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The Mind's Past
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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.

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At the level of the mind, thinking involves the creation of a mental narrative, which analyzes the world around us. At the level of the brain, however, thinking involves complex neurological events that must occur before any conscious thought can pop into our heads. Thus, Gazzaniga contends, consciousness is essentially an after-the-fact phenomenon. What does this suggest about the nature of memory, of perception, or even of our very selfhood? The author, a cognitive scientist at Dartmouth, argues that evolution has endowed us with a brain device called the "interpreter," which creates a "fictional self." The theory has profound consequences, but it is presented here with a light touch that should appeal to all general readers.‘Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, FL

"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"

Gazzaniga, director of the program in cognitive neuroscience at Dartmouth and author of Mind Matters, The Social Brain and Nature's Mind, adds an engaging account of how and why the human brain creates a narrative to explain its experiences. Writing for a popular audience, Gazzaniga relates that a portion of the left brain, which he calls the "interpreter," constantly drives the mind to seek reasons for its convictions no matter how unfounded they may be. An example is given of a woman who suffered from a syndrome that led her to believe she was home while visiting her doctor. When asked how she could explain the elevators in the corridor, she immediately produced a reason: "Doctor, do you know how much it cost me to have those put in?" While Gazzaniga's anecdotes are fascinating, the conclusion he draws from them seems rather unconvincing. Arguing from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology, he asserts that the left brain's incessant ratiocinations function to enhance human beings' reproductive success through sensible reasoning. Gazzaniga's conclusion about the "interpreter" seems analytic, at least in relation to evolutionary theory, which already presupposes that all facets of a species function to promote its reproduction and survival. In fact, Gazzaniga's conclusion stands in contradiction to a basic tenet of his own theoretical framework: namely, that adaptation is not determined by reason but rather by chance. Nonetheless, Gazzaniga's work remains intriguing precisely in its attempt to understand the brain's will toward order and reason, "even when they don't exist." (May)

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