of receiving an innovative and in-depth use of the current literature regarding free will and neuroscience. Instead, the book offers very basic textbook examples without exploring the implications in depth. Much of this book makes use of vague and shallow repetition without any significant substance. Subsequently, the first half could have been boiled down to one chapter. The reader is left feeling rather frustrated at Sternberg's excessive use of long anecdotes which are used to illustrate the same vague conclusion that he made in the previous three chapters.

I personally could not bring myself to read the final section of the book which Sternberg outlined as presenting his perspective on 'why the no free will evidence is not convincing'. Because the argument was so poorly presented in the first place, there was not much point in evaluating it in the second section of the book.

Overall, I was a little misled by the perfect reviews that this book had.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Discussion of Big Questions, March 9, 2010
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This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
"My Brain Made Me Do It" begins with an account of a crime, and a defense attorney's attempt to cite the level of brain chemical's in the defendant's brain as an excuse for his behavior. From here, Sternberg launches into a gripping investigation of whether recent developments in brain research--from rare clinical cases to studies of neurological behavior prediction--to invalidate our notion of free will and moral responsibility, eventually making his own argument as to how the issues can be reconciled.

Each chapter begins with an illustrative example or story that leads into a question to think about. The author then proceeds to provide accounts of actual experiments that have been done. The science, though not oversimplified, is explained very clearly, to the point that they often seem very worrisome. At points I thought to myself that the research was direct proof that we are all just automatons. But Sternberg finds the subtle flaws in each case and shows that there is a fundamental problem with the scientific approach to issues of human decision-making.

The questions and arguments build up until the last few chapters, in which Sternberg puts forth a new approach that could be taken that could integrate what neuroscientists know about the brain, and what we, as individuals, know about our minds and selves. It's extremely well-written, and it's one of those books that will make you think, and motivate you to have lengthy discussions about the big philosophical questions that, in some way, we all wonder about.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Discussion on the Intersection Between Neuroscience and Philosophy, September 27, 2012
This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
This book is an excellent resource for anybody who is looking for a discussion of the intersection between neuroscience and free will. It deliberately reviews much of the important literature in the field and discusses their value as well as their flaws. The book is very readable, easily understandable by anyone who is new to the field, and also enough depth to be sufficient for those with a greater knowledge base. The author writes clearly, guiding the reader easily from one example to the next using fantastic imagery and imagination. The author's ultimate conclusion is that the findings of neuroscience, while presenting a convincing case against the existence of free will, are ultimately insufficient (but you will have to read it to find out why). I would absolutely recommend this book for any beginners in the field as well as those who are looking to deepen their understanding.

On separate note, a few reviewers have disparaged the author by arguing against some of the ideas he presents. This book is not meant for those who are looking for a definitive or irrefutable answer. The ideas presented are difficult dilemmas and will be debated by scientists and philosophers for generations to come. But until then there will always be those who look at the same information and yet come to different conclusions. The author presents one of many possible angles and does so in an especially illuminating and fascinating manner.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, October 4, 2012
This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
"My Brain Made Me Do It" is extremely well written, and I found it fascinating from beginning to end. I've taken several classes on philosophy in college, and I wanted an overview of philosophy's connections with neuroscience. This book, as well as Sternberg's other book, "Are you a Machine: The Brain, the Mind, and what it Means to be Human", give an excellent overview of the debate. I could not put this book down.
Other reviews criticized Sternberg for not providing in-depth analysis. If he did, it wouldn't be a book meant for the general public.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Engaging Book -- a Serious Effort to Vindicate Free Will, August 17, 2012
This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
My judgement of this book, which warrants, by my thinking, 5 stars, is that the author did a really good job of making the trek through difficult philosophical issues quit palatable. I agree with the author's stance on free will. However, I do find a weakness in the explanations given, namely the fact that merely arguing for the stance that human behavior (including reflective thinking and decision-making) is non-algorithmic, is far short of successfully arguing that a "mind" has powers to "freely choose" its behaviors. A non-algorithmic process might logically be argued to repudiate determinism; however, Sternberg seems to wish to rescue a materialist worldview and explain how this "free will" is compatible with a physicalist worldview. I conclude to the contrary, namely that merely indeterministic behavior is a seriously dubious vindication of free will. It might merely argue that human reflections transcend algorithms, but that genuinely free choice is still no better than an illusion.

