Gazzaniga on split-brains and bioethics

Michael Gazzaniga, one of the founding fathers of cognitive neuroscience and a pioneer of ‘split brain’ research, is interviewed on this week’s ABC All in the Mind where he talks about the use and abuse of ‘left brain – right brain’ metaphors and how our understanding of free will is impacting on the law.

Gazzaniga was a student of Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel prize for his work on ‘split-brain patients’, people who had the two cortical hemispheres of the brain functional separated by neurosurgery to cut the corpus callosum in an attempt to treat otherwise untreatable epilepsy.

One of the amazing things was that while the people didn’t feel any different, it was easy to demonstrate that the each hemisphere processed things in quite different ways and each was, to a certain extent, independently conscious.

The interview discusses some of this early research, and asks how much of the popular ‘left brain – right brain’ rhetoric that gets thrown around actually stands up to scientific scrutiny. I think you can guess, but it’s good hearing it from the man himself.

Gazzaniga also talks about one of his other interests – neuroethics, and particularly the effect that a neuroscientific understanding of free will is having on our concepts of legal responsibility.

I was interested to read that US judges can now take courses in neuroscience to help them makes sense of the sometimes counter-intuitive findings in cognitive science.

As it happens, Gazzaniga’s new book Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique is published today. If you want a taster an Edge article by Gazzaniga from a few months ago seems to be taken from it.

The AITM Blog also has some bonus audio of Gazzaniga discussing his experience of being on George Bush’s bioethics council when the President was vetoing stem cell cloning.

Link to AITM interview with Michael Gazzaniga.

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