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

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  1,669 Ratings  ·  143 Reviews
Who's in Charge?
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Ecco
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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
Feb 18, 2012 David rated it really liked it
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
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
H Wesselius
Dec 22, 2011 H Wesselius rated it it was ok
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.
Jan 01, 2012 Book rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neuroscience, science
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
Aug 27, 2012 Joseph Monaco rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 18, 2011 Aaron rated it liked it
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
Bob Nichols
Aug 25, 2012 Bob Nichols rated it did not like it
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
Atila Iamarino
Jan 11, 2017 Atila Iamarino rated it really liked it
Shelves: mente, consciencia
Gazzaniga Michael é um médico que trabalhou com pacientes com o cérebro dividido em dois e descobriu em primeira mão como dois cérebros geram uma mente coerente e única. É um trabalho muito interessante e as histórias dos pacientes que ele conta são fantásticas. O livro realmente vale pela primeira metade, onde ele fala da nossa falta de livre-arbítrio, apesar da ilusão na direção contrária.

Na segunda metade, o livro dá uma guinada para propriedades emergentes, interação social e outros sistemas
Jul 21, 2014 Hayley rated it really liked it
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
Mar 03, 2013 Andris rated it liked it
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
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
Dec 08, 2011 Ed rated it really liked it
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
Jan 20, 2012 Caren rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
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
Apr 17, 2012 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ideas
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
Nov 09, 2011 James rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 18, 2015 Michal rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 13, 2012 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
David Gross
Feb 18, 2012 David Gross rated it really liked it
If everything, including you and me, is made up of material that blindly obeys the inflexible laws of physics, then everything that happens, including what you and I do, is inevitable, and free will is something of an illusion or a joke.


Or are we just thinking of the question the wrong way?

The free will conundrum takes a turn for the ridiculous when it assumes that free will is something that must take place outside of the material world that everything else resides in. The thought experim
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
May 28, 2015 Rossdavidh rated it liked it
Shelves: blue
Michael Gazzaniga is a veteran researcher in neuroscience, and has written on a wide range of topics related to the brain and the mind. However, after he dies, he will be remembered for one thing above all: the split-brain patients. In this book, based on a series of lectures, he takes on topics that get about as Big Picture as you can get: free will. The surprising thing, given the scope of his ambitions in taking on such a fundamental and difficult topic, is that he almost succeeds.

Briefly, fo
Aaron Thibeault
Apr 08, 2012 Aaron Thibeault rated it really liked it
*A full executive summary of this book is available here:

As the study of the brain has progressed over the past century (and particularly in the past 40 years), the evidence seems to point more and more towards the idea that our sense of freedom, and of our being in control of our choices, is a mere illusion, and that our thoughts and actions are in fact as determined as the physical world around us. The idea of a determined self not only challenges our t
Feb 14, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Pete Welter
Dec 19, 2015 Pete Welter rated it really liked it
Michael Gazzaniga is a leading neuroscientist who has done some of the fundamental research with split-brain individuals (the connections between the left and ride of the brain have been cut). This allows for the fascinating experimental scenarios to test where various activities are processed in the brain.

He gives numerous examples both from his research on split-brain patients and of others neuroscientists' work, of how our mind divides various kinds of processing amongst modules. It turns out
Eoin Flynn
Feb 17, 2015 Eoin Flynn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.

Chris Fisher
May 03, 2014 Chris Fisher rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 26, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing
"We are people, not brains."

That sums up the thrust of Gazzaniga's argument in "Who's in Charge?", adapted from his 2009 Gifford Lecture, a thorough and accessible look at trends in modern neuroscience -- and the physical determinism they seem to imply -- and the all-too-real feeling that we are intentional, morally-responsible agents.

The first three chapters cover basics of neuroscience. What brains are, how they work, what they do. Not much new here if you're familiar with other overviews of
John Martindale
Hmm... So the self is an illusion and there is no such thing as free will, yet somehow evolving in a social environment and quantum physics uncertainty somehow... maybe... uh... mean... uh? well, that maybe we are responsible...? but he pretty much just quotes people who say we are not, and yet shows how we need to act like we are responsible agents, otherwise society will crumble. Gazzaniga far from convinced me that there is no such thing as self and that free will an illusion, in my opinion t ...more
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Brain Science Pod...: No Gazzaniga in 2012 6 37 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  
  • Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
  • Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
  • Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality
  • Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
  • Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness
  • Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
  • The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self
  • Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought
  • Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language
  • Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul
  • The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning
  • Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness
  • The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head [Extract]
  • Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human
  • Consciousness and the Social Brain
  • 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
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
“Chaos doesn’t mean that the system is behaving randomly, it means that it is unpredictable because it has many variables, it is too complex to measure, and even if it could be measured, theoretically the measurement cannot be done accurately and the tiniest inaccuracy would change the end result an enormous amount.” 2 likes
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