Michael Gazzaniga & Tom Wolfe in the Seed Salon

The latest Seed Salon features highlights from an interesting discussion between Tom Wolfe and Michael Gazzaniga, one of the founders of cognitive neuroscience, who is best known for the work he carried out with Roger Sperry on split brain patients.

Gazzaniga and Wolfe discuss, among other things, the implications of neuroscience for our concept of free will. The transcript of the whole discussion has just been published in the current issue of Seed, and is now available online.

I love this anecdote from the transcript, about how Jose Delgado controlled an angry bull by electrical stimulating its brain:

The guy stood in a smock in a bullring and put stereotaxic needles in the brain of a bull and just let himself be charged. He had a radio transmitter. The bull is as far away as that wall is from me, and he presses the thing and the bull goes dadadada and comes to a stop.


One thought on “Michael Gazzaniga & Tom Wolfe in the Seed Salon

  1. The issue of personal responsibility and free will seems to me to be easily dealt with.
    From what I’ve read, the problem seems to be that the body makes decisions and acts on them before we become conscious of them. In this view, consciousness is entirely ex post facto, and its function is like that of the Interpreter, to rationalize what has already been decided.
    But I think that consciousness has a feedback function, which compares sensory input (which is apparently fragmentary) from one input source (touch) with that from another input source (more or different touch, or vision), devises an understanding of reality based on the information from the inputs, and through feedback adjusts the body’s responses based on the totality of information received. This, in turn, results in better information from the sensory inputs, so that through continuing feedback loops, the body’s interactions with realty become more and more congruent with reality.
    Thus, through the feedback from consciousness, the process of recognizing some aspect of reality and making decisions about how to act with respect to that reality is altered – i.e., the next time a decision is made by the body, it takes into account the feedback.
    The feedback itself can be involuntary (hot! don’t touch) or volitional (resist hot! touch anyway.) In other words, through feedback, consciousness can control the decision making process over time, so that any consciousness is ultimately responsible for what it “teaches” the body about reality & what decisions should be made in response to reality.
    So when a person does an evil act, the body might make the decision to do that act in the first instance, but that decision is the result of the feedback that consciousness has given to program the body to make decisions that consciousness wants to be made.

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