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Who's in Charge? Paperback – November 15, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061906107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061906107
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Gazzaniga is a towering figure in contemporary neurobiology. . . . Who’s in Charge? is a joy to read.” (Wall Street Journal)

“A fascinating, accessible, and often humorous read for anyone with a brain! And a must-read for neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminal attorneys.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“Fascinating. . . . Gazzaniga uses a lifetime of experience in neuroscientific research to argue that free will is alive and well.” (Salon.com)

“Terrific. . . . [An] engrossing study of the mechanics of thought.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A fascinating affirmation of our essential humanity.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“From one of the world’s leading thinkers comes a thought-provoking book on how we think and how we act. . . . An exciting, stimulating, and at times even funny read that helps us further understand ourselves, our actions, and our world.” (CNBC.com, Best Books for the Holidays)

“An utterly captivating and fascinating read that addresses issues of consciousness and free will and, in the end, offers suggestions as to how these ideas may or may not inform legal matters.” (Daily Texan)

“[The] scope of Michael S. Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge? is huge—it tackles the age-old debate of free will [and] offers a lot to consider about what Gazzaniga deems the ‘scientific problem of the century.’” (Portland Mercury)

“Fascinating. . . . [An] intriguing and persuasive treatment of the moral implications of modern neuroscience.” (Reason.com)

“This exciting, stimulating, and sometimes even funny book challenges us to think in new ways about that most mysterious part of us—the part that makes us think we’re us.” (Alan Alda, actor and host of Scientific American Frontiers)

From the Back Cover

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 Lectures——one of the foremost lecture series in the world dealing with religion, science, and philosophy. Who’s 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 wasn’t me who did it——it 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, Who’s in Charge? is a lasting contribution from one of the leading thinkers of our time.


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Customer Reviews

The answer is YES!
Alan F. Sewell
Neuroscientist and gifted author Michael S. Gazzaniga provides the latest insights into the science of the brain and offers unique perspectives.
Book Shark
This is a very interesting book written by a respected researcher on the topic.
Dorothy L Parker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

186 of 202 people found the following review helpful By Peter Clarke on 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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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
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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124 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Alan F. Sewell on November 15, 2011
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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