on November 19, 2010
The deep enigma of consciousness has been explored from many directions, including contributions by neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers and a few physicists (both quantum and complex systems scientists). An important study area consists of injuries or diseases that destroy specific brain structures; these clinical events are often closely correlated to nuanced effects on selective aspects of consciousness. Professor Damasio's book makes good use of these data to describe many known neural correlates of consciousness. For purposes of this book, he adopts the working hypothesis that mental states and brain states are essentially equivalent. While many (including this reviewer) find this idea questionable, such tentative hypothesis is quite appropriate for a book of this kind. In science we often adopt useful, if highly oversimplified, models in the early stages of our studies with no illusions that they are perfectly accurate. In this manner "Truth" is (hopefully) approached in a series of successive approximations. Thankfully, Damasio does not claim to "explain" consciousness.
The book's title is based on Damasio's suggestion that our evolutionary history reveals many simple creatures with active "minds" (defined broadly), but only much later did self (awareness) develop; in other words the human self is built in steps grounded in the so-called "protoself." An essential step is the development of homeostatis (life regulation needed to survive) in single cell creatures like bacteria, followed by progressively more complex "societies of cells" in more complex creatures like insects, reptiles, and mammals. Thus consciousness, rooted in our evolutionary past, helps to optimize our responses to the environment so that we may continue our existence. Damasio also describes the self in terms of stages: the protoself, core self and autobiographical self, along with specific brain structures that may support these distinct stages. He concludes that conscious minds emerge from the brain's nested hierarchy of neural networks operating at multiple spatial scales (levels); I will expand on this last point later.
Several chapters consider brain structures that are most essential to mind and consciousness, providing more status to the brain stem and its sub structures than is normally acknowledged by neuroscientists. Damasio's arguments here are based on observations of children born without a cerebral cortex and on several evolutionary considerations. The book cites quite a bit of detailed brain anatomy so non experts should probably read the excellent Appendix on brain structure before tackling any material beyond chapter 2. Normally this suggestion would be offered in a Preface, but this book has none.
I gave the book four stars based on my evaluation of both the good and not so good features: 1) the nice development of a number of important ideas on conscious correlates, 2) the fluff, e.g., some unnecessary technical jargon and the belaboring of obvious points, 3) important omissions. In an example of the latter, I found the memory chapter inadequate given its central role in consciousness. I would have liked to read more about how, where, and at what spatial scales are various kinds of memory stored, or at least given some sense of which parts of the memory puzzle have actually been solved. By loose analogy, if I ask how a TV works, I am unsatisfied by explanations of how to dial in specific channels. Rather, I want to hear about electromagnetic fields and electron guns.
Many readers avoid Endnotes; this may be a mistake. Here is one shining gem involving an interchange between Damasio and Francis Crick, who pointed to several provocative definitions in the International Dictionary of Psychology (1996), providing both these guys quite a laugh. I will not spoil the story by relating the dictionary's definition of "consciousness," but here is this dictionary's definition of "love," "A form of mental illness not yet recognized by any of the standard diagnostic manuals." (Note to my wife, I do not endorse this definition.)
The apparent critical importance of the brain's nested hierarchy to consciousness seemed to me to be substantially understated in Damisio's book. I say this because nested hierarchy is a hallmark of many if not most complex systems, and brains are considered by most to be the pre-eminent complex systems. Think of social systems, for example. They typically consist of persons, neighborhoods, cities, states and nations; their observed dynamic behaviors are fractal-like (scale dependent) and the essence of their behaviors is rooted in the nested hierarchy of interactions at multiple scales, both top-down and bottom-up, the so-called "circular causality" of Synergetics, the science of cooperation and self organization (see books by Hermann Haken). The brain's nested hierarchy and its apparent critical importance to consciousness are discussed in Todd Feinberg's From Axons to Identity: Neurological Explorations of the Nature of the Self (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) and my new book (2010), which also explores the possible fundamental role of information in both the physical and mental realms. This latter topic is also covered in a series of essays edited by Paul Davies and Neils Gregersen Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, 2010.
An alternate view of Damasio's book by Steven Rose was posted February 16, 2011 on this site (an excellent read for those interested in the hard problem).
on November 22, 2010
Dr. Damasio says that, "This book is dedicated to addressing two questions. First: how does the brain construct a mind? Second: how does the brain make that mind conscious?" Do I think he does an exceptional job of tackling these two questions? Yes, I do.
