Who's in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain
Michael S. Gazzaniga

Gazzaniga is a physicalist. In "Who's in Charge" he tallies up sources, both neurological and cultural, of the modules he sees as responsible for our ability to negotiate the world. He teases us, saying he won't be like other physicalists : "While determinism has supplanted dualism in the brain sciences, it falls short of explaining behavior and our sense of personal responsibility." But "At this point, let's once again remember what the brain is for. . . [it] is a decision-making device." "Our subjective awareness arises out of our left hemisphere's unrelenting quest to explain these bits and pieces that have popped into consciousness," and "The human interpreter has set us up for a fall. It has created the illusion of self and, with it, the sense we human have agency and 'freely' make decisions about our actions." We have no need of free will, he concludes; he certainly feels no need of it. Free of what, he asks, free to be what? His goal, like that of any other physicalist, is to define free will out of existence.

The only ray of light I found in his text came on the very last page. "...a unique language, which has yet to be developed, is needed to capture the thing that happens when mental processes constrain the brain and vice versa.... Understanding how to develop a vocabulary for these layered interactions, for me, constitutes the scientific problem of the century." For me, too. I didn't find Gazzaniga developing such a vocabulary. I think that has to come from the humanities.

I will testify: his message makes me feel a profound sense of loss. It is as if I had spent a lifetime becoming an accomplished landscape painter, only to be assured that there was no such thing an "landscape," only objects and creatures disposed through utility across the ground. Where is this "landscape" you claim to see, I'd be challenged. To my horror I'd find no one now understands what I mean by "landscape." A major source of the richness of experience is evaporating. Now translate "landscape" into the conscious self's project of "deliberately" developing its resources for embellishing future conscious experience, and drawing on resources husbanded in the past to embellish conscious experience in the present moment. This is the humanities' project, and I am appalled at the failure of the humanities to defend it.

A major step would be to change the ground of discussion from objective judgment to subjective experience. The preferred physicalist ground is "responsibility," and Gazzaniga duly takes us into the courtroom. Here "free will" is as judged by the outside observer. Here physicalists feel at home. When Gazzaniga ventures into conscious experience he has to hold it at arm's length in the tongs of algebraic notation:

There is a physical state, P1, at time 1, which produces a mental state, M1.... How do we get from M1 to M2? That is the conundrum?

And there is the pro forma Procrustean accommodation of human aspiration on neo-darwinism terms:

When thinking about these big questions, one must always remember, remember, REMEMBER that all these modules are mental systems selected for over the course of evolution. The individuals who possessed them made choices that resulted in survival and reproduction.

This characterizes us obviously falsely. Does Gazzaniga really experience himself limited to choices involving survival and reproduction? Wouldn't such a characterization have an entire section dedicated to it in the DSM?

The only practical defence against barbarism is outright rejection of it root and branch. Like a fairy story it cannot be faulted point by point, it can only be categorized as a fairy story, and banished from serious consideration.

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

Below, microdata:

Evolution for the Humanities
Who's in Charge? free will

Comments   

#2 Shaun Johnston 2010-11-18 18:47
Have you suffered at the hands/feet of Darwinists?
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#1 Shaun Johnston 2010-11-18 18:44
How does Darwinism make you feel?
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