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...moreMy 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. (less)
Joseph Stiglitz's Freefall is an excellent analysis of the global economic crisis by an economist in the Keynesian tradition. Stiglitz is a critic of...moreJoseph Stiglitz's Freefall is an excellent analysis of the global economic crisis by an economist in the Keynesian tradition. Stiglitz is a critic of what he calls "market fundamentalism--the notion that unfettered markets by themselves can ensure economic prosperity and growth." Economists know of a number of reasons why free markets fail to allocate resources most productively. A market transaction can impose costs or benefits on others who aren't party to the exchange ("externalities"), such as people who have to breathe polluted air. Market participants may act with imperfect information, as when they overvalue the house they are buying or undervalue a class of workers, and those with more information can exploit those with less. Economic agents such as corporate or investment managers may pursue their own interests instead of the interests of those they are supposed to represent. Market failures have a moral dimension, since the pursuit of self-interest is harder to justify if it doesn't actually lead to socially desirable outcomes, in accordance with Adam Smith's "invisible hand." So Stiglitz's economic critique is also a moral indictment: We've been "creating a society in which materialism dominates moral commitment, in which the rapid growth that we have achieved is not sustainable environmentally or socially, in which we do not act together as a community to address our common needs, partly because rugged individualism and market fundamentalism have eroded any sense of community and have led to rampant exploitation of unwary and unprotected individuals and to an increasing social divide."
The recent financial crisis is related to the misallocation of resources in the global economy. Higher productivity reduces manufacturing employment and leaves human resources underutilized. Industries save labor, which is plentiful, but waste natural resources, which are increasingly scarce. Capital isn't directed toward the kind of investments in education and technology that would create enough middle-class jobs. Developing countries underconsume, while developed countries increase consumption despite wage stagnation. The expanding financial sector promotes consumption by encouraging excessive debt, justified by a bubble in housing prices. Wall Street banks buy up shaky mortgages and repackage them as high-quality, low-risk investments. Financial deregulation leaves the government largely helpless to curb excessive risk-taking and speculation.
Most of Stiglitz's book is a critique of the government's response to the financial crisis. In essence, his complaint is that the government was far too generous to the banks and far too stingy with economically distressed homeowners, workers and consumers. With the benefit of federal bailouts, the banks resumed paying dividends to their shareholders and bonuses to their executives, but didn't do much lending to create jobs. Stiglitz calls this approach "ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses." Stiglitz also discusses how international institutions such as the IMF failed to prevent the crisis and lacked the capacity for a coordinated response to it. Global faith in American-style capitalism has been shaken, but a new approach better balanced between private markets and public initiatives remains to be developed.
I would have preferred Stiglitz to organize the book almost the opposite of the way he has, putting the economic theory first, then using it to analyze the global economy, and then discussing the economic crisis. That would seem to me to be most logical, although maybe not as interesting to readers who want to cut to the chase. His policy points would sometimes be more persuasive if he had laid a stronger foundation for them in economic theory. He sometimes sounds like he's preaching to the choir, assuming that his readers share his economic assumptions. Other than that, I found the book very informative and persuasive.(less)
I think this is the best book about the fundamental assumptions of science I have ever read. David Bohm is one of the wisest and open-minded thinkers...moreI think this is the best book about the fundamental assumptions of science I have ever read. David Bohm is one of the wisest and open-minded thinkers I've ever encountered. He believes that science should be based on the assumption of the "qualitative infinity of nature." We shouldn't assume that anything is what it is absolutely. "Any given set of qualities and properties of matter and categories of laws expressed in terms of these qualities and properties is applicable only within limited contexts, over limited ranges of conditions and to limited degrees of approximation...." The continued existence of any entity or property depends on a balance of the processes tending to change it in different directions. "The broader the context or longer period of time, the more opportunity for that balance to be fundamentally altered." This is consistent with what the process philosophers have told us: Being is just an abstraction from becoming.
Scientific laws can apply only conditionally, not absolutely; they are always subject to revision. We should doubt that any description of "elementary particles" or statement of laws governing them could constitute a full and final description of reality. We should also doubt that we can know the universe's future: "the prediction of the 'heat death' of the universe will probably be invalidated by qualitatively new developments reflecting the inexhaustible and infinite character of the universal process of becoming."
Much of Bohm's book is a critique of the philosophy of mechanism, which he regards as an unjustified extrapolation from science's success in discovering certain conditional mechanistic relationships. Mechanism aims to reduce everything to interactions between basic entities with fixed qualities, like the parts of a machine. This overlooks another kind of relation, the "reciprocal relationship" between an entity and the broader context that makes it what it is. The earliest forms of mechanism were deterministic, assuming that the future could be calculated from the initial positions and velocities of entities and the forces acting upon them. Bohm does not confine his critique to deterministic mechanism, but extends it to the indeterministic mechanism of quantum mechanics. The conventional interpretation of QM attributes an absolute and final validity to the indeterminacy principle, so that only a statistical description of reality is permitted and no causal interpretation of phenomena is even pursued. Bohm regards causality and chance--necessary causes and chance contingencies--as two aspects of all processes. Any theory that embraces one to the exclusion of the other is inherently incomplete. "Neither causal laws nor laws of chance can ever be perfectly correct, because each inevitably leaves out some aspect of what is happening in broader contexts." That's why Bohm has led the search for a "hidden variables" interpretation of QM. In the end, Bohm regards the mechanistic philosophy in all its forms as contrary to the spirit of scientific inquiry, since it tends to regard a limited truth as the whole truth. "The essential character of scientific research is that it moves towards the absolute by studying the relative, in its inexhaustible multiplicity and diversity."
In contrast to the mechanistic philosophy, Bohm proposes a more holistic and organic view. "The inter-relationships of the parts (or sub-wholes) within a system depend crucially on the state of the whole, in a way that is not expressible in terms of properties of the parts alone. Indeed, the parts are organized in ways that flow out of the whole. The usual mechanistic notion that the organization, and indeed, the entire behaviour, of the whole derives solely from the parts and their predetermined inter-relationships thus breaks down."
Recommended for readers interested in theoretical physics or the philosophy of science.(less)
Rosenblum and Kuttner do a good job of calling attention to a remarkable problem at the heart of modern physics. Traditionally, science has worked wit...moreRosenblum 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.(less)