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Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  1,283 ratings  ·  123 reviews
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 par
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Ecco
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Free Will by Sam HarrisConversations on Consciousness by Susan J. BlackmoreWho's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. GazzanigaElbow Room by Daniel C. DennettBe God To Yourself by Jean-Yves Crozier
Books about Free Will
3rd out of 8 books — 7 voters
The Systems View of Life by Fritjof CapraThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsThe Bonobo and the Atheist by Frans de WaalThe Shock Doctrine by Naomi KleinThe Ecological Rift by John Bellamy Foster
The Psychology of Morality
17th out of 25 books — 28 voters

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Will Byrnes
Do people really have free will? There are those who contend that since the brain is a physical object, subject to physical laws, human behavior is pre-determined, and thus the antithesis of free. Does a lesion in one’s frontal lobe give credence to a defense of “The Devil Made Me Do it?” Where lies personal responsibility?

Michael Gazzaniga contends that we are more than the sum, or volume, of our parts and, in the system of human interactions, we are personally responsible for our actions. Duh
The start of this book is pretty much the same as Sam Harris’s Free Will. But this guy comes to the opposite conclusion. A tad frustrating, I guess, but no less interesting for that.

Let’s have a look at the problem. In the middle of this book he has a really lovely analogy explaining the barriers that reductionism places in front of our understanding of free will.

Let’s say you wanted to understand the problem of traffic congestion. To what extent would understanding the workings of a car’s spark
The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)
4.5 Stars

This is a very good read. Gazzaniga explains the workings of the brain in terms that rarely get technical. He puts modern understanding of the neurology of our minds into context with history, free will, evolution. Though neurology is a complex subject, Gazzaniga does a very good job of keeping it understandable. It is non-fiction and it is not a story like an autobiography. Gazzaniga does as good a job as he can at telling the story of our brain in a way that is entertaining and easy t
Michael Gazzaniga is a leading neuroscientist, and he has written a fascinating book on the subject of free will. Interestingly, we want to have free will ourselves, but we don't want others to have it. We want other people to act efficiently, and basically to think the same way that we do.

The book examines consciousness and free will from many different perspectives; emergence, evolution, epigenetics, neurons, quantum mechanics, morality, the justice system, split-brain patients, sociology and
H Wesselius
Gazzaniga provides a succinct enough summary of current research into the brain. However, its when he addresses the notion of free will that the book falls flat. In attempt to find room for free will, he takes a detour into quantum physics and probability theory. Even if one accepts his argument, this only grants free will within a limited range offer by a list of probabilities. To contend that free will on this basis is rather difficulty so he also provides the common sense idea that we do empl ...more
Dec 13, 2011 Kaethe marked it as to-read
Added to my list with some trepidation. For one thing, Tom Wolfe blurbed it, and Wolfe is a reactionary assberet, so that's hardly a glowing recommendation. And then the snippet says "counters the common wisdom that our lives are wholly determined by physical processes we cannot control. " And I think, "Oh, really?" That "wholly determined" looks like a strawman to me, thrown up to give the author a very low standard of proof. Not to mention that "free will" is so rich in religious connotation.
Who's in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga

"Who's in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" is the thought-provoking book about the fascinating topic of free will and neuroscience. Neuroscientist and gifted author Michael S. Gazzaniga provides the latest insights into the science of the brain and offers unique perspectives. This 272-page book is composed of seven chapters: 1. The Way We Are, 2. The Parallel and Distributing Brain, 3. The Interpreter,
Joseph Monaco
While searching for an appropriate stage setter for the next block of instruction at the School of Advanced Military Studies--Morality and War--I stumbled upon this fine book. I was pleased to discover that Gazzaniga’s metacognitive approach in describing the role of the brain as a complex “systems of systems” overlaps quite well with the evolution of art and science inherent in SAMS. In fact, Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain overlaps quite well with the creative theorizi ...more
Bob Nichols
The author's argument is that reductionist theories about the brain are wrong. Gazzaniga is not a determinist. The mind emerges from the physical brain; that mind is a whole that is greater than its parts. The end result is a feeling that "someone is in charge." We have free will and we are responsibile for our actions.

Gazzaniga starts out in a way that suggests his alignment with the reductionist and deterministic viewpoints. He divides our mind into its unconscious and conscious roles and stat
this book is a wonderful collection of interesting facts and glimpses into probably very complex theories, told by a brilliant neuroscientist in an actually pretty good and easy to read language. and that is very nice.

however, the book also slightly suffers structurally because of its "collection-like" nature. the arguments are stretched out between descriptions (that are necessary - book is written in a relatively popular language, thus, little knowledge can be assumed on the part of the reader
Despite the author's initial claim that some vestige of free will could be salvaged from the jaws of determinism, he does a pretty good job demolishing that claim. All the while, he mucks around in the many very interesting weeds. In fact, the interesting weeds were what propped up this rating to three stars.