By my own perspective, consciousness (mind) is a force to be reckoned with. It is, in fact, the ultimate reality. Therefore, it is MIND -- NOT MATTER -- that has powers of free choice. This means, then, that the most that a physical vindication of free will can do is to open the door to the possibility that mind can step in and take over.

This viewpoint is almost "laughed out of" the ivory towers of modern science and philosophy, but humanity takes such an absurd leap at its own peril. To deny the vitality, power, and potency of mind (consciousness) is to seek to eviscerate from our universe the ONLY realities that are valuable or even meaningful to us -- our conscious minds, with their desires, drives, passions, yearnings, joys, and sorrows.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "My Brian Made Me Do It" by E J Sternberg (Prometheus Books, 2010 ), September 11, 2011
By 
Graham Nicholson (Magnetic Island, Queensland Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
Book Review of the Month
"My Brian Made Me Do It" by E J Sternberg (Prometheus Books, 2010 )
ISBN 9781616141653 RRP $35.95
Philosophers and theologians have been debating whether human free will exists for centuries. There has been no agreement among them. It is an issue that has profound religious and moral/ ethical implications as well as implications concerning the law and its just administration. Associated with this issue is the question whether humans are really accountable for their actions, leading to further issues as to the consequences that should flow from any such accountability. Thus if a person commits a serious crime, the consequences that flow from that crime, be they moral, legal or otherwise, depend in large part upon the answer to the question whether free will really exists.
Scientists of various disciplines have now intruded into this debate, based on various modern scientific discoveries. To a very large extent, these scientists have adopted a deterministic approach, which in broad terms holds that all of the choices humans make are caused by events and facts outside their control, whether they be things external to the person or physically internal to them such as brain chemistry. This has to some extent been affected by modern theories of quantum physics, which view happenings at the sub-atomic level in terms of probability rather than of causal certainty and predictability. But Stephen Hawking, for example, has still taken the view that humans are merely complicated biological machines and that free will is an illusion even if human behavior is impossible to precisely predict.
Into this debate it is refreshing to consider a different view of a younger scientist, the writer Sternberg in this month's book review, expressed in terms that are quite readable. This engaging book asks whether humans are really in control of themselves, or whether they are some sort of automaton. In doing so, it rejects the chemical determinism of many mainstream scientists. At the same time, he rejects the view that human actions can be purely random, otherwise we cannot be morally responsible for our actions.
He postulates that there is a third category of human decision making and action that is neither determined nor random. He argues that this category lies in the special nature of human consciousness, a non-material aspect of the human condition that is largely beyond scientific understanding. It is this that in his view gives rise to moral agency and accountability, by allowing each person to transcend the bounds of determinism, to consciously examine the available choices in any situation and to make real free choices. In what the author describes as a "triumph of evolution", he says:
"..we gained the ability to question ourselves, to reflect on our mistakes and successes, and choose a better future based on the wisdom gained from our experience. The mind is what endows us with moral responsibility.."
But the author ends by noting that we still don't know how the brain makes all this possible, to him the greatest scientific mystery of all time.
Interestingly, some other religions postulate a somewhat similar middle doctrine, one in which there is neither absolute free will nor complete determinism. In this middle ground, there is a degree of free will and moral accountability. Thus there are sacred teachings as to which actions are "good" and which are not, with freedom to choose between them. This view is often associated with the concept of karma. Equally there are other actions to which humans have no choice but to submit, such as sleep, sickness and death, etc. The existence of a supremely powerful Deity or Cause (however named or described) is not seen as being inconsistent with the existence of such a degree of free will - rather, that Deity or Cause is seen as the ultimate source of the power of choice. Humans have, on this view, been brought into existence with the necessary powers of will and understanding to be able to exercise their moral and spiritual choices.
Sternberg does not approach the subject from a spiritual perspective. But you cannot but suspect that this is the path towards which he is heading. That is, beyond the physically observable and scientifically measureable to the metaphysical. This is a very interesting book.
Graham Nicholson
Hidden Words Bookshop
Bottom of Therwine Street Kuranda/ PO Box 1010 Kuranda Qld 4881
Tel 4093 7120 <nicholsonmandalay@msn.com>
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately Very Unsatisfying, March 3, 2011
By 
Book Fanatic (Houston, TX, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
I wanted to like this book. I was eagerly anticipating finding some powerful arguments in favor of the free will I subjectively experience. Reading to the end of the book turned into a very frustrating experience. It started out very good and I enjoyed the material. However, at some point in the book the author got to his point, simply asserted it, and then repeated it over and over in support of his conclusion that humans have free will. It goes like this:

