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

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,416 Ratings  ·  130 Reviews
“Big questions are Gazzaniga’s stock in trade.”
New York Times

“Gazzaniga is one of the most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world.”
—Tom Wolfe

“Gazzaniga stands as a giant among neuroscientists, for both the quality of his research and his ability to communicate it to a general public with infectious enthusiasm.”
—Robert Bazell, Chief Science Correspondent, NBC
ebook, 272 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Ecco
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
Feb 28, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 03, 2013 Joseph Monaco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 30, 2014 Hayley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bob Nichols
Aug 26, 2012 Bob Nichols rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 03, 2013 Andris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 19, 2011 Aaron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2012 Caren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 21, 2011 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 20, 2012 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 19, 2015 Michal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 11, 2011 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ravi Warrier
There are tons of books covering aspects of neuroscience and neuro-behavior, but none that I have read, come close to this one.

Gazzaniga unravels the science of mind and brain to unlock mysteries of what really causes us to react or act the way we do and whether we are truly in control. Tapping into experiments and experiences of other scientists as well as from his own research, Gazzaniga digs through the inner workings of our minds, asks the right questions and puts forth answers that are trul
Pete Welter
Dec 19, 2015 Pete Welter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 14, 2015 Chad rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. The subject matter is fascinating, and I love reading about science and discoveries. The whole time I was reading it, though, I kept getting frustrated at the author's tendency to skip over some of the most interesting stuff, for example by summarizing interesting experiments instead of delving into the details. I also felt at times as though the author expected the reader to make the same brilliant connections he had made. Too often I saw him present a couple of relate ...more
Jul 22, 2014 Gary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2014 Jean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 03, 2014 Chris Fisher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Alison Dellit
Now *this* is a good science book. Gazzaniga races through a history of neuroscience before tackling the big questions, dipping in and out of philosophy, quantum physics, criminology, biology and various other disciplines to discuss what we mean by free will, and whether we have it, or more appropriately, whether there is an it to have. There was much in this book I disagreed with - describing the three strikes rule as a utilitarian approach (which y'know, falsely assumes it works!) was a big on ...more
Sep 12, 2015 Malli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 09, 2015 Lisa Biskup rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 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.
Bob Collins
Aug 14, 2014 Bob Collins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 01, 2015 Eoin Flynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

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Brain Science Pod...: No Gazzaniga in 2012 6 36 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
  • Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
  • Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality
  • Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
  • Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
  • 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
  • Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul
  • Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought
  • Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human
  • Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind
  • Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
  • Consciousness and the Social Brain
  • Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness
  • Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
  • The Self Illusion: Why There is No 'You' Inside Your Head [Extract]
  • The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life
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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