I believe the greatest strength of this book lies in Dr. Damasio's capacity to take account of vast amounts of information and viewpoints related to mind and consciousness. He has included large swaths of issues that are usually books in and of themselves (Body Maps - The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better, Extended/Embodied Cognition - The Extended Mind (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology), Efficient Computational Theory of Mind - Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions, Selfhood - The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self, Free Will - Distributed Cognition and the Will: Individual Volition and Social Context (Bradford Books), Neuroeconomics - Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty (Evolution and Cognition Series) and Neuroanatomy - Mapping the Mind: Revised and Updated Edition). Furthermore, Dr. Damasio is very forthcoming in demarcating the known from the unknown and the probable from the possible in regards to neuroscience. The only downside I experienced while reading this book is that I felt a little lost, or perhaps impatient, while waiting for Damasio to tie everything together. It was only towards the last half of the book that the big picture began to emerge.
That being said, I believe that this book is a significant advancement in neuroscientific research. Most importantly, I actually understand what Damasio means when he speaks of the proto self, core self, and autobiographical self. His explanation of Convergence-Divergence Zones (CDZ's), as well as anatomical structures, is very effective and his manner of description is so unsophisticated that even a layman like me can understand exactly what he is illustrating. Also, there are many pictures, diagrams, and charts to help too.
In conclusion, I very much enjoyed the substance of this book (the style is somewhat lacking, but hey, it's not supposed to be Shakespeare!). I also took pleasure in the way in which Damasio took a back-handed approach to dismissing a certain philosophers (Daniel Dennett, ahem) approach towards consciousness; I liked it because when it comes to Mind/Brain/Consciousness issues, I think philosophers must necessarily take a supporting role to the neuroscientists. "I see the neurology of consciousness as organized around the brain structures involved in generating the lead triad of wakefulness, mind, and self. Three major anatomical divisions - the brain stem, the thalamus, and cerebral cortex - are principally involved, but one must caution that there are no direct alignments between each anatomical division and each component of the triad. All three divisions contribute to some aspect of wakefulness, mind, and self." A great book, I highly recommend it. (Also, if you liked this book, or think you would like this book, I would also recommend reading V.S. Ramachandran's new book: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human.)
on February 16, 2011
Just came across an excellent review of Self Comes to Mind by Steven Rose for The Guardian.
Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio - review
Steven Rose examines a neurologist's attempt to explain why we have conscious selves
The Guardian, Sat 12 Feb 2011 00.05 GMT
Consciousness has become a hot topic for brain scientists. Once, we were content to leave the interminable mind/brain problem to philosophers and theologians. Speculation remained a CLM - a career-limiting move -- for ambitious young researchers. No longer. Armed with novel tools, from genetic manipulation to brain imaging, flush with funding, and convinced that neuroscience has the key to the human condition, the hunt is on. Experiments, conferences and books proliferate, and philosophers of mind can no longer be taken seriously until they have done an internship in a neurophysiology lab.
Neuroscientists, especially those of us trained in the Anglo-American tradition, tend to be as mechanically materialist as was "Darwin's bulldog", Thomas Huxley, in the 19th century, when he remarked that mind is to brain as the whistle is to the steam train - a mere epiphenomenon. Thoughts, feelings, intentions, reasons - all are causally generated by brain processes, and it is these latter that do the real business. Hence for Francis Crick, "you are nothing but a pack of neurons", free will is located in the cingulate gyrus, and consciousness in the claustrum - two small regions of the human brain's massive cerebral cortex. Self-styled "neurophilosophers" such as Patricia Churchland follow in their footsteps, proposing that mental language is mere "folk psychology", destined to be reduced and replaced by a biologically precise language of neural connections and brain activity.
Consciousness is a term with multiple meanings. David Lodge has argued that the richness of individual conscious experience, that essential subjectivity, is better explored in novels and poetry than by neuroscientists. Most consciousness researchers ignore this rich heritage; for them the word signifies simply the obverse of being unconscious or asleep - that is to be awake, aware, attending and alert to one's immediate surroundings. Consciousness studies typically involve experimental subjects fitted with brain readout devices such as an electroencephalogram. They are asked to make a decision - for instance when to press a button -- and to state the time at which they became aware that they had made the decision. It turns out that the EEG indicates that the brain has made the decision some few thousandths of a second before subjects "know" they have decided. So why bother with consciousness at all? Couldn't that fantasy creature, a mindless zombie, do the job just as well?
For biologists though, consciousness, if not an accidental epiphenomenon, must be an evolved property with a function of some benefit to its possessor. As of course it is: being conscious gives us humans the capacity to learn from the past, to anticipate and plan for the future, to establish and maintain social relations, to imagine and create societies, technologies, art and literature. This has - so far - proved a successful evolutionary strategy. Yet human consciousness appears to be not merely quantitatively but qualitatively distinct from that of even our closest evolutionary neighbours, chimps and bonobos. And as one needs a brain to be conscious in any of the word's multiple meanings, there must be something about the human brain that differentiates us from the bonobos and enables consciousness.
