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Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain Paperback – December 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest; Reprint edition (December 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156028719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156028714
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As he seeks to unlock the secrets of such things as joy and sorrow, Antonio Damasio pursues a unifying theory in Looking for Spinoza. Why Spinoza? The philosopher, whom Damasio calls a "protobiologist," firmly linked mind and body, paving the way for modern ideas of neurophysiology. Damasio examines this linkage, which ran counter to all scientific and religious thinking of Spinoza's day, and lays out the reasoning and evidence behind its truth. As he has in his previous books on the subject (Descartes' Error and The Feeling of What Happens), Damasio is careful to use clear examples from life to explain the often dry and difficult science of the brain. When he wants readers to understand, for instance, brain stem control of emotions, he offers an Oliver Sacks-style case study of a man whose stroke left him unable to keep from bursting into tears or laughter at inappropriate times.

Damasio also defines his terms, which is crucial, as he means something very specific when he says feeling ("always hidden, like all mental images") instead of emotion ("actions or movements... visible to others as they occur in the face, in the voice, in specific behaviors"). Using an impressive array of biological and psychological research, Damasio makes a compelling case for his idea of the feeling brain as crucial for survival and sense of self. But this isn't just a book about brain science. It's a record of an intellectual journey, a diary of Damasio's musings about history, philosophy, and Spinoza's life, all wrapped up in a simply astonishing explanation of a subject most of us don't give a thought to--the feelings that we live by. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The third in a series that began with Descartes' Error, this book deftly combines recent advances in neuroscience with charged meditations on foundational 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and the result is Damasio's fullest report so far on the nature of feelings. A Salk Institute professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center, Damasio makes a useful distinction between emotions, which are publicly observable body states, and feelings, which are mental events observable only to the person having them. Based on neuroscience research he and others have done, Damasio argues that an episode of emoting begins with an emotionally "competent" stimulus (such as an attractive person or a scary house) that the organism automatically appraises as conducive to survival or well-being (a good thing) or not conducive (bad). This appraisal takes the form of a complex array of physiological reactions (e.g., quickening heartbeat, tensing facial muscles), which is mapped in the brain. From that map, a feeling arises as "an idea of the body when it is perturbed by the emoting process." Because they "bear witness to the state of life deep within," feelings are a vital guide to decision-making. Damasio goes on to connect his own views to Spinoza's and sympathize with that thinker's "secular religiosity," which identified God with nature. He ends by discussing spiritual feelings, which he relates to "the sense that the organism is functioning with the greatest possible perfection." Given his professional background, it is not surprising that Damasio is more persuasive when talking neuroscience than philosophy. But overall, he succeeds in making the latest brain research accessible to the general reader, while his passionate Spinozist reflections make that data relevant to everyday life.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I found this book to be a quite stimulating and interesting read.
mslater1219
Part of this is a celebration of the 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinosa whose world view is very much in concert with that of Antonio Damasio.
Dennis Littrell
I read "Looking for Spinoza" after I read Damasio's later book "The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness."
Walter J. Geldart

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

113 of 121 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Part of this is a celebration of the 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinosa whose world view is very much in concert with that of Antonio Damasio. Spinosa's demolition of Descartes' mind/body duality is the thread that Damasio takes up and weaves into this graceful and agreeable narrative. Furthermore, it is Spinosa's recognition that we are part of, and contained within, nature and not materially different from nature (another of Descartes' errors) that attracts Damasio's admiration for Spinosa.

Leaving aside this framing device I want to concentrate on Damasio's argument about the nature of humans based on his experience as a neurobiologist, which is really the core of this book.

Damasio recognizes that feelings, like consciousness itself, are perceptions, not states of mind. What is being perceived is the state of the body itself, and what is doing the perceiving is the brain. In this understanding--and I think it is a felicitous one--the brain operates as a sixth sense, something like the so-called third eye of the Hindus. It is not, of course, a supernatural sixth sense, but a sense organ in addition to the other five whose job it is to perceive the homeostasis of the organism, a sense organ that looks within instead of without. Instead of the sensation of color or sound, the sixth sense perceives emotions.

Of course the Van Allen Distinguished Professor of Neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center does not use such a term as "sixth sense" nor would he allude to the third eye of the Hindus. He is a neurologist, a scientist and (despite his demurral) a philosopher. I mention these other ways of "knowing" in an attempt to provide a larger context for Damasio's argument.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on September 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Damasio has leapt almost to the top of the philosophical pyramid with his books on feelings and consciousness. Unbound by consensus thinking, he shows how the brain and body collaborate in forming what we call the "mind". In this book he reaches back in time to the works of Baruch Spinoza, perhaps the first philosopher with insights on emotions and will. Spinoza roundly refuted the separation of mind and body postulated by Descartes - a thesis with amazing tenacity. Damasio wants to revive the teachings of Spinoza in light of modern research's recent findings verifying and enlarging the Dutch philosopher's ideas. He possesses a unique style in supporting his campaign, with an ability to mix conversational and clinical presentations with fluid ease. This is his finest effort.
Damasio blithely overturns traditional philosophy by giving the body a primary role in developing emotions. What the mind feels, the body has already expressed. Because the body and brain are so deeply integrated in their functions, the combined signals are manifested as "emotion". Our feelings of joy, sorrow and the host of other classifications we use in defining ourselves are the expressions of the interactions. What we say about feelings may be applied to the entire realm of what we call "awareness". In short, the mind represents the body - we react to its actions. Spinoza, without realizing it, was far in advance of his contemporaries.
Damasio uses the wealth of research he and others have obtained over many years to support his contentions. In line with those in the forefront of "neurophilosophy", Damasio attributes evolutionary roots for his proposal. Other animals, he reminds us, react in similar ways to similar stimuli.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Carlos Camara on April 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Damasio took on the interaction between emotions and reason, consicousness, and now, with this book, feelings. These are not unimportant, trivial or simple problems for a neurologist to tackle. They are among the greatest mysteries left in science. Now, do not take this to mean I think I agree wholly with Damasio, or that he has solved these puzzles completely. No. But he has made progress, and he has advanced some really intersting hypothesis. Damasio therefore is rightly considered one of the foremost theorethical neuroscienctists, and although seems sometimes to dismiss much of the literature and consider only evidence coming out of his lab, his ability to so easily transform his theories into highly readable popular accounts is scary.
Damasios main concern in this book is to present an neurobiological account of feelings. Now the first move he makes is to distinguish them from the related phenomenon of emotions. These are not to be confused, even when they are highly related. Felling, to Damasio, comes only after the emotion, and is very different from it. Emotions are complexes of chemical and neural patterns that drive the organism by automatical alterations of the state of the body, towards evolutionarily set places of well-being. Fellings are the perceptions of changes in, or the states of the body, and the modes of thinking that these ensue. To Damasio then, the feeling of fear would consist of the infromation provided by the body proper as well as of the way the cognitive mechanism functions because of the changes that are taking place. Since Damasio considers body regulating, homeostatic, and body sensing so important for feelings, he mantains the neurobiological underpinnings of feelings must be structures related to these functions. And he has evidence to support this claim.
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