Description - The Mind's Past by Michael S. Gazzaniga
Why does the human brain insist on interpreting the world and constructing a narrative? In this ground-breaking work, Michael S. Gazzaniga, one of the world's foremost cognitive neuroscientists, shows how our mind and brain accomplish the amazing feat of constructing our past - a process clearly fraught with errors of perception, memory, and judgment. By showing that the specific systems built into our brain do their work automatically and largely outside of our conscious awareness, Gazzaniga calls into question our everyday notions of self and reality. The implications of his ideas reach deeply into the nature of perception and memory, the profundity of human instinct, and the ways we construct who we are and how we fit into the world around us. Over the past thirty years, the mind sciences have developed a picture not only of how our brains are built but also of what they were built to do. The emerging picture is wonderfully clear and pointed, underlining William James' notion that humans have far more instincts than other animals. Every baby is born with circuits that compute information enabling it to function in the physical world.
Even what helps us to establish our understanding of social relations may have grown out of perceptual laws delivered to an infant's brain. Indeed, the ability to transmit culture - an act that is only part of the human repertoire - may stem from our many automatic and unique perceptual-motor processes that give rise to mental capacities such as belief and culture. Gazzaniga explains how the mind interprets data the brain has already processed, making 'us' the last to know. He shows how what 'we' see is frequently an illusion and not at all what our brain is perceiving. False memories become a part of our experience; autobiography is fiction. In exploring how the brain enables the mind, Gazzaniga points us toward one of the greatest mysteries of human evolution: how we become who we are.
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(203mm x 127mm x 12mm)
University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
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Book Reviews - The Mind's Past by Michael S. Gazzaniga
US Kirkus Review »
Adding to a growing genre that purports to say how mind arises from brain, a study that is short and witty but not entirely convincing. Dartmouth cognitive neuroscientist Gazzaniga (Nature's Mind, 1992) argues that human brains are composed of distinct, automatic devices that evolved through natural selection and are already present in a child at birth. A person's sense that a unified "self" is in charge of these devices is an illusion created by one of them, a left-brain gadget he calls the "interpreter." It manufactures the fictional self by weaving a narrative in which the self gets credit for issuing orders already executed (moving an arm, writing a sentence). The author supports his thesis with accounts of perception and memory experiments, and anecdotes about brain-damaged patients. Much of this information is entertainingly conveyed, such as Gazzaniga's critique of the popular notion that reading to babies helps wire their brains. Some elements of his argument are dry, others overly familiar, but the book's biggest flaws are polemical and logical. Too often Gazzaniga argues by setting up straw men, representing a caricature of theories about centralized brain functions. He tries to banish questions by denying them - "no doubt about it" he says about a typically dubious assertion. Most frustratingly, be insists that the left-brain interpreter is a "spin doctor" without explaining for whose benefit the spinning takes place. Who is the little voter inside the head? Why should the brain construct an illusory self to persuade the illusory self that it is in control? Maybe Gazzaniga has an answer; if so, he should reveal it. On the other hand, this kind of argument may ultimately be a dead end - a figment of the late 20th century scientist's need to explain the mind entirely as a product of the physical brain. An intriguing theory, assertively stated, but often Gazzaniga's arguments seem too reductive or dogmatic to be convincing. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Michael S. Gazzaniga
Michael S. Gazzaniga is David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor and Director of the Program in Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Mind Matters: How Mind and Brain Interact to Create Our Conscious Lives (1989) and Nature's Mind: The Biological Roots of Thinking, Emotions, Sexuality, Language and Intelligence (1994) among many other works.