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Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain Paperback – 15 Nov 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco Press; First edition (15 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061906107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061906107
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 732,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Gazzaniga is one of the most brilliant experimental neuroscientists in the world. (Tom Wolfe)

... a wide-ranging and enjoyable exploration of how science interrogates the mind. (The Economist)

Big questions are Gazzaniga's stock in trade. (New York Times)

Gazzaniga is a towering figure in contemporary neurobiology. . . . Who's in Charge? is a joy to read. (Wall Street Journal)

Written by one of the broadest thinkers in psychology, Who's in Charge? is an intellectual feast. (Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind)

This exciting, stimulating, and sometimes even funny book challenges us to think in new ways about that most mysterious part of us-the part that makes us think we're us. (Alan Alda)

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 News)

From one of the world's leading thinkers comes a thought-provoking book on how we think and how we act. . . . An exciting, stimulating, and at times even funny read that helps us further understand ourselves, our actions, and our world. (CNBC.com, Best Books for the Holidays) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A leading neuroscientist makes an incendiary argument defending free-will and responsibility, against the prevailing 'deterministic' view of how our brains control our behaviour. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Simon Laub on 22 April 2012
Format: Paperback
But, in the book ''Who is in charge'', Michael Gazzaniga has some good insights.

Gazzaniga first introduces us to some of the nuts and bolts of the physical brain. How things are wired and what that might mean. From thereon the book moves on to consciousness, and how consciousness might emerge from the physical brain. Eventually, free will and determinism are discussed.

Obviously, a lot of the issues in this book are only superficially touched upon. And, obviously, it would have been nice with a more thorough discussion about these super interesting issues. But, in a relatively popular book, it is probably not possible to given more details and be more thorough.

The books part of emergence is especially interesting. I.e. how mental states might emerge from the physical parts of the brain, neurons and more. And how these emerging mental states might introduce downward causation that will control and constrain the physical layers.
In the book, the details of this is not clear though. I began thinking about software and hardware, and language - but the book doesn't mention that at all.
Certainly, it would have been nice if that was explored much more in the book.
The section about social control and constraints seems more convincing and intuitively clear. Perhaps, because the mechanisms involved are simpler?

Still, the book is a nice read. And it does give some nice insights on what brains, consciousness and free will might be all about.

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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Peter Clarke on 19 Dec 2011
Format: Paperback
This easy-to-read book is skilfully written for a lay readership by a veteran cognitive neuroscientist, famous for his work on split brain patients. It is based on the author's 2009 Gifford Lectures. It addresses not only the question of free will (Who's in charge? - the title), but also the nature of this "who", i.e. the nature of the self and of consciousness. The book is composed of seven chapters: 1. The Way We Are, 2. The Parallel and Distributing Brain, 3. The Interpreter, 4. Abandoning the Concept of Free Will, 5. The Social Mind, 6. We are the Law, and 7. An Afterword. The American (Amazon.com) website has several elogious reviews of the book that spell out its numerous merits and award it five stars. I agree with many of those positive comments. The book is indeed packed with interesting information about the neuroscience-psychology interface, and is engagingly and clearly written. But it suffers from three weaknesses.

First, in tackling a subject at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy, the author should have drawn on modern scholarship in both areas. But he fails in this. He describes the work of dozens of modern neuroscientists and psychologists, and briefly mentions a few classical philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Locke), but has nothing to say about modern philosophical scholarship. There is no mention at all of the contributions of philosophers such as Dennett, Van Inwagen, Kane, Kim, Murphy and Miele, who have all written extensively on the philosophical questions that the book attempts to address (free will, emergence, selfhood, complementarity and downward causation).

Second, Gazzaniga fails to define what he means by "free will". This is a serious defect, because the definitional problem is central to the modern debate about free will.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 23 Mar 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author took part in the first experiments with a split brain (patients whose corpus callosum had been severed, isolating the two hemispheres of the brain). His accounts of those experiments make a fascinating read, as are many other facts about Neurology. Only for these, the book is worth a read.
He is on shakier ground when confronted with the age-old question of free will. We actually do not need such accurate information about where and when a specific trait or response happens to be to understand the simple fact that a brain is a physical entity and is, as such, subjected to the laws of physics. The finger that pulls the trigger of a gun and kills someone is activated by a neuronal network. Follow back the path from the neurons that directly contract the muscles all the way to the frontal cortex and you will never find a "free will" neuron that makes the decision. It really does not matter that at its most fundamental level (quantum mechanics), Nature is not deterministic, but random. This randomness is also at work inside the transistor in the device you are probably using to read this, and that does not make your device a free agent.
The author's quest to discredit reductionism is simplistic. He keeps on saying that you don't look at a car's mechanical parts to understand traffic patterns. That completely misses the point. That's called 'methodological reductionism' and is not embraced today by anyone. Modern reductionism does not attempt to do that. Rather, it concedes that epiphenomena can and should be studied and understood at its proper level. But that does not mean that emergent properties have causal links which are independent of the fundamental phenomena that explain them.
The author's foray into Physics to explain the concept of emergence is misguided.
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