It is these issues that Antonio Damasio, a neurologist now based in California, has wrestled with in a series of books over the past two decades. He has several advantages over his American neuroscientific peers. His continental European training sensitises him to the reductionist traps that ensnare so many of his colleagues. The book is dedicated to his neurologist wife Hanna, whose work with brain- and consciousness-damaged patients, brings her closer to real life than the remote context and artificial experimental set-ups of the neuropsychology lab. Inclined though he is to define consciousness narrowly ("a state of mind in which there is knowledge of one's own existence and of the existence of surroundings") and to put to one side its content - what we actually think about - his is the only one of the many consciousness books weighing down my shelves that feels it necessary to mention Freud's, as opposed to an anaesthetist's, use of the term unconscious.
Anyone who has read any of Damasio's previous three books will find Self Comes to Mind retreading some familiar territory, though here set in a firmly evolutionary context. In Damasio's terminology, even single-celled organisms such as bacteria or amoebae have a minimal sense of self, working to preserve their internal integrity against foreign incursion. They also show primitive emotions, the earliest forerunners to our own experiences of pain and pleasure, moving away from noxious stimuli and towards food sources. In accord with standard physiology Damasio calls the processes by which an organism stabilises its body state homeostatic. (I prefer the term homodynamic; stasis, after all, is death). In multicellular organisms, which appear later in evolutionary history, the cells that recognise the presence of such stimuli are separated from those that must co-ordinate the organism's responses to them. Before nervous systems evolved, the sense-receptor cells signalled to those co-ordinating the response through chemicals (hormones) that diffuse through the body. Later in evolution, dedicated signalling lines (nerves) appear, connecting the receptor cells with a central group of nerve cells - neurons - that are the forerunners to our own brains.
Brains are by no means the only game in town; bacteria and plants of course flourish quite well without, and will probably outlive humans. But our ancestors took a different route, building bigger and more complex brains. Within such brains neurons communicate with each other by myriad connections. These fluctuating patterns can form representations of both the external world and the body state of the organism that owns them. Such brains enable their possessors to learn and remember, to recognise the present in the context of the immediate past and the imminent future. To Damasio this means that they are, or possess, selves. In animals with big brains, emotions - mere bodily responses - become translated into feelings, and with feelings, a mind - "a subtle flowing combination of actual images and recalled images in ever-changing proportions" - emerges from the brain. Many large-brained creatures thus have minds, however alien they may be to our own. But consciousness emerges only when - to quote the book's title - self comes to mind, so that in key brain regions, the representational maps of sensory experience intersect with the encoded experiences of past that self provides. This, enabled by the evolution of language, makes possible autobiographical memory - the narrative of our lives that we humans all possess and which is the basis for consciousness.
This, briefly summarised, is the latest version of Damasio's theory. The story is told in prose of intermittently easygoing lucidity, but his primary training as a neurologist compels him into passages of detailed neuro-anatomy, locating brain regions functionally responsible for enabling particular aspects of consciousness. But which bits of the brain might be involved, though of passionate concern to neuroscientists, isn't the crucial issue - which is whether Damasio has thereby solved what has been called the "hard problem" of consciousness studies by relating third-person "objective" accounts to first-person subjectivity. I fear that however convincing his evolutionary story may be, simply to state that these brain processes translate into mental experience leaves us, despite some very elegant hand-waving, exactly where we were before. And herein lies the paradox of the book's subtitle. Brains are not conscious; people are. Our brains enable our consciousness, just as our legs enable our walking, as the anthropologist Tim Ingold has pointed out. But to attribute the property of a whole to that of a part is to commit what philosophers refer to as the mereological fallacy (one that I confess I have not been entirely innocent of in my own writings).
In everyday thought and speech we have reasons, intentions, feelings. In brainspeak we have synapses, firing patterns, neurotransmitters. For the mechanical materialist, the latter causes the former - and in his routine use of causal language Damasio reveals himself as just that. This is why the weakest part of the book is the concluding chapters, where he extends his central principle of homeostasis to embrace human history, society and culture. But it is possible to be a non-reductionist materialist. The language of mind and consciousness relates to the language of brains and synapses as English does to Italian; one may translate into the other, though always with some loss of cultural resonance. But we do not have to assign primacy to either. Long may pluralism reign, and we conscious beings continue to employ our minds and brains to enhance our understanding of both.