The author's premise seems to be a form similar to "god of the gaps," wherein the uncertainty of not knowing something or not being able to measure something leaves room for other sorts of d
عبدالرحمن عقاب
كتاب جازينجا هذا جميل ويطرح مسألة انقسام الدماغ وعمله على هيئة أجزاء متنافرة ومتضاربة . ويكاد يأتي على حقيقة (اختيار الإنسان) وينفيها . غير أنه يبذل قصارى جهده في فصول الكتاب الأخيرة ليعيد الاعتبار لهذه الفضيلة وذاك في معرض حديثه عن مسئولية الإنسان عن أفعاله. ويطرح المسئولية من حيث كونها شأنا إجتماعيا أكثر من كونها حقيقة خلقية نفسية أو تكوين عصبي فسيولوجي . غير أني أرى أن لب الكتاب ينتهي عند الفصل الثالث وصرف الكاتب باقي الفصول في استطرادات فيزيائية واجتماعية وفلسفية لدعم فكرته.
سبق أن كتب الله
This is an easily readable compilation of modern ideas about how our brains work and whether their function allows for free will and personal responsibility. The information presented is revealing and thought-provoking (at least for a relative layman like me), but it does not make a strong case for will and responsibility.

The author points out many of the anatomical and functional capacities that distinguish human brains from those of other animals. The author posits that one potential basis for
This is not light reading (or, not for me anyway), but it is extremely interesting and profitable. Just last year, in "Incognito", David Eagleman indicated that some changes in legal procedures may need to take into account new findings in neuroscience. Toward the end of this book, Mr. Gazzaniga is more specific about the ways in which the unfolding findings of neuroscience are changing proceedings in the courtroom. By studying patients who have had the two hemispheres of the brain severed (usua ...more
My advice for anyone who reads this book is to be sure and read the entire book carefully. In the first few chapters, Gazzaniga presents neurological determinism so convincingly that a careless reader might mistake it for the author's final position. Gazzaniga may also invite misunderstanding by titling Ch. 4 "Abandoning the Concept of Free Will," when a careful reading of the chapter shows that he really wants to "reframe the question about what it means to have free will." By the end of the ch ...more
Amazon review:
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 meanin
Michal Osiak
Michael Gazzaniga can talk about the brain from the position of authority as he was there when most of the recent breakthroughs in neuroscience were made.
"Who's in charge" gives a brief overview of recent research explaining some of the common questions about brain functioning. In particular, I liked the part where he was talking about the functions of the interpreter module.
I found this book stimulating, captivating and in places liberating. It is a must-read.
Unlike the fantastic philosopher Daniel C. Dennett who carved out a bit of elbow room for free will in a deterministic world, Gazzaniga blows past the idea as miscast and arcane. So while the title does say "Free Will" it's a bit misleading. This is a good neuroscience book that plays upon the notion of emergence to talk about personal responsibility and crime and punishment. In other words, minds interacting with minds through the social contract > the false notion of dualism or free will. V ...more
The author speaks with authority when he describes the working of the mind. Many of the other books I've been reading recently had mentioned the author's experiments on the hemispheres in the brain and how the mind works. Often, a primary researcher is not gifted at explaining, but Gazzaniga is.

In the book he does cite an official definition of consciousness that states that there are over 10000 scientific articles about consciousness and none of them add to our understanding. Who we are and wha
The best book I've read so far on the mind, the self, and consciousness. I've been on a quest to find out more about consciousness. Gazzaniga has an excellent explanation, based on his research on split-brain people - those who have had splits in the two sides of their brains. Gazzaniga has discovered that the left hemisphere is (his term) the "interpreter" of what's going on. The interpreter tries to make sense of the world, developing explanations, stories. This was exactly what I was looking ...more
Chris Fisher
Gazzaniga provides a balanced approach to the free-will debate. He provides plenty of background from his field of neuroscience, then dives into the real world of human behavior. Here are few quotes to wet your palate:

"THERE IS THIS PUZZLE ABOUT EVERYDAY LIFE : WE ALL FEEL like unified conscious agents acting with self-purpose, and we are free to make choices of almost any kind. At the same time everyone realizes we are machines, albeit biological machines, and that the physical laws of the uni
For someone who has recently embarked on a journey of understanding the mind-brain dynamics, I found this work an engrossing read. Gazzaniga first establishes that our sense of unified self is misplaced. There is no single agent of consciousness - what we are conscious of emanates from multiple modules. He then delves down the deterministic road to establish that the individual mind acts before it knows that it has acted?! This is that stomach churning point for a reader? Does it then mean that ...more
Lisa Biskup
I really liked this book. While I was reading the book, I was watching Professor Gazzaniga's Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh. You can find them on YouTube.

