Book Review: Who’s In Charge? By Michael Gazzaniga

Michael Gazzaniga, the author of Who’s In Charge?, is a world famous neuroscientist, most known for split brain research. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he is the head of the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind; he is a leading researcher in cognitive neuroscience. As well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. During his split brain research Gazzaniga tried to find the answer to the question of who is in charge, more specifically if humans are responsible for their actions. He wrote this book for anyone who is also wondering the same question and who is curious of what he thinks the answer to be.
Content and Methodology
Gazzaniga’s perspective to the question at hand is that “we are all personally responsible agents and are to be held accountable for our actions, even though we live in a determined universe” (page 2). To answer the question he presents findings from his research and findings from the research of other neuroscientists and phycologists with the intention of drawing connections between the findings to help explain his answer to the question at hand, and that is who is in charge? Gazzaniga argues “that it [the answer to the question of who is in charge] is not that simple and that modern neuroscience is not, in fact, establishing what amounts to a wholesale fundamentalism with respect to determinism.” He “will maintain that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain” (page 4). There are two shifts in how Gazzaniga presents the findings. He starts off with neurological findings which shift into psychological findings which shift into sociological findings all to support his claim that responsibility is a social contract between people.
The theory Gazzaniga presents about responsibility as a social contract is well supported with findings that are yet to be disproven. Gazzaniga’s way to think about responsibility is that “it is an interaction between people, a social contract. Responsibility reflects a rule that emerges out of one or more agents interacting in a social context, and the hope that we share is that each person will follow certain rules” (page 193). He applies responsibility as social contract to the justice system, arguing that “ultimately responsibility is a contract between two people rather than a property of a brain, and determinism has no meaning in this context. Human nature remains constant, but out in the social world behavior can change” (page 215). Social interactions make us free to choose and that even criminal are capable of following the rules. Emergence is when small complex systems self-organize into new a level of organization. Gazzaniga presents the findings to show that responsibility emerges from sociology which emerges from phycology which emerges from neurology, strengthening his argument.
Starting at the neurological level, Gazzaniga explains neurons that fire together wire together through activity dependent processes which shape our brain making each individual unique in how their neurons are wired together. Because neurons that fire together wire together the brain processes information and stimulation and makes sense of it in the left hemisphere before we’re conscious of the information. Our experiences are post-hoc, after the fact, because consciousness is a slow process. He then explains that the concept of free-will must be abandoned because there is nothing we need to be freed from as individuals, but as a society we have free will. Since we have free will in social context we are responsible for our actions, regardless of social status. Everyone is responsible for what they do, even criminals who claim insanity. For criminals can and do follow the rules, not all of them obviously, but they have enough of an understanding of the rules to not commit crimes in front of police officers. Choices are made based on our experiences, thus we are responsible for our own actions.

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