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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Dan on 04-03-12
Use Your Credit On "Who's In Charge"
For those who want to make a quick decision, just read the above headline. For those who would like to thoroughly research this book before committing, go to the FREE "Brain Science Podcast" and listen to episode # 82. (In fact, if you are at all interested in the Mind/Brain, I strongly suggest you subscribe to this Audible sponsored podcast. It led me to this wonderful world of audiobooks.)
For those in between, here is my take on it. Dr. Gazzaniga is the father of research into split brain patients (this procedure for epilepsy has been replaced by less damaging ones, so there will be little research in the future). His work seems to have heavily influenced our present understanding of the brain, and a lot of that understanding is presented in this work. While I thought I knew quite a bit for a layman, there was not one part of this book that I could skip through, all of it was engaging, even the familiar parts. While there are other books I could recommend that specialize in certain areas, "Who's In Charge" covers most of the current popular topics, such as Self, Consciousness, Free Will, and Morality and touches on Chaos Theory and Emergence. To me, there were no low points here. nor is anything too complicated for the unitiated. I cannot see anybody being disappointed in purchasing this book, and believe you could have saved time and effort, by just following the advice in the headline.
85 of 90 people found this review helpful
By Sean on 01-29-12
Good brain book, not really about free will
Although the author purports to address the issue of free will from a neuroscience point of view he goes off on many, many tangents and is oddly reticent to make any firm assertions.
He gives a good tour of the current state of what we understand about how the brain works. This is meant to set the stage for addressing the question of whether brain chemistry and wiring pre-determines out decisions or if free will really exists. However, although he asserts that he thinks free will exists he does not create any structured arguments to support his belief. Either he feels the evidence speaks for itself (in which case he has over-estimated his audience) or his hypothesis never crystallized in his mind.
As an experienced neuroscientist he has a masterful grasp of the subject (although I found his frequent, parenthetical comments of "so-and-so, who worked in a lab across campus from me" did not add anything to the story.) Not only does he understand what he is writing about, but he has thought deeply about the implications and he presents the material accurately.
I found the performance to be rather snarky and it distracted from the text.
The survey of current neuroscience makes the book worth reading, but I think he does a disservice to claim the book is about free will.
62 of 70 people found this review helpful