This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
“We are much less in control of our behaviours than we perhaps think we are,” says Ansari

About four years ago, Chaudhary changed course and

cofounded IT consulting firm Tacit Management Consulting in Vancouver. “I moved away from craving structure to craving variety, the unknown. It’s antithetical to my reasons for becom- ing an accountant,” he says. “A lot of my accounting peers love the fact they know what they’re going to be doing the third Tuesday of each month. Now I thrive on ambiguity. I think all these traits that I discovered about myself were always there — I just didn’t have the understanding to nurture them.” The notion of biological determinism — nature versus

nurture — is an old one, but advances in neuroscience are making it a hot topic again. Fellows doesn’t agree that your life course is fully determined by the biology of the brain because even if you have the exact same brain doing the same process in the same environment, you will get slightly different outcomes. “Experience changes the brain. Over seconds, weeks and months we can see visible changes in structures of the brain,” she says. “It is not a fixed system. I do think we are our brains but I also think that’s not a limiting statement.” The brain’s ability to change does not imply that people don’t

have any kind of predispositions to be good at something. “We do know that you can give two children the same amount of piano instruction but one becomes a concert pianist and the other remains a good amateur,” says Ansari. “They’ve had the same amount of experience but the brain of the concert pianist has changed in different ways. Why? It’s likely due to genetic influences. We know from twin studies that a large percentage of our traits can be ascribed to genes, and the interaction between genes and the environment.” One of the themes running through Ramachandran’s book

The Tell-Tale Brain is that many of our unique mental traits have evolved through the novel deployment of brain structures that originally evolved for other reasons. Among those structures are the visual and auditory pathways, which are segregated all the way up to the frontal lobe in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex — a collar of tissue where free will originates, writes Ramachandran. Here’s where things get tricky. Ramachandran argues the

brain has evolved a second set of neural circuitry, a second brain that creates a second interpretation of what we see and hear. And this second interpretation is intimately linked to our values, beliefs, priorities and sense of self — the very things we use to determine a course of action. His big point — and it’s backed up by brain scans — is that only some parts of the brain are conscious, not all. So does free will exist? “The notion that we voluntarily choose


our actions is neurobiologically implausible because we know that any behaviour we engage in boils down to firing patterns in the brain, which are not guided by some kind of conductor that exerts free will — and firing patterns in the brain are deter- mined by genes and the environment,” says Ansari. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be held accountable for our actions or that our paths are fully determined from the start. It just means that we are much less in control of our behaviours than we perhaps think we are.” Swaab goes even further: “Characteristics are innate. You

can’t change them. Our current knowledge of neurobiology makes it clear that there’s no such thing as absolute freedom. Many genetic factors and environmental influences ... deter- mine the structure and therefore the function of our brains for the rest of our lives.” James Kow, a philosophy professor at Western University’s

King’s College, doesn’t buy it. He argues the brain is much more complicated than the current basis for neuroscience: the 15 billion or so neurons, relays and electrochemical circuitry com- prising what Swaab and Eagleman describe as a computer-like model that, in effect, runs its own show. “Even if you knew your neurons were affecting you, [as a CPA] professional judgment is much more complicated than that. You still have to stand by it,” says Kow. “It’s like Greek philosopher Democritus said: we’re all determined but you’re still responsible. Aristotle took this notion further, saying it’s not the soul that decides. It’s the human being. You’re an accountant; that’s a profession. What do you profess? That your neurons made you do it?” According to Susan Carey, a psychology professor at Harvard

University, there is no reason to think accountants become accountants and taxi drivers become taxi drivers because of how their brains are structured. “Yes, there are causal processes that result in the knowledge we have, and the knowledge we have affects the brain. But I don’t believe our brain structure deter- mines our actions,” she says. “I think humans have the capacity for imagining what’s going to happen in the future and then evaluating, in terms of moral principles, which actions we should engage in.” Eagleman sees it differently. He says we’re engineered to be

what we eventually become and most of the time consciousness plays no role in decision-making. He points to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote Kubla Khan while high on opium. And to mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, who admitted on his deathbed in 1862 that he had no idea how the set of fundamen- tal equations that unify electricity and magnetism had “come to him.” The conscious mind plays a role in your know-how, but

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68