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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 763-764

Michael Gazzaniga: Who's in charge? Free will and science of the brain

Data scientist

Date of Web Publication11-Feb-2014

Correspondence Address:
Cooram Sridhar
Data scientist

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How to cite this article:
Sridhar C. Michael Gazzaniga: Who's in charge? Free will and science of the brain. J Can Res Ther 2013;9:763-4

How to cite this URL:
Sridhar C. Michael Gazzaniga: Who's in charge? Free will and science of the brain. J Can Res Ther [serial online] 2013 [cited 2021 Jan 16];9:763-4. Available from: https://www.cancerjournal.net/text.asp?2013/9/4/763/126492

Author : Cooram Sridhar

Publishers: Harper Collins

Price: Rs. 525

Year of Publication: 2012

Author : Cooram Sridhar

Publishers: Harper Collins

Price: Rs. 525

Year of Publication: 2012

Who am I? This eternal question has been dealt with in spiritual literature with an unsatisfactory answer 'Go and find out for yourself'. The spiritual gurus have been very active in this area and peddle their spiritual software and have a huge client base, who it appears is still in search of the elusive 'Self'. However, neuroscience is discovering through scientific processes that this question can be answered with more clarity than what the spiritual gurus have been able to provide.

Neuroscience has a number of brilliant minds working on more practical and related questions. What makes us feel unified and in complete control of our lives?' Is there an 'I' inside our body-mind system that controls the brain activity and the mind? What is mind? What is consciousness? Do humans have a free will?

Neural Scientist, Michael Gazzaniga, in his book 'Who's in-charge? Free will and the science of the brain' takes the reader through a fascinating journey of the human brain and its processes, and develops a number of hypotheses. I would call them 'Hypotheses,' as in neural sciences the research continues to be a 'work in progress' (WIP).

Dr. Gazzaniga discusses a number of ideas in this book and out of these I found two hypotheses intriguing. They are:

a. The human brain is a complex system without a supervisor

b. Human beings have no free will.

A human brain consists of local neural networks and modules, which function as independent units carrying out specific tasks. These neural processes "have been sculpted by evolution to enable us to make better decisions that increase our reproductive success. Our brain's job description is to get its genes into the next generation. Years of split brain research have made clear to us that the brain is not an all-purpose computing device, but a device made up of an enormous number of serially wired speciality circuits, all running in parallel, and distributed across the brain, to make those better decisions". The best analogy for the human brain and its processes is the Internet. The net has no supervisor. The human brain also does not have a supervisor and there is nobody in charge of the human's mind-body system. There is no boss.

The Brain is a Complex System but what is it? 'A complex system is composed of many different systems that interact and produce emergent properties that are greater than the sum of their parts and cannot be reduced to the properties of the constituent parts. It is not possible to predict traffic patterns looking at the car parts. The common characteristic of all complex systems is that they display organization without any external organizing principle being applied'.

On the basis of these hypotheses, it is almost irrelevant to ask the next question: 'Do human beings have a free will?' Of course not. If the human brain is a complex system with localized processes, then it appears that there is no such thing as a 'free will'. Humans respond, act, and react, based on the algorithms that run these modules inside the brain. We are just biological machines run by the brain. Whatever is needed to take decisions for specific needs is done by the brain. There is no boss, there is no homunculus, and there is no 'You'!

The mind of an individual is created at birth. As the baby interacts with the outer world the mind develops. As the mind develops it starts controlling the brain, which is the source of the mind. To appreciate this idea, look at road traffic. Cars that come on the road create traffic and the traffic at some point starts controlling the car movement. There is no Super Boss who controls the traffic. The entire system emerges through an evolutionary process. Think about it deeply and the thought of 'no control' is creepy. There is no 'free will'. There is no one to exercise the free will. The assertion that 'human beings have no free will' deals a great blow to the readers' ego.

The author neatly encapsulates the purpose of the book when he states. "Even though we know the organization of the brain is made up of godzillion centers, that neural activities going on at one level of organization are inexplicable at another level, and that as with the Internet, there seems to be no boss, the puzzle for humans remains. The lingering conviction that we humans have a 'self' making all the decisions about actions is not dampened. It is a powerful and overwhelming illusion that is almost impossible to shake. In fact, there is little or no reason to shake it, for it has served us well. There is, however, a reason to try and understand how it all comes about".

The book gently shakes the 'spiritual' core of the reader by providing exhaustive data to support the fact that the brain is a complex system without a boss. Also, the author presents enough material to support the idea that humans have no 'free will'. Hence, the question 'Who am I?' cannot be answered because there is no 'I'! The book gives the readers a surreal experience.


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