Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Mind's Past

The Mind's Past

Michael S. Gazzaniga
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Mind's Past
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92548-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xv)
    (pp. 1-27)

    Well, we do know about the fiction of our lives—and weshouldwant to know. That’s why I have written this book about how our mind and brain accomplish the amazing feat of constructing our past and, in so doing, create the illusion of self, which in turn motivates us to reach beyond our automatic brain.

    Reconstruction of events starts with perception and goes all the way up to human reasoning. The mind is the last to know things. After the brain computes an event, the illusory “we” (that is, the mind) becomes aware of it. The brain, particularly...

    (pp. 29-61)

    One sunny spring day in 1997 Bill and Hillary Clinton held a White House conference on babies and brains. Psychologists and neuroscientists, eager to please the president and first lady, painted a pretty picture of brain development implying that the more you read to your babies, the better off they will be. The assertion seemed so reasonable that theNew York Timespublished an editorial saying neuroscience had informed us that the brain needs crafting during development and reading is the way to do it. Such happy news. All brains can be built to be all things. Spending time with...

    (pp. 63-83)

    By the time we think we know something—it is part of our conscious experience—the brain has already done its work. It is old news to the brain, but fresh to “us.” Systems built into the brain do their work automatically and largely outside of our conscious awareness. The brain finishes the work half a second before the information it processes reaches our consciousness. That most of the brain is engaged in activities outside conscious awareness should come as no surprise. This great zone of cerebral activity is where plans are made to speak, write, throw a baseball, or...

    (pp. 85-101)

    What you see is not what your retina is taking in. By the time your automatic brain gets done with the electrical signals your retina sends out, you have a highly digested and transformed image. When you “perceive” something, myriad automatic processes have already occurred. One way to prove they are there and doing their job is to trick them, which makes illusions appear. These illusions teach us how the brain works. One frequently sees illusions. By reconstructing automatic events in our perceptual system, I can illustrate how faulty our realities can be.

    Our sensory apparatus is only a simple...

    (pp. 103-121)

    Who isn’t thrilled by seeing an osprey swoop down and majestically catch a fish in a river? With laser accuracy these birds effortlessly fetch food for their brood. They spot the fish from hundreds of feet up, and before zooming in on it they somehow correct for the water’s prismatic distortion between the fish and its appearance from on high. The osprey flies back to its nest, feeds its young, and rests.

    All of this goes on automatically. From the eye to the talons, a computation facilitates the kill. This can’t be good ol’ Kentucky windage at work; development helps...

    (pp. 123-149)

    If only it were true. The tidy thought that our memories accurately reflect our past is a pervasive one, for it leads to the view that the mind calls on an orderly warehouse full of neatly filed packets of memory. We can readily summon these memories, whether they be a telephone number from childhood or an image of a mother’s face; prima facie, memory works remarkably well. Lots of neuroscientists want the memory system to work this way, too. So do many clinical psychologists and trial lawyers who think that memories are accurate representations of the past.

    Sometimes memories are...

    (pp. 151-176)

    Just as humanists like John Updike have their thread that “runs through all things,” as I say in Chapter 1, so, too, is the interpreter omnipresent in our lives. It toils away at duties from perception to memory. In general the interpreter seeks to understand the world. In doing so it creates the illusion that we are in control of all our actions and reasoning. We become the center of a sphere of action so large it has no walls.

    The manifest presence of the interpreter, rearing its magnificent head above the sea of species around us, raises the question...

    (pp. 177-188)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 189-202)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-205)