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Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain Paperback – September 11, 2012
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“Big questions are Gazzaniga’s stock in trade.”
—New York Times
“Gazzaniga is one of the most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world.”
“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.
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“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
There is no "you" consciously making decisions. So how do we make decisions? How can we have free will if we don't pull the levers on our own behavior? What moral and legal implications follow if we don't have free will? Who's in Charge? is a primer for a new era in the understanding of human behavior that ranges across neuroscience, psychology, ethics, and the law with a light touch but profound implications.
- Publisher : Ecco; Reprint edition (September 11, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0061906115
- ISBN-13 : 978-0061906114
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.61 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #455,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.
Gazzaniga reviews a lot of interesting and more-or-less relevant research from psychology and neuropsychology. In what follows I am giving my conclusions based on my interpretation of what Gazzaniga says. His train of his argument sometimes gets lost in the details.
Conscious mind is not the actor or agent in governing our behavior. Choices and behavior are controlled by non-conscious processes. Conscious thoughts and voluntary behavior are the result after the fact. Thus, the “you,” the “self,” is not just your conscious thoughts. “You” are the total system of conscious and unconscious mental processes, which are nothing more or less than the processes of the functioning brain. Thus, you cannot make the excuse that “my brain made me do it.” Your brain is you.
Gazzaniga argues, however, that our actions are not just the result of a causal chain that leads to an inevitable result. Mind is an emergent process of the brain, more than just the sum of its parts. And mind can exert downward control on the brain, thus intervening to produce actions different from what we would do if our behavior were merely the result of an inflexible causal chain. In other words, in everyday language, we can make choices. We can consider the facts (or what we believe to be the facts), and consider the possible consequences of alternative actions (as we can conceive of them), and make choices.
One cannot escape the conclusion that there is a large element of causality in human decision-making and behavior, but with so many interacting causes—plus a dose of uncertainty and chaos—the behavior of individuals cannot be reliably predicted. The best we can do is to make probabilistic predictions about the typical or average behavior of groups of people. While predictability implies determinism, the lack of predictability does not imply non- determinism or free will.
The most important practical application of the free will issue concerns attributing responsibility for criminal acts and other disapproved, antisocial behavior. Gazzaniga
discusses this issue in the penultimate chapter. If people have unconstrained free will then they are personally, individually responsible for their own actions, and it is right—in the traditional, conservative view—that they should be punished for their transgressive actions in proportion to the severity of the transgression. But if people's’ behavior is a result of multiple causes beyond their control then one might argue that they should not be punished as retribution, though they might be incarcerated to protect society from future transgressions. Here is where the responsibility of society comes in. The individual mind (a product of the functioning brain), with its knowledge and beliefs and behavior potentials, is a result of the interaction of the individual with their social and physical environment from the time of birth. (And even before birth, since the mother’s nutrition and health and drug use affect the fetus’s brain development.)
Society can do two types of things to influence the causes that probabilistically determine the likelihood that an individual will commit criminal behavior. (1). Society can try to improve social and environmental factors that affect individual behavior. This includes things ranging from childhood nutrition to education to safe neighborhoods to job opportunities, among others. I won’t go into detail on this topic since I want to focus on the next one, which is more relevant to Gazzaniga’s book.
(2). Society can ensure that people know that there will be consequences for their behavior. The anticipation of punishment is an effective cause for inhibiting criminal behavior for most people, most of the time. (And the degree of certainty about punishment is more important than the severity of punishment. Doubling the certainty of being caught and punished would do more to reduce crime than would doubling the length of jail sentences.) Gazzaniga argues that only in very rare cases is the legal defense of a defective brain or mental retardation justified. It doesn’t take much brain power to understand basic ideas of right and wrong and the possibility of punishment.
Though society is right to enforce negative consequences for criminal behavior, the rationale for punishment should not be retribution (“an eye for an eye”), but rather, deterrence of future criminal behavior. One way that punishment works as a deterrence—though imperfectly—is by giving others an example of the negative consequences of criminal behavior. (In this regard it might be useful to have more publicity on the unpleasantness of incarceration, with individual case examples.) More important, punishment by incarceration deters crime by removing the individual from society, thus eliminating the opportunity for further crimes against society for as long as the person is incarcerated. By emphasizing the purpose of incarceration punishment for protecting society, rather than proportional retribution, one can argue that in some cases of violent crimes the criminal should be kept in prison for the rest of their life, even if the crime was not murder. Experts cannot reliably predict which violent criminals will or will not commit more violence after they are released from prison. However, there is nothing in this argument that would justify a death sentence. Death sentences serve the old-fashioned idea of retaliation or retribution, but they are not necessary for preventing individuals from committing future crimes. Life in prison is more compatible with the humane idea of protecting society from violent criminals.
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.
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But in short, the idea that the actions of the unconscious brain are constrained by the conscious mind, while interesting, is not satisfactorily related to its effects on the concept of Free will.
In my opinion, the link is almost absent. Or the content of the book is moot in respect of Free will - interestingly the author claims the concepts in this book make free will moot. It surely doesn't manage this!
But I like the authors work. 'The Mind's Past' is astoundingly good!
Perhaps his philosophy isn't as well written as his neuroscience.
He is on shakier ground when confronted with the age-old question of free will. We actually do not need such accurate information about where and when a specific trait or response happens to be to understand the simple fact that a brain is a physical entity and is, as such, subjected to the laws of physics. The finger that pulls the trigger of a gun and kills someone is activated by a neuronal network. Follow back the path from the neurons that directly contract the muscles all the way to the frontal cortex and you will never find a "free will" neuron that makes the decision. It really does not matter that at its most fundamental level (quantum mechanics), Nature is not deterministic, but random. This randomness is also at work inside the transistor in the device you are probably using to read this, and that does not make your device a free agent.
The author's quest to discredit reductionism is simplistic. He keeps on saying that you don't look at a car's mechanical parts to understand traffic patterns. That completely misses the point. That's called 'methodological reductionism' and is not embraced today by anyone. Modern reductionism does not attempt to do that. Rather, it concedes that epiphenomena can and should be studied and understood at its proper level. But that does not mean that emergent properties have causal links which are independent of the fundamental phenomena that explain them.
The author's foray into Physics to explain the concept of emergence is misguided. A macroscopic object, like a ball rolling down an inclined plane, is not an example of emergence from quantum mechanics. In fact, quantum mechanics cannot explain why the ball should roll down. This is hardly an example of an epiphenomenon, but simply reflects the well-known fact that quantum mechanics does not explain gravity (you need General Relativity for that).
If the author's point was to contribute something new to the question of free will, he has not succeeded.
But the journey itself is packed with so many interesting facts and descriptions about the science of the brain that I would still recommend it.