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The Ethical Brain Hardcover – April 29, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-1932594010 ISBN-10: 1932594019

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"If it were possible for this book to have been written a couple of thousand years ago, we might have avoided a lot of misery. What an important question it raises: what is known about the brain that can guide us in forming a set of rational ethical principles? The great frontier before us is the question of how we will deal with one another, and this fascinating book gets us on our way. "—Alan Alda

(Alan Alda 2005-01-04)

"Michael Gazzaniga is one of the country''s preeminent brain scientists and a keen observer of much about human behavior. Not content merely to serve on the President''s Council on Bioethics, he took the opportunity to formulate a new understanding of how the emerging field of neuroscience might actually allow us to solve what seem to be so many intractable ethical issues raised by modern medicine. This is a witty, well written, highly informed account of how our brain forms our beliefs and how we can determine what beliefs serve us best."—Robert Bazell, chief health and science correspondent, NBC News

(Robert Bazell 2005-01-03)

"Wonderfully nourishing food for thought. Gazzinaga tackles some of the toughest ethical issues of our time with vigor, intelligence, and insight."—Diane Ackermann, author of An Alchemy of Mind
(Diane Ackerman 2005-01-03)

"When does life begin? When does it end? Is there a universal morality? Michael Gazzaniga gives us the scientific data behind these fundamental questions. His exciting book provides new insights for researchers and for all of us on brain research and ethical issues."—Michael I Posner, University of Oregon
(Michael I. Posner 2004-10-01)

"Michael Gazzaniga, a pioneer of cognitive neuroscience, has written a compelling, accessible, and opinionated book that illuminates the profound issues that arise when modern neuroscience intersects with the concerns of ethics, religion, and public policy."—Steven Hyman, provost, Harvard University

(Steven Hyman 2005-02-01)

"The study of the brain is the 21st century''s hottest subject not only in science but also in philosophy. If, as science now tells us, we are nothing more than robots controlled by a chemical analog computer called the brain, where does that leave such quaint notions as ethical behavior? Who better to say than one of the two most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world, Michael Gazzaniga? This is a provocative and highly readable book."—Tom Wolfe
(Tom Wolfe 2005-02-09)

"The Ethical Brain is an extraordinary book. Michael Gazzaniga asks profound questions about life, ethics, the brain, reason, and irrationality. His discussion of these issues—ones that perplex ethicists, philosophers, and psychologists—is lucid, provocative, and deeply interesting. This is an important and fascinating book.”—Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine


(Kay Redfield Jamison 2005-03-30)

"A thoughtful and accessible introduction to an entirely new domain of moral concern. Gazzaniga writes with verve and expertise about the fascinating issues that will confront us as our knowledge of the brain expands."—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works

(Steven Pinker 2005-04-01)

"An eminent neuroscientist carefully and yet provocatively explores how neuroscience can shape an ethical discussion about brain science in our society . . . a very readable book."—Fred Gage, Adler Professor, Laboratory of Genetics, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

(Fred Gage 2005-04-05)

"He calls on both sides of his brain to write a book that''s part science and part philosophy, making a convincing plea for an ethical code informed by scientific understanding."—Psychology Today
 
 
(Psychology Today 2005-05-01)

"Stimulating, very readable and at its most edifying when it sticks to science . . . a cultural contribution in itself."—New York Times Book Review
(Sally Satel New York Times Book Review 2005-06-19)

"A readable, well-informed, and provocative book . . . A refreshingly accessible source of relevant and insightful information about neuroscientific issues of timely import."—The Lancet
 
 
 
(Lancet 2005-06-20)

"It matters to me what Michael Gazzaniga thinks about the brain and, if you live in the United States, it should matter to you, too. In 2002, Gazzaniga was appointed to the President''s Council on Bioethics and so his views on cloning, euthanasia, neurological enhancement and embryonic stem cell research will help shape US law and policy. Gazzaniga is an admirably clear writer who assumes no expertise on the part of his reader. . . . This [treatment] shows ethical reasoning at its best--rooted in common sense but also informed by a sharp, inquisitive mind and a deep appreciation of the facts."--Nature
 
 
 
(Paul Bloom Nature)

"A book that''s part science and part philosophy, making a convincing plea for an ethical code informed by scientific understanding."
(Psychology Today 2005-09-09)

"The Ethical Brain delivers its message with . . . wit, and there is much to learn from its discourses on such topics as increased longevity and how aging works in the brain, the prospects for enhancing natural intelligence through genetics or drugs, and the reliability of lie detectors and other ''mind-reading'' devices."--Lynn Yarris, Mercury News
(Lynn Yarris Mercury News 2005-08-28)

" If it is the case . . . that all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions are reducible to the level of brain physiology and biochemistry, what becomes of ethics? This is the central question that Michael Gazzaniga addresses in this readable, well-informed, and provocative book."--Stephan L. Chorover, The Lancet
(Stephan L. Chorover Lancet 2005-06-18)

"Interesting and enjoyable . . . the strength of the book is the author''s perspective as a neuroscientist, which will introduce the reader to complex aspects of neuroscience in relation to behavior in society. . . . The problems highlighted and illuminated by this highly readable book are worth considering."--Richard Camicioli, MD, Journal of the American Medical Association
(Richard Camicioli Journal of the American Medical Association)

"Michael Gazzaniga, a leading neuroscientist and member of President Bush''s bioethics council, takes readers on a tour of neuroethics, a moral minefield created by our exploding understanding of the brain. Gazzaniga eschews easy answers in exploring the potential and limits of neuroscience."--USA Today


