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The Mind's Past

Michael S. Gazzaniga (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 216 pages
ISBN: 9780520224865
October 2000
$26.95, £22.00
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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.
"Gazzaniga, a pioneer in the study of brain-mind relations, provides a highly readable account of what our rapidly accumulating knowledge of the brain implies for the mental processes we live by. The result is a book of enormous interest, written with the broadest possible audience in mind."—George A. Miller, Professor Emeritus Princeton University

"While psychologists, philosophers, and neurologists grapple inconclusively with the elusive concept of consciousness, Gazzaniga convincingly places the 'self' in an evolutionary context. . . . Integrating natural selection, brain function, and mind function, Gazzaniga crystallizes and clarifies, sweeping away the confusing rhetoric with a clear account of how we came to be human."—Ira B. Black, M.D., Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

"A lucid and entertaining book about the mysteries of the human mind. . . . It is the story of how the mind is an evolutionary object just like the beak of a seagull or the wings of a butterfly. Gazzaniga's thesis is that we will not understand the human mind until we grasp this fundamental truth. It is sure to provoke and enlighten. A thoroughly enjoyable, accessible, witty book."—Alfonso Caramazza, Harvard University

"A guided tour through the fascinating personalities whose research findings constitute modern cognitive neuroscience."—Michael I. Posner, University of Oregon

"This book is about how our experience is a construction of the apparatus of our brain. This is great stuff. The material is fascinating, easy to read, witty, and wise."—Steven Pinker, editor of How the Mind Works

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