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Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain [Kindle Edition]

Michael S. Gazzaniga
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“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.

Editorial Reviews


"A fascinating affirmation of our essential humanity." ---Kirkus


"A fascinating affirmation of our essential humanity."--Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
181 of 196 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A lively book with three main weaknesses December 19, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This easy-to-read book is skilfully written for a lay readership by a veteran cognitive neuroscientist, famous for his work on split brain patients. The elogious reviews of Alan Sewell, J. Gomez and others spell out in detail its numerous merits. I agree with many of those positive comments, but rather than repeating them I would like to focus on three weaknesses.

First, in tackling a subject at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy, the author needed to draw on modern scholarship in both areas. But he fails in this. He describes the work of dozens of modern neuroscientists and psychologists, and briefly mentions a few classical philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Locke), but has nothing to say about modern philosophical scholarship. There is no mention at all of the contributions of philosophers such as Dennett, Van Inwagen, Kane, Kim, Murphy and Miele, who have all written extensively on the philosophical questions that the book attempts to address (free will, emergence, selfhood, complementarity and downward causation).

Second, Gazzaniga fails to define what he means by "free will". This is a serious defect, because the definitional problem is central to the modern debate about free will. I'm not by any means a Dennett fan, but the subtitle of Dennetts's 1984 book Elbow Room was a true aphorism: "The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting". Some varieties don't exist but others do, and those are in Dennett's view (and mine) the ones worth wanting.

Third, in introducing chaos and quantum indeterminism as a defence against hard determinism, Gazzaniga attempts to guide the unsophisticated layman through a deep and difficult controversy, all in eight pages.
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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
We humans love our dualisms: good or evil, hot or cold, free or determined. Who's in Charge?, a book extrapolated from the author's 2009/10 Gifford Lectures, is a book that questions that last dualism. Given what we know about the brain, Gazzaniga writes, it is not quite clear whether the idea of 'free will' really makes sense (as generally conceived) or if determinism really has the implications we usually think it does.

Here is the picture Gazzaniga (roughly) paints. Marshaling much evidence from his and others' studies, it appears that our brain is something like a collection of modules performing different functions WITHOUT that 'central command' module that is supposed to approximate the free will (like a president who has final signing or veto power over bills). Moreover, that feeling we have of a unified conscious experience is most likely the result not of a 'central commander' module, but a module (appropriately) referred to as 'the interpreter,' whose role is to construct (somewhat) post hoc explanations of why we did what we did AS IF we were really conscious in doing it. Here, Gazzaniga draws on research of split-brain patients, whose corpus collossums are severed, disallowing their left and right brain hemispheres from talking to each other. Studies show that when the right hemisphere is told to do something (say, the left eye is shown a word and the patient is asked to grab the object that they are shown from an array of objects), the left hemisphere (where the interpreter is) will often construct a rationale for why the patient grabbed the object (that has nothing to do with the instructions to the right hemisphere). For a simpler example of the interpreter in action, think about when you hit your thumb with a hammer.
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121 of 142 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The first question is whether a layperson can enjoy this book about such a profoundly complex subject as the human brain and its relationship to sentient consciousness. The answer is YES! Not because the hyper-complex nature of the subject is "dumbed down" but because Michael Gazzaniga is a gifted writer talented in expressing the most complex ideas in easy-to-understand sentences. He has a most delightful sense of humor that conveys his insights in a light-hearted and enjoyable manner.

Let me also say up front that this book is useful in explaining how the brain operates on two levels. Gazzaniga explains how the "right brain" is driven by the senses and acts on an immediate, subconscious level. The "left brain" applies a conscious after-the-fact reasoning that attempts to make sense of the actions that the subconscious mind has already taken. The left-brain's "interpreter module" is always at work inventing theories to "explain" what the right half of the brain has already "decided" on the basis of reflexive subconscious instinct.

Gazzaniga gives powerful examples of how easily the "interpreter module" can be deceived into coming to false conclusions. Suffice it to say that our brains can work against us by making poor decisions on the basis of perceived information that is false or unreliable. Understanding how the conscious mind rationalizes decisions that the subconscious mind has already acted on has relevance in helping us to make better decisions in every aspect of life. The book should be read for this reason alone. It explains how our conscious mind is far more fallible than we ever imagined.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great info
Gazzaniga is a wonderful author for educators looking to understand how the brain work. He uses layman's language in most cases, as well as gives good examples.
Published 6 days ago by Sandy Bruesewitz
4.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating source for discussion and learning.
Well-presented and most of it well within the understanding of most of the intellectually curious among us, the book introduces the reader to the newest technique, in drawing from... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Edwin B. Kolsby
5.0 out of 5 stars terrific summary of modern cognitive science and its view on free will
Gazzaniga is in the top echelon of the world's cognitive scientists. He is also a terrific explainer, and has gone beyond just science into more philosophical areas (free will)... Read more
Published 4 months ago by mike ferrell
4.0 out of 5 stars So Who Really Controls Us? A Wonderful Look at Ourselves
Dr. Michael Gazzaniga is not only one of the most intelligent cognitive neuroscientists that I have had the pleasure to read about, but he is also very capable of conveying this... Read more
Published 4 months ago by David Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Who's in Charge?
Mind vs. Brain and the Emergence of Free Will

Who’s In Charge? by author Michael Gazzaniga, offers an interesting perspective on the principal of free will and how the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dylan
4.0 out of 5 stars One consciousness or many?
Who’s In Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain is about the human consciousness and if it is “in charge” of our actions or if our actions and thoughts are predetermined... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Tony Lehnert
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Dogmatic
Much of this book is solid, good, interesting, science-based, informative, and intelligent. But Gazzaniga goes too far when he draws non-scientific conclusions and makes flat-out... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Silas Sparkhammer
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive overview - Who really is in charge?
The purpose of this review is to provide a comprehensive overview of Michael Gazzaniga's Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Morgan Merritt
2.0 out of 5 stars Missed the mark
I was expecting to read a good discourse on the latest brain science findings and the implications associated with those discoveries. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Robert F. Steele
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read
This is a very interesting book written by a respected researcher on the topic. Easy to read and well argued.
Published 7 months ago by Dorothy L Parker
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