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 neurologicalMy 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 chapter, he has recast freedom and responsibility as emergent properties of a complex, multi-layered system.
Gazzaniga agrees with other neuroscientists in rejecting a pre-scientific notion of free will, the idea that "YOU, a self with a central command center, are in charge, are free from causation, and are doing things....The modern perspective is that brains enable minds, and that YOU is your vastly parallel and distributed brain without a central command center." Most of what goes on in the brain is unconscious, and our brains are already initiating actions before we are aware of what we are doing. But unlike many of his colleagues, Gazzaniga does not jump to the conclusion that causality is solely from the bottom up, from brain to mind, so that conscious thought is inconsequential. That would seem to eliminate moral responsibility, an awkward conclusion considering the research suggesting that people actually act better when they believe they are free and responsible! Gazzaniga does not believe that science has to undermine our humanity or moral worth.
Gazzaniga points out that much of science has moved beyond determinism, embracing ideas such as unpredictability in complex systems, quantum indeterminacy, and emergence of qualitatively new properties at higher levels of analysis. "The ones left sitting at the 'hard' determinist table are the neuroscientists and Richard Dawkins." To illustrate how emergence alters one's perspective, consider a musician playing a note. The musician relies on the deterministic mechanics of the instrument, the brain and the body, and all the necessary causes they entail. But analysis at those levels is insufficient to explain THIS note in this musical context; that requires a more aesthetic and cultural analysis. The lower level enables but doesn't entirely determine the emergent higher level. Similarly, why do I type these words in preference to all the other words I could type without violating any physical laws? A complete answer requires an understanding of the cultural conversation in which I am participating. Gazzaniga rejects neurological determinism because he takes seriously the emergent sociocultural level which constrains individual minds and brains. He rejects bottom-up causality in favor of a complementarity in which the neurological and sociocultural levels influence each other. Within that framework he finds it appropriate and necessary that societies hold individuals responsible for their actions.
The book will be most challenging for two groups: those who have a pre-scientific idea of free will, and those at the other extreme who have bought into neurological determinism. The many philosophers and social scientists who never liked either of those extremes in the first place may feel more vindicated than enlightened. While I'm glad that at least one neuroscientist is trying to move beyond determinism, I actually wish he had gone a little farther. Gazzaniga still seems to me to be too much under the spell of the mechanistic metaphor that has dominated so much of our thinking in the Machine Age. When he talks about complex multi-leveled systems, he uses the language of hardware & software, algorithms and feedback loops. For example: "The social environment is just another factor contributing to the overall environment that is selecting in a downwardly causal way, with a feedback mechanism at work"; and "...the rules and algorithms that govern all of the separate and distributed modules work together to yield the human condition." Often he talks as if freedom and responsibility are nothing more than obedience to social feedback, no different than a furnace's obedience to feedback from a thermostat. In the Afterword he suggests that developing a new vocabulary may be the "scientific problem of this century," but he doesn't express any interest in going beyond mechanisms and algorithms to explore something more creative and aesthetic. One scientist whose reflections on agency and self-organization have taken him much deeper is biologist Stuart Kauffman, who argued in Investigations that we need a new synthesis of science and art in order to understand living things.
I would think that a serious reflection on freedom and responsibility would require some discussion of creativity. Kauffman criticized the standard "random variation and natural selection" model of evolution as not accounting sufficiently for the emergence of novel organization; selection only trims forms, but doesn't create them. Is Gazzaniga's model, which emphasizes neural variation and social selection, creative enough? He acknowledges the emergence of a social level in general, but he may be overlooking the little emergences of novel thoughts that are going on all the time, and which create culture as opposed to just conform to it. I suggest that regarding freedom and responsibility as participation in the creative construction of the world may turn out to be just as compatible with good science as seeing them as responses to societal feedback. I think it may be robbing freedom of too much of its meaning to see it essentially as social constraint on the brain. So while I see the book as a helpful first step beyond neurological determinism, a much deeper understanding is needed. ...more
The idea that the sacred is to be found within nature rather than outside it is a very old one, although it is a minority view within modern Western cThe idea that the sacred is to be found within nature rather than outside it is a very old one, although it is a minority view within modern Western culture. It is more common for both believers and non-believers to associate the sacred with the supernatural, and then argue over the existence of supernatural beings. Kauffman's book is interesting not only for the conclusion he comes to, but for the route by which he gets there. His studies in the science of complexity have led him to appreciate a creativity within nature that conventional science cannot reduce to laws or computations. It is a mystery that cannot be entirely dispelled by further scientific progress, but must be embraced and celebrated.