The human mind is very complex and reasons in a "boundless" way.
A determined system such as the human mind cannot reason "boundlessly".
Therefore the human mind cannot be determined and must have free will.

He simply asserts his conclusion that the complex reasoning that humans engage in cannot be the result of a determined mind. Then he repeats it throughout the rest of the book: "since we have seen that boundless reasoning cannot be accomplished by a determined system, we must have free will". He may see that, but apparently nobody else can and he failed miserably at explaining why anyone should. Since his subjective experience and the subjective experience of others seems free, then it must be so. I would like to ask him why he thinks the subjective illusion of free will can't emerge from brain processing just as easily if not more so than free will itself can emerge (which is what he believes)?

He claims that since a determined system is predictable IN THEORY, we should be able to predict human behavior. OK, so? But then he repeatedly uses the fact that we can't predict human behavior as evidence of free will. I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. He seems to simply believe that if something is too complex to be predictable with existing knowledge it must be free. Does he think the global weather system has free will because we can't predict it?

I hope I have free will, but I found no supporting argument for that in this book.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice compilation, lousy analysis, September 24, 2010
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This review is from: My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility (Paperback)
I'll try to be succinct. This book is a great compilation of cognitive science experiments that impact on theories of free will. But the author's analysis is inept at the most basic level: he fails to grasp the task he has taken on, failing even to correctly set up the problem.

Testing a theory requires that we explicitly have a theory to test -- and a reciprocal null hypothesis. In the case of free will, the hypothesis is and must be "People have free will." And the null is (roughly) that they dont. The author stands this on its head, and so (of course) ends up running in the wrong direction time and again. He sets up the hypothesis as "People have NO free will" and (absurdly) sets up the null as "People have free will." Such procedure would secure an "F" in an undrgrad-level philosophy-of-science course.

A very simple analysis of the available data reveals that theories of free will fail Occam's Razor -- they offer no better explicative/predictive power over data, despite their additional assumption. Put otherwise, our ability to predict and explain human behavior is NOT aided by the assumption that we have free will. Therefore, from the standpoint of modern science, it serves no purpose to assume that we have it.

No less unfortunate is the author's ignorance to the field of complexity. He assumes, like a modern LaPlace, that if the brain is deterministic, we should be able to make highly precise predictions about behavior. This is utterly false. A complex system (e.g., a brain) can be governed by very simple rules, and yet may not admit of predictions of future states.

While anyone with interest in cognitive science will be grateful for the many studies collected between the book's covers, anyone with training in the philosophy of science will find it endlessly frustrating. The author is obviously a bright guy -- but in need of further training. Unless he has some particular ideological blinders or prejudices -- e.g., emanating from relgious belief or other sources of bias -- he will do better in the future.
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My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility
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