Michael Gazzaniga

I’m reading up on Michael Gazzaniga in anticipation of receiving his latest book which I was thinking of ordering:

“The Consciousness Instinct:
Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind”

He narrowly missed out on the Nobel Prize for Physiology &  Medicine on his split-brain work from the 1960’s but he crossed my path as one of the neuroscientists involved in the film of Iain McGilchrist’s “Divided Brain”.

McGilchrist takes his theories beyond individual brain and mind behaviours to wider “western” cultural consequences but in that film Gazzaniga distances himself from that step whilst nevertheless supporting the rest of the left-right brain and mind story. Like all sensible scientists both pull back from the simplistic pop-psychology that divides function and behaviour between left and right, yet they both clearly identify the different roles of the two halves in overall behaviour. Interesting reading this review of his autobiography, that Gazzaniga definitely subscribes to the idea that, left to its own devices, the left brain does dominate mind behaviour, and that the right brain (when connected) has a more permissive moderating influence on the left. Exactly as McGilchrist. Exactly as my own summary.

The right brain has a view that understands why it needs to work with the left, but the left brain doesn’t know why it needs the right.

McGilchrist’s second step shows – as seems intuitively obvious – that if culture encourages left-brain views and behaviours, there is a tendency that reinforces that cultural drift to that left position of not appreciating and valuing the right. Master and emmisary, where the emmisary goes rogue.

Also by Douwe Draaisma, this review of Gazzaniga’s latest, starts with the oft quoted Cartesian position:

“How can soul and body affect each other, given their fundamental difference? Descartes pointed to the evidence that they do. The mystery lies in the mechanism, and this, Descartes confided, was perhaps best left to theologians.”

Descartes, like Newton back in the day, was deliberately leaving room for God in that dualism. It is much easier now to point out that mind and body are NOT fundamentally different. They are simply different aspects of the same fundamental monist reality. But that’s another story.

I shall be interested in Gazzaniga’s more general brain <> mind take.

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