The discussion of the evolution of neuroscience, his split-brain research and all that was interesting, as usual, but I really appreciated his explanation of emergence and how we are not just brains, but rather people who belong to a social group, and therefore our minds can constrain our brains. That is, we can make decisions based on cultural
A great book. Just the introduction to neuroscience was amazing. If you want an accessible overview of our modern understanding of the brain, this is the place to start. The author's discussion of how we consider guilt and innocence in the context of our evolving understanding of the brain is also fascinating. Highly recommended. A fun and enlightening read.
Bob Collins
Free will? Determinism? What do we know/believe abut consciousness and how the brain works?
This one blew me away. Gazzaniga is the "real deal" a neuroscientist with research "cred." Well researched, this was a masterful blend of neuroscience, biology, physics, psychology and philosophy. And extremely well written, easy to read. This and "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman are among the two most influential books I've read this year - and it has been a good year, so far, for reading great
Eoin Flynn
I gave this 5 stars in Goodread's rating system because I've rarely enjoyed a book so much. But it would be 4.5 stars if I could make it so.

Rarely has an author prompted so much contemplation from me. However, I did have one rather significant issue with it...

The book considers the dilemma of whether we have free will or not from the perspective of neuroscience (something done rather well by Sam Harris too in Free Will) a question more often contemplated publicly by philosophy than by science.

Fernando Rainho
The mind body dualism of Descartes has always been something very controversial and discussed in the academy. Thinkers and researchers like Damasio, were able to show that mind and body are the same thing (perhaps separated only for teaching purposes). What we feel and think are at the same time physically matter and processes of our minds, our brains.
However there is a tendency nowadays regarding DNA studies with determinism ideas. “Would we have free will on our choices?”
What Gazzaniga shows i
Modern neuroscience has revealed some remarkable insights on what goes on in the mass of cells hidden between our ears. The biggest of these is on that of the homunculus: "The idea that a person, a little man, a spirit, someone is in charge." In other words, that thing in our brain that calls the shots, that makes things work. In the movie Men In Black, one particular scene describes the homunculus perfectly:

But there is no homunculus, no boss in the brain
Uno studio su determinismo, identità, libero arbitrio e responsabilità personale. Discorsivo e ben ragionato, con moltissimi spunti interessanti e contenuti informativi di rilievo. Imho, le conclusioni – per quanto intriganti e ben articolate - restano però elusive, non comprovate e pertanto prive di un vero valore aggiunto.

Che l’io sia narrativo, e probabilmente anche (in un certa misura di sanità mentale) discorsivo, le neuroscienze l’hanno ormai ampiamente dimostrato: il nostro e
Paul McNeil
(Probably more like 3.5 stars) This book is based on Dr. Gazzaniga's 2009 Gifford lectures. For the first part of the book, he gives a basic overview of the neuroscience of the mind (including his own research with split-brain patients). He shows the growing body of evidence that much of what goes on in the mind involves automatic, pre-conscious processes, and for the most part this won't surprise anyone who has read recent books like Incognito and Brain Bugs. However, what I enjoyed was his bri ...more
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Brain Science Pod...: No Gazzaniga in 2012 6 35 Dec 30, 2012 01:42PM  
Brain Science Pod...: BSP 82: Review of Who's in Charge? 26 34 Jun 24, 2012 01:05PM  
Past Episodes 1 5 Mar 08, 2012 02:55PM  
  • Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality
  • Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
  • Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
  • Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
  • Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness
  • Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul
  • Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought
  • The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self
  • The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning
  • The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God
  • Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
  • The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head [Extract]
  • A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves
  • Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language
  • Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human
  • The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life
  • The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
Michael S. Gazzaniga, one of the premiere doctors of neuroscience, was born on December 12, 1939 in Los Angeles. Educated at Dartmouth College and California Institute of Technology, he is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he heads the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind.

His early research examined the subject of epileptics who had undergone surg
More about Michael S. Gazzaniga...

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“Baruch Spinoza, who said, “There is no mind absolute or free will, but the mind is determined for willing this or that by a cause which is determined in its turn by another cause, and this one again by another, and so on to infinity.” 2 likes
“Newton’s laws aren’t fundamental, they are emergent; that is, they are what happens when quantum matter aggregates into macroscopic fluids and objects. It is a collective organizational phenomenon.” 1 likes
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