Watching one’s self can be an entertaining pastime, because if you watch carefully you will notice that your body will begin to do things before you decide to do them. Well, consciously decide to do them. Easy preactions to observe are when you scratch an itch, or make a shifting motion of your body to a more comfortable position, or adjust your eyeglasses, or shift your eyes to something new. All of those types of bodily behaviors are run more or less on automatic all the time and we only attend to them when something is a bit unusual. It is harder to observe, but mental operations are much the same and you can observe yourself saying things before you have quite decided what to say, and making decisions before you have satisfied normal precautions. There are other even more automatic things going on all the time, like automatic breathing which is still under conscious control, and heart rate that can be affected if you practice it, but one doesn’t hear much about controlling kidneys, liver or brain function. It is with personal observations of this general but personal kind that I approached Michael S. Gazzaniga’s book Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain.
This book was written by a man on the inside of research in the neurology of the brain and the functioning of the mind. Over these well-written pages flow the concepts of how and why our brains, bodies and the societies we are immersed within dance together, which brings about our unique and characteristic behaviors. It becomes apparent with the numerous illustrations and proofs that we are built up of a very complex assemblage of dancing causes and effects of multiple interacting semi-autonomous modules. It is a self orchestrated back and forth flow of cause creating semi-autonomous entities creating an effect and soon themselves being modified by the other semi-autonomous entity they just affected. What we think of as I, in the conscious moment, is anything but a unitary entity even over a short time. All of these things are constantly blended together in every person and what emerges is what we relate to as a human being.
Gazzaniga’s development of the concept of emergence I felt was particularly pleasant, and he made it apparent that emergent properties are occurring and coming into play in many different dimensions. There may be multitudes of different types of emergent properties that we don’t recognize as a natural development of some system, and it may be these discoveries of things already apparent but not recognized that will revolutionize our relationship to each other and the world.
Who’s in Charge, by Gazzaniga, is an easy read of deep thoughts.