Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain Reprint Edition, Kindle Edition
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The author's views on free will can be briefly summarized by the following quotes: "YOU is your vastly parallel and distributed brain without a central command center. There is no ghost in the machine, no secret stuff that is YOU. That YOU that you are so proud of is a story woven together by your interpreter module to account for as much of your behavior as it can incorporate, and it denies or rationalizes the rest. Our left- brain interpreter’s narrative capability is one of the automatic processes, and it gives rise to the illusion of unity or purpose, which is a post hoc phenomenon." In other words, he believes that we falsely perceive being in conscious control, equates conscious control with free will, and since the perception of conscious control is false, free will does not exist. At least that is how I understand his argument, correct or not.
I believe there is more to free will than just the perception of conscious control, so the book does not, for me, deny free will. I believe the author does himself deny free will, but the case he makes in the book is only relative to a restricted version of free will.
For an excellent philosophical discussion of free will that follows up very closely on Who's in Charge, see Freedom Regained by Julian Baggini. Baggini even quotes Who's in Charge in his own book. To understand both the science and philosophy of free will, I highly recommend Who's in Charge followed by Freedom Regained.
I’d highly recommend reading at least the first half of the book. The studies referenced throughout are fascinating. The second half also has interesting studies, but the context in which the studies are analyzed is confusing at best.
His argument is partly based on the idea of mental causation. This basically says that a current mental state can cause a future physical brain state. For example, if you are angry, that mental state can cause changes at the molecular level in the brain, in a "top down" fashion. This is in opposition to the generally accepted scientific idea that one physical brain state causes the next physical brain state via the laws of physics (which may include randomness), and that mental states are simply the result of underlying physical brain states. If mental causation makes sense to you, then you might agree with the author's thesis.
It seems that the author has fallen into a trap that many writers about free will have fallen. He believes that we "must" be able to make choices and take responsibility for things because that's how he feels and how most people feel at an intuitive and emotional level. As a result, he creates convoluted arguments that misuse ideas from modern physics to try and get to the conclusions that he needs to reach. He also annoyingly does not spell out his conclusions clearly, forcing the reader to do more work than necessary to make sense of what he is saying.
Though "free will" is in the title of the book, he probably devotes less than ten pages to directly arguing about free will. These rest is just explaining neuroscience to a lay audience. Some of it is quite good, especially chapter 3 on consciousness where he describes how the "self" is really just a fiction created by the mind. For this chapter I give the book two stars instead of one.
Most recent customer reviews
I do not doubt the quality of the science presented by the author. But I do question his and other professionals' conclusions resulting from the...Read more