Amazon Book Description
- The prevailing orthodoxy in brain science is that since physical laws govern our physical brains, physical laws therefore govern our behaviour 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 as he explains how the mind, '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 ranges across neuroscience, psychology and ethics to show how incorrect it is to blame our brains for our behaviour. Even given the latest insights into the physical mechanisms of the mind, he explains, 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, combining a light touch with profound implications, Who's in Charge? is a lasting contribution from one of the leading thinkers of our time.
Amazon Customer Review1
- 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. It is based on the author's 2009 Gifford Lectures. It addresses not only the question of free will2 (Who's in charge? - the title), but also the nature of this "who", i.e. the nature of the self3 and of consciousness4.
- The book is composed of seven chapters:
- The Way We Are,
- The Parallel and Distributing Brain,
- The Interpreter,
- Abandoning the Concept of Free Will,
- The Social Mind,
- We are the Law, and
- An Afterword.
- The American (Amazon.com) website has several eulogious reviews of the book that spell out its numerous merits and award it five stars. I agree with many of those positive comments. The book is indeed packed with interesting information about the neuroscience-psychology interface, and is engagingly and clearly written.
- But it suffers from three weaknesses.
- First, in tackling a subject at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy, the author should have drawn 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 Daniel Dennett, Peter Van Inwagen, Kane, Jaegwon Kim, Nancey Murphy and Frank 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 "Dennett (Daniel) - Elbow Room - The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting" (1984) 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. In my opinion he totally fails to show any relevance of chaos and quantum indeterminism to brain function and free will.
- Despite these failings, the book is a fascinating mine of up-to-date information on the cognitive neuroscience related to free will and selfhood. I am glad I bought it.
Introduction – 1
- The Way We Are – 7
- Brain Development
- Neuronal Connections and Neurospecificity
- Selection Versus Instruction
- Activity-Dependent Process
→ Pre-existing Complexity
- The Road to Home Sapiens
→ Our First Bipedal Ancestor
→ Holloway Takes on the Big Brain Idea
- Physical Differences Exhibited by the Human Brain
→ Bigger Isn’t the Answer to Better
→ Connectivity Changes
→ Different Types of Neurons
→ Still Other Types of Neurons
- We Just Aren’t All Wired the Same
- The Parallel and Distributed Brain – 43
- The Interpreter – 75
- Abandoning the Concept of Free Will – 105
- The Social Mind – 143
- We Are the Law – 179
- An Afterword – 217
Acknowledgements, Notes, Index – 221
In-Page Footnotes ("Gazzaniga (Michael S.) - Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain")
- I may delete this review in due course once I’ve read the book and written up my own thoughts.
- Enough to say that I’m sympathetic towards what the Amazon reviewer says, from what I’ve read thus far.
- I’ll fill out the sub-headings as I go along.
- I couldn’t tell whether or not there is supposed to be more than one hierarchical level to the headings within a Chapter.
- But the level indicated was clear.
- I don’t intend these Notes to be a restatement of Gazzaniga’s argument, just jottings of things that struck me as important.
- If you want the full story, read the book.
Robinson; First Edition (1 Sept. 2016)
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)