Vanity Fea

Who's in Charge

Who's In Charge

Una nota David Gordon a PsyArt:
Michael Gazzagina's "Who's in Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" offers the most illuminating account to date of how those two layers of mental organization we call "brain" and "mind (consciousness)" are related. The brain with its numerous centers and pathways is a decision-making device, operating always ahead of conscious awareness and according to a deterministic rule that excludes the possibility of a hidden self or "free will." But as soon as one brain is exposed to another (think of a newborn with its mother), consciousness emerges. The brain "enables" consciousness (thoughts, desires, beliefs). But because the behavior of this emergent consciousness is subject to so many variables, it is less predictable, more uncertain, than the behavior of the deterministic brain. The mind's mode of organization is "stochastic", "chaotic"; it must be understood in terms of probability rather than certainty, as we must understand long-range weather forecasting or quantum rather than Newtonian physics. Different as they are, the two systems necessarily interact in human beings. Mind cannot be independent of brain because it depends on the brain to execute its decisions. And brain in turn is involved with the mind it has enabled; it is inevitably social. The relation between the two layers is "complementary," characterized by an interaction of "bottom up" and "top down" modes of causation. Gazzaniga acknowledges that we don't yet have an adequate vocabulary to understand these "layered interactions," "our layered hierarchical existence." But his approach is more promising, less inert, than earlier attempts to describe brain/mind like the one captured in the phrase "dual-aspect monism." This new attempt offers insight into an unstable and dynamic interaction.
Who's in charge, according to Gazzaniga? "My contention," he writes, "is that ultimately responsibility is a contract between people rather than a property of the brain, and determinism has no meaning in this context." "We are people, not brains, and all of life's experiences impact our emergent mental system." Thus "responsibility" for Gazzaniga replaces the obsolete concept of free will. And he boldly applies this idea to the thorny problem of criminal law, writing that there is no "scientific" reason not to hold people fully responsible for their behavior. He should have said no "neuroscientific" reason, so as to conceal his prejudice against other psychologies. Not that many of us, I think, like to see psychoanalysts in a courtroom. But is there any place at all for psychoanalysis in his discussion? Not directly, but he provides an opening. He emphasizes the fact that the decision-making brain can only work with the data it is fed, so if the input from the mind is inconsistent or conflicted, the brain may well execute bad decisions.
The book overall is richer, wittier and more humane than my precis can convey. Do read it and share your reaction.

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