Wolfe, who calls himself “the social secretary of neuroscience,” often turns to current research to inform his stories and cultural commentary. His 1996 essay, “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died,” raised questions about personal responsibility in the age of genetic predeterminism. Similar concerns led Gazzaniga to found the Law and Neuroscience Project. When Gazzaniga, who just published Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, was last in New York, Seed incited a discussion: on status, free will, and the human condition.
Tom Wolfe: Mike, I don’t want you to think I’m giving up my right to disagree with you down the line — I may not have to — but you’re one of the very few evolutionary thinkers and neuroscientists that I pay attention to, and I’ll tell you why. In the ’90s, when the subject of neuroscience and also genetics started becoming hot, there was a tendency to conflate genetic theory and evolutionary theory with neuroscience, as if the two were locked, which just isn’t true. Remember Jose Delgado, the wave brain physiologist who was at Yale at one time?
Michael Gazzaniga: Oh yeah. Sure.
TW: The guy stood in a smock in a bullring and put stereotaxic needles in the brain of a bull and just let himself be charged. He had a radio transmitter. The bull is as far away as that wall is from me, and he presses the thing and the bull goes dadadada and comes to a stop.
TW: He’s still with us; he’s in his 90s. Anyway, his son, also Jose Delgado, and also a neuroscientist, was interviewed recently and he said, “The human brain is complex beyond anybody’s imagining, let alone comprehension.” He said, “We are not a few miles down a long road; we are a few inches down the long road.” Then he said, “All the rest is literature.”
Many of today’s leading theorists, such as E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and Dan Dennett, probably know about as much on the human brain as a second-year graduate student in neuropsychology. That isn’t their field. Wilson is a great zoologist and a brilliant writer. Dawkins, I’m afraid, is now just a PR man for evolution. He’s kind of like John the Baptist — he goes around announcing the imminent arrival. Dennett, of course, is a philosopher and doesn’t pretend to know anything about the brain. I think it has distorted the whole discussion.