 



 



(USA Today 2005-12-08)

"A lively and generally accessible book. . . . The strengths of the book are the gems about neuroscience research and research in general, that often go unstated and unrecognized in tehe rush to apply scientific findings to numerous social problems. . . . Especially valuable are points Gazzaniga raises that are well developed and on target in considering the implications of neuroscience for the criminal justice system. . . . Exciting."--New England Journal of Medicine
 
 
(Stephanie J. Bird New England Journal of Medicine 2006-08-10)

"Gazzaniga has written an intelligent, insightful, and provocative book that is ready to assume its place in the line of important contributions that evolutionary science and sociobiology have made toward the development of a scientifically based ethic. . . . This book is most compelling in its demonstration of the critically important insights that cognitive neuroscience has to offer in current moral debates."
(John Weagraff Psychiatric Services)

About the Author

Michael S. Gazzaniga, Ph.D, is the David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor at and the director of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. He has served on the President's Council on Bioethics since 2001, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is the president-elect of the American Psychological Society.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Dana Press (April 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932594019
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932594010
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #356,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

My Final Thoughts For the most part this book was a very enjoyable read.
Austin T Bennett
It is interesting to learn more about what Gazzaniga himself researches and how it affects his understanding of the many moral dilemmas that our brains face everyday.
Saira Ahmed
Assertion is no substitute for evidence or argument, no matter what the domain.
T. Lewis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 71 people found the following review helpful By synapsekid on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Brain-Based Values

Patricia S. Churchland

Originally appeared in The American Scientist, July 2005.

Envision this scene: Socrates sits in prison, calmly awaiting execution, passing the time in philosophical discussions with students and friends, taking the occasion to inquire into the fundamentals of ethics: Where do moral laws come from? What is the root of moral motivation? What is the relation between power and morality? What is good? What is just?

Ever modest, Socrates confesses ignorance of the answers. The pattern of questioning strongly hints, however, that whatever it is that makes something good or just is rooted in the nature of humans and the society we make, not in the nature of the gods we invent. This does not make moral rules mere conventions, like using a fork or covering one's breasts. There is something about the facts concerning human needs that entails that some laws are better than others.

From the time of Socrates to the present, people have sought to give a natural basis for morals-that is, to understand how a moral statement about what ought to be done can rest on hard facts, albeit facts about conditions for civility and peace in social groups. How can ethical claims be more than mere conventions? How can such claims be rooted in facts about human nature but have the logical force of a command?

Developments in evolutionary biology have helped to explain the appearance of moral motivation in humans and in other eusocial animals-animals that display behavior involving cooperation, sharing, division of labor, reciprocation and deception. In these species, various forms of punishment (shunning, biting, banishing, scolding) are visited on those who threaten the social norms.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Zasloff on June 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
Michael Gazzaniga is one of the most renowned neuroscientists of our time, and rightfully so; his experiments regarding the role of the corpus callosum in connecting left- and right-brain functions really changed the way that we understand the brain. It should come as little surprise, then, that he was eventually rewarded with a seat on the President's Council on Bioethics.

It should also warn potential readers of the fact that a good neuroscientist does not make a very good ethicist -- or indeed, much of an ethicist at all. Each chapter of this book (except the last, about which more below) basically has the same format: there is a well-written survey of the developments in brain science that implicate a particular ethical issue, and then a couple of pages of Gazzaniga's "Perspectives."

But these Perspectives shed virtually no light on any of the issues. If anything, they show how little science can tell us about them. In the essay on "My Brain Made Me Do It," Gazzaniga canvasses the literature on what we can know about mental states from the neuroscience, and then concludes that mental state or guilt for legal purposes is not a scientific question because scientists investigate brains, not minds. True enough; and something that anyone with the most cursory knowledge of the field could have told him beforehand.

Often he just seems to make assumptions about things without making it clear. He favors drugs that enhance our intelligence or cognitive capabilities because you can't stop them and in any event, most people won't use them. But he is outraged at athletes using performance-altering drugs because in some sense that violates the "social contract" that we all accept.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David Ludden on August 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What can the study of the brain tell us about how we should live our lives? Quite a lot, argues Michael Gazzaniga in his new book The Ethical Brain. Gazzaniga is a professor of cognitive neuroscience (the study of the relationship between brain and behavior) at Dartmouth College and a highly respected researcher in his field. Thus, he was an obvious choice for inclusion in the President's Council on Bioethics, on which he has served since 2001. As a member of that council, he has witnessed "how the fear of science can stifle rather than further research" (pp. xv-xvi). In response, Gazzaniga argues for neuroethics, which he defines as "the philosophy of living informed by our understanding of underlying brain mechanisms" (p. xv, italics in original). Gazzaniga's bottom line, in most cases, is that we should allow science to advance without trepidation, trusting to an innate sense of morality that will guide us sensibly through the ethical issues raised by scientific advancements.

Beginning and end of life issues are at the forefront of current bioethical discussion. Defining the beginning of human life impinges on the important issues of abortion and stem-cell research. Under the traditional religious view that human life begins at conception, abortion is rightly viewed as equivalent to murder, and stem-cell research, which depends on the tissues of aborted fetuses, is morally reprehensible. Those who argue for reproductive freedom need to delay the conferral of humanity to the embryo if they want to maintain that abortion is not morally wrong, but there is no clear milestone during development where an obvious shift from non-humanity to humanity occurs.
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