In many ways, this book is a restatement of--and spiritual reflection upon--Kauffman's earlier work, especially his last book, Investigations. There he departed from the more "normal science" he had done before to explore some deeper philosophical implications of biological complexity. Central to both books is his rejection of scientific reductionism, the idea that the complex can be explained by the simple, with the ultimate explanation to be found in the actions of subatomic particles or strings. Kauffman is interested in the ongoing emergence of new organization, especially in the biosphere and human society, but also in the universe more generally. New organization can't violate any lower-level laws, but it is not necessitated by those laws or computable from them. He believes that the standard account of evolution is one form of reductionism, relying too much on natural selection from variations in individual genes, while overlooking the emergence of new forms and functions through the ongoing organization and use of genomes as wholes. (Jablonka and Lamb's Evolution in Four Dimensions appears to provide support for this more holistic view of evolution.)
As Kauffman sees it, the trajectory of the "nonergodic" (non-repeating) universe is continually taking it into the "adjacent possible," a configuration space whose possibilities cannot be computed in advance. New things emerge that cannot be entirely described by existing categories. Thus no algorithm or logical deduction can account completely for the present or future, and we have to learn to live with mystery creatively. Our scientific way of understanding the world must expand to include something more like aesthetic interpretation (non-reductionist interpretation in context). Ethically, we must learn to see ourselves as co-creators of the biosphere and global community.
Kauffman's new conception of the sacred fits this new worldview. The creativity of nature "is stunning, awesome, and worthy of reverence. One view of God is that God is our chosen name for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe, biosphere, and human cultures."
Kauffman is taking the ideas of complexity and emergence in radically new directions. Those ideas take him beyond traditional science into a realm of thought where science, art and religion come together. Readers who are willing to take that leap may love this book. Readers who think that the standard methods of science tell us all that can be known (which sounds a little contradictory, since it isn't a scientific statement per se) or who believe that nothing is so sacred as to deserve to be called "God" may dislike it. I highly recommend the book, but only for those readers who are interested in an alternative to both religious supernaturalism and scientific secularism. ...more
I recommend this book for readers who want a clear and concise introduction to Godel's proof. The book will be especially useful for readers whose intI recommend this book for readers who want a clear and concise introduction to Godel's proof. The book will be especially useful for readers whose interests lie primarily in mathematics or logic, but who do not have very much prior knowledge of this important proof. Readers with broader interests, who would like to explore the larger implications of the proof for science or philosophy, may be disappointed that the book ends where it does. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem is cited by many scholars who question some of the fundamental assumptions of science. Just to give one example, it figures prominently in Robert Rosen's argument that a computing machine is an inadequate model for an organism. It is relevant to the question of whether everything that nature does can be understood as a computation, as Wolfram and many others have maintained. This book would have been more exciting if it had delved into a few of these discussions. Instead the authors wrap it up quickly with a brief "concluding reflections" chapter, as if they had a deadline to meet or a severe space limitation to conform to. That may leave some readers understanding the logic of the proof, but saying "so what?" ...more
Rosenblum and Kuttner do a good job of calling attention to a remarkable problem at the heart of modern physics. Traditionally, science has worked witRosenblum and Kuttner do a good job of calling attention to a remarkable problem at the heart of modern physics. Traditionally, science has worked within a realist perspective, assuming that the objects of our experience exist independently of our experience of them. Since our experience is all we know, we don't really know of any objects existing apart from subjects, and the idealist tradition in philosophy has placed subjectivity at the heart of reality. But science has considered it more objective to regard subjects as marginal to reality, perhaps because objects do exist independently of any particular subject, such as myself! So as they explored smaller and smaller realms of reality, physicists expected to find little particles of matter whose definite properties didn't depend on their being observed. Instead, they found wave functions describing only possibilities whose actualization seems to depend on observation. In the words of John Wheeler, "No microscopic property is a property until it is an observed property." This reopens the question of whether a real world exists independently of observation.
The book is strongest when it is telling the story of how quantum physics came to be and describing the scientific and philosophical dilemmas it has created. I found it less exciting when it got to the question of interpretation beginning in Chapter 14. As other reviewers have noted, the authors give rather short shrift to some of the more popular interpretations, such as consistent histories and many worlds, probably because they feel that these approaches are still trying to minimize subjectivity and avoid confronting the real issue of consciousness. Here I wish they had provided a more thorough discussion and critique. I was also a little disappointed in the chapters on consciousness because they seemed to have only human consciousness in mind. But higher animals like ourselves appear too late in the evolutionary story to take too much credit for actualizing the possibilities of the universe! If physics is to confront consciousness in a serious way, it must confront the idealist philosophies that place the subject-object relationship at the heart of all reality, not just humanly experienced reality (but preferably without falling into a dualistic conception of subject as immaterial or supernatural being). In other words, the concept of consciousness must be thoroughly analyzed and perhaps singificantly broadened. Maybe whenever little things interact to form larger things, some form of "measurement" or "observation" is occurring to actualize posibilities. As John Bell asked, "Are we not obliged to admit that more or less 'measurement-like' processes are going on more or less all the time, more or less everywhere?"
I gave the book five stars, despite my reservations, because it is an important step toward getting people to address the philosophical questions raised by quantum mechanics. The alternative is to wall off post-classical physics in some isolated compartment of our brains, so it won't disturb our classical worldview....more