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Raymond Tallis reviews Michael Gazzaniga's Who's in Charge? in conjuction with his review of Incomplete Nature by Terrence Deacon in the WSJ. We begin with his treatment of Gazzaninga:
Where Mr. Deacon looks backward to thermodynamics for answers about the mind, Michael Gazzaniga's "Who's in Charge?" suggests that we look elsewhere—outward, to the human world beyond the stand-alone brain. Mr. Gazzaniga is a towering figure in contemporary neurobiology. It was he who, back in the 1970s, coined the term "cognitive neuroscience"—with colleague George Miller—in the back seat of a New York taxi.
Unlike many in his profession, Mr. Gazzaniga is philosophically sophisticated. He believes that, while the brain "enables" the mind, mental activity is not reducible to neural events. While he states that thoughts, perceptions, memories, intentions and the exercise of the will are emergent phenomena, he adds that "calling a property emergent does not explain it or how it came to be."
Crucially, the true locus of this activity is not in the isolated brain but "in the group interactions of many brains," which is why "analyzing single brains in isolation cannot illuminate the capacity of responsibility." This, the community of minds, is where our human consciousness is to be found, woven out of the innumerable interactions that our brains make possible. "Responsibility" (or lack of it), Mr. Gazzaniga says, "is not located in the brain." It is "an interaction between people, a social contract"—an emergent phenomenon, irreducible to brain activity.
If the mind really were identical with activity in individual brain-bits, which were themselves machines causally wired into the material world, free will would be an illusion. One purpose of Mr. Gazzaniga's book is to reveal the implications of this mistaken notion for one of the most sinister of the neuro-¬prefixed pseudo-disciplines: "neuro-law." Neuro-law aims to replace the untidy processes of the current judicial system with something more biologically savvy. Isn't criminal behavior the result of (abnormal) brain function? If so, the brain, not the defendant, should take the rap.
Mr. Gazzaniga will have none of this, and he deplores "neuroscience oozing into the courtroom." The author savages the uncritical use of neuro-technology in court and ¬laments that juries and judges have little idea of the shakiness of the connections ¬between minor abnormalities on brain scans and the commission of a particular crime. Neuro-law is not merely premature; it overlooks the fact that, as Mr. Gazzaniga says, "we are people, not brains," and brain scans tell us little about our personhood.
Mr. Gazzaniga's incomparable knowledge, along with his mastery of the art of making things clear without oversimplifying them, means that "Who's in Charge?" is a joy to read. Is his book, along with Mr. Deacon's, an indicator that the mighty edifice of philosophically naïve conventional neuroculture is starting to fall apart? Are these books harbingers of a better future in which the task of trying to make sense of what we are is not hampered by a reductive scientism that identifies us with the activity of brains evolved to serve evolutionary success? I hope so. While we are not angels fallen from heaven, we are not just neural machines. Nor are we merely exceptionally clever chimps.
Also see Mark Signorelli's review of Raymond Tallis's Aping Mankind in NER.