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's 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.
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.
"Working scientists who take the time to explain to the general reader what is happening in their field do an invaluable service to science and to the the life of the intellect. In the past year, we have benefitted from two notable efforts of this kind. First came Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works"--lengthy but beautifully written--and now this much shorter breezily written book by Michael Gazzaniga, a leading researcher and influential editor in cognitive neuroscience."--C.R. Gallistel, "American Scientist"