Who’s in Charge? Book Review

Who’s in Charge?: Book Review

Michael S. Gazzaniga is both a professor of psychology at the University of California, a leading researcher in cognitive neuroscience, as well as the head of the SAGE Center in studying the mind. His most well-noted book, Who’s In Charge?, deals with the popular question of what exactly “free will” really is, and how that relates to the science and anatomy of the brain on a neurological level. The book discusses and explores what makes up the brain, how the brain is wired– specifically in the areas of learning and decision-making, and then applies that knowledge to commonly asked questions. In addressing a wide audience of thinkers, he redefines the concepts of “free will” and “responsibility”.

Gazzaniga starts his book off by establishing what we know to be true about the human brain. Referring back to basic anatomy and psychology, he puts his own perspective on facts that scientists would all agree on. He dives into neural-specificity and connections, using the phrase “Neurons that fire together wire together” to better understand the concept of activity-dependent processes developing the brain. He then goes on even deeper to discuss the complexity of our brains, the biggest concept being parallel processing. The brain is a hugely complex network of connections that are capable of firing and sending signals as needed– in some cases we are consciously aware of this and can voluntarily control it, and in other instances we cannot. Our brain is capable of firing both of these types simultaneously, so that we may, for instance, be able to focus on tasks in our daily lives and not worry about our heart pumping blood or our lungs taking in air. We technically don’t have freedom to make a lot of choices in our brains. From this comes the topic of emergence, which is one of Gazzaniga’s main points. The neurons that make up our brain are categorized into various “levels” of processing, which in turn have different rules that apply to them, which Gazzaniga calls “organized chaos”, “Chaos doesn’t mean that the system is behaving randomly, it means that it is unpredictable because it has many variables, it is too complex to measure, and even if it could be measured, theoretically the measurement cannot be done accurately and the tiniest inaccuracy would change the end result an enormous amount”. Because of this “organized chaos”, everyone is wired completely different from one another. Despite this, though, we are built to mirror one another and create morals within social constructs. Responsibility and the law are built within these social constructs: “…The 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.” (193). Gazzaniga argues that we have freedom, but only in a social context.

This book made me do a lot of thinking regarding what “free will” really means, and how much of my brain I actually consciously control. Although a lot of our processes happens automatically, I believe that there is a still a part of our brains (or minds) that I can control. I believe that we have a responsibility to God and to each other to use our past experiences in order to make wise decisions. Gazzaniga doesn’t mention how this correlates with spirituality, but I would say that the complexity of the brain and mind points to God’s creation because only He is capable of creating such intricate systems., which further points to the idea of us being built to be in communities and not be isolated. I overall enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a deeper perspective on free will and something to chew on.

The Shallows Book Review

The Shallows: Book Review

Nicholas Carr is a blogger who writes on the topics of technology and culture, and how the two interact. Carr has written for The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Wired, and several others. He has an M.A., in English and American Literature and Language, from Harvard University. One of his more recent books, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains received a 2011 Pulitzer Prize and was named as a New York Times bestseller. The book, which aims to better understand the effects of technology on our brains, poses the question: are we compromising our abilities to think deeply by relying on the internet for fast information and easy entertainment? He addresses this question by giving his perspective on the issue in the book, while also referencing recent studies in neuroscience.

To start his book, Carr talks about his personal experiences with technology. As a blogger, technology is something that is woven into his career. In writing this book, he decides to break from technology and explore “deep thinking”. He claims that the internet takes him away from being able to deeply understand the world around him. “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” (Carr, 6). He then goes on to understand how the internet and media shape our brains. In doing this, he finds that rather than the content of the medium being the giver of a message, the medium itself is the message. Brains have the capability of changing how they process information based on the medium delivering them the information. Carr uses many examples, one being a clock. Before clocks were invented, humanity relied on the sun, moon, and stars to tell time. This method was far more figurative and a lot less linear than it is today. With clocks now at our disposal, we see time as a line constantly going forward. We quantify it and turn it into a tangible and linear thing, which has forever changed our perception of time. In a similar way, Carr argues that the Internet has changed how we perceive thinking and even our own brains. Rather than being complex structures capable of holding a wide variety of concepts and ideas on deep levels, brains are now more than ever being seen as machines, or even computers. The understanding of the brain becomes more mechanistic. “The Web provides a convenient and compelling supplement to personal memory, but when we start using the Web as a substitute for personal memory, bypassing the inner processes of consolidation, we risk emptying our minds of their riches.” (Carr, 192). The more time we spend on technology, the more we try to become like it. Because of this phenomenon, more shallow-thinking society is produced and we are trained to be more easily distracted.

I agree with many of the points Carr made in this book, such as his warning of being careful of how much we are on the internet and how blind we can be to how it is changing our brains. Going into the internet with a cautious mindset and a “filter” helps to eliminate the distractions that are always present online. However, I disagree with Carr’s overall negative stance against up-and-coming technologies. I believe that they are extremely useful and efficient, and viewing them in a negative light can affect our perspective on technology as a whole. If we accept that the Internet as well as other technologies are constantly developing and expanding, we can learn to use them in moderation as well as an effective and impactful way.

 

Convocation – Poverty

Describe:

Today’s convocation covered the topic of poverty, specifically on the legal end. John Bouman, the speaker, is the president of the Shriver Center and specializes in advocacy and anti-poverty work as well as offers a legal services program. This program has not only been extremely effective and impactful to those in poverty, but it also benefits the middle and upper class as well. Networked in thirty-four states and counting, the Shriver Center has been widely recognized as one of the best advocative programs in the country. Bouman’s calling to serve others sparked after watching generations of his relatives become pastors or serve in church leadership. His personal calling, though, wasn’t necessarily being a pastor– it was to help those in need and fight in the “war on poverty”. He helped build up the Shriver Center and has since lived by its mission statement: “how in our current political climate we can address and help our most vulnerable citizens”. Bouman’s work has three major values, or goals, that he commits his life to reaching. The first, is to promote fair opportunity for all, even if that means through the government. The second, each person’s potential has the chance to flourish. Third, the potential of these people can positively impact the entire human endeavor and contribute to society as a whole. And finally, in doing this we can improve the economy and give them the chance to contribute to the world.

Integrate:

Bouman’s work seems to hold an array of values, but some common themes very apparent during his speech were his passion of community and service. As we learned in our studies of the physical world as well as biblical anthropology, humans were clearly not meant to be alone. We are a social species that uses teamwork and collaboration to get things done. This idea can be directly applied to Bouman’s goals. He clearly embraces this truth about humankind and promotes communities and supporting one another. The worst possible thing we could do to those in poverty is make them feel isolated, or worse– actually ignore the issue so that they truly are isolated. Christian or not, it is a known fact that we weren’t meant to do life alone, so it is our job as people with lots of resources to not keep them to ourselves, but to give them to those who need it.

Evaluate:

I very much enjoyed Bouman’s presentation/lecture and found it very motivating to go out the serve these people. It’s unfair that people born into poverty-stricken homes and neighborhoods have to seek help and work twice as hard to get half as much in return. I agree that we need to give our resources to programs and non-profits that make it their goal to end poverty for good and win the “war on poverty”. In doing this, we are not only helping them, but we are helping our entire country and human population.