Michael Gazzaniga
THE MIND's PAST (UC Press, 1998)

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(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

This is a popular introduction to Gazzaniga's theories, meant for a general audience as opposed to an academic audience. The vast majority of the book is old news to those who have read his previous books.

His attacks against Psychology (guilty of not considering our "mind's past", i.e. the fact that we are, first and foremost, the product of millions of years of natural selection) are long overdue, but sound a bit out of context in this book.

The real attack against traditional Psychology is the very essence of his theory: that consciousness only happens after we have already made our decisions, and thus it matters very little. Consciousness merely makes sense of the world and of our actions in the world. Thus Psychology is totally misguided in trying to "cure" consciousness, when in fact consciousness is only a symptom of something else, not the initiator and cause of that "something else". Psychology is studying what Gazzaniga calls the "interpreter" (located in the left hemisphere): it's like a German political analysts trying to understand the motives of the USA from studying the behavior of an English interpreter who is translating a speech by the USA president. The interpreter's behavior is only very indirectly related to the contents of the speech. He is merely making sense, in a different language, of what he is hearing.

Gazzaniga adds that our interpreter is often misleading: it creates a reality that is not necessarily the reality out there. It is the reality that "makes sense" from our viewpoint. Memories often tricks us into believing things that plainly did not happen. It forgets and it distorts facts.

Gazzaniga keeps avoiding the fundamental objection to his theory: if different brain regions are perfectly capable of providing good reactions to the various situations we encounter, why is there any need for consciousness at all to make sense of the world? Why is there a need for an "interpreter"? (And one that, according to Gazzaniga's findings, makes all sorts of mistakes). If consciousness has no effect on the working of these brain regions, then it's difficult to imagine why it would appear over the course of evolution. If it does have an effect, then Gazzaniga cannot claim that it is merely an "interpreter"...

(Typos in the book: Robert Seyfarth and not Richard Sayfarh, and Paul Weiss is misrepresented).

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