Who's in Charge?
Free Will and the Science of the Brain
By Michael S. Gazzaniga
(Ecco, Hardcover, 9780061906107, 272pp.)
Publication Date: November 2011
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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 Lecturesone of the foremost lecture series in the world dealing with religion, science, and philosophy. Whos 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 wasnt me who did itit 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, Whos in Charge? is a lasting contribution from one of the leading thinkers of our time.
Michael S. Gazzaniga is the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, the founding director of the MacArthur Foundation's Law and Neuroscience Project, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. He lives in California.
“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.”
“Terrific. . . . [An] engrossing study of the mechanics of thought.”
“A fascinating affirmation of our essential humanity.”
“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.”
“[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.’”
“Fascinating. . . . [An] intriguing and persuasive treatment of the moral implications of modern neuroscience.”
“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