Steven Rose's The 21st-Century Brain is published by Vintage.
on July 11, 2011
I had very high hopes for this book. I had just read Koch's brilliant "The Quest for Consciousness", which focuses on visual awareness and its neurobiological correlates. What was lacking from that work was the concept of the self, which I hoped Damasio would elucidate. I read about two thirds of the book and gave up. To say that the writing style is convoluted is an understatement. One gets the sense that Damasio is bored with his own ideas and tries to entertain himself with odd turns of phrase, or by going off on tangents. If and when you finally figure out what one of his denser paragraphs is about, you will think: "Is this what he means? Well why doesn't he just say that?". Scientific background was not the issue for me as this is my field; he just doesn't know how to, or chooses not to explain. He is writing for his own pleasure when he needs to be writing for his reader. Damasio badly needs to hire someone from the outside to help him write in a clear manner and give him critical feedback.
on November 25, 2010
As I write this I am trying to assess the three previous reviews which were written by those more scholarly than I. That said, I encourage "bumblebee scholars" such as I to dig in to this seminal work. It can't hurt and might be good for you.
Cautionary Note: If you read the Endnotes you may construct a reading list that will prompt you to delay your demise for at least twenty years beyond your current biological expectancy.
In Self Comes to Mind, USC neuroscience Antonio Damasio creates a model of consciousness and a hypothesis about how consciousness came to evolve. VERY simply put, he traces the origins of consciousness back to the will to live and to homeostasis, the balance of physical factors that enables an organism to live and reproduce. Even the simplest organisms, those without consciousness, minds, or even brains, have responses to outside stimuli that maintain their homeostasis to permit their continued existence. Through evolution, such responses become more sophisticated and lead to the development of brains and neurons that can carry out such responses appropriately. Gradually the brains develop the capacity for mapped images and patterns that permit more complex interactions with the environment and a memory bank. This is a mind, and it awakens. The awake mind gradually develops a sense of self, and it is then that consciousness emerges. It is a very convincing scenario.
I have read all of Damasio's books for the general reader and enjoyed them all, but this is not a good one to start with if you have not read his writings before.(The Feeling of What Happens is my personal favorite.) Damasio is first and foremost a neurologist, a respected one whose work is quoted extensively, but this means he is fascinated by the brain. You do not have to be a trained neurologist to read Self Comes to Mind, but I believe the book assumes a somewhat more sophisticated level of knowledge than his other books, and there are rather too many passages of this sort:
Why are emotions such a telltale sign of consciousness? Because the actual execution of most emotions is carried out by the periaqueductal grey (PAG) in close cooperation with the nucleus tractus solitarus (NTS) and the parabrachial nucleus (PBN), the structures whose ensemble engenders bodily felings (such as primordial feelings) and the variations thereof that we call emotional feelings. (p. 167)
If this passage does not intimidate you, then bravo! If it does, do not be discouraged. Just skim over those parts and enjoy the model of the brain, mind, and consciousness that Damasio constructs. Or persist, take it all in, and apply for grad school in the neurosciences.
on December 20, 2010
Professor Damasio begins this incredible story using Darwin's Theory of Evolution as the driving force and centerpiece of a theoretical odyssey that is as intimate as it is cogent and thorough. For the author, the theory of how the mind becomes "self" is a labor of love, surely his professional life quest: the last remaining riddle of the universe, now finally solved by the life work of this author. It is told so carefully, so cogently, and with such clarity and depth that it amounts to a convincing love story that will simply take the breath away.
This book is sure to be one of the finalists in the National Science Book of the year Award. It certainly gets my vote!
At the center of this incredible story (and the author's theory) is the ever-evolving cell: that powerful "active" (but much underrated) building block of all living systems. With the evolution of the cell, which importantly, has, since its inception, always had the capacity to be a "stand-along," "purposefully surviving" functional living system and unit of life. That is to say as a "proto-animal," the cell brings intrinsically into being the functional aspects of an "intentional life." The mind is simply one of the latest evolutionary adaptations of this exquisite carefully balanced, living piece of architecture called (animal) life. One of the key remaining unanswered properties of a cell is that it comes with the "will to survive," built-in? How it does this?-- the author does not touch with a ten-foot pole; and this remains the only flaw in the design, as the research leaves unanswered, and thus begs this most important of questions. But more about that later.
As Professor Damasio demonstrates so elegantly, having a "proto-animal" as the functional building block of life is no small matter. But in fact is a very large matter indeed. It is qualitatively different than say that of having a dead (and thus passive) object (such as an inactive or dead cell or a brick) as the building block of a system. For as the cell has evolved, it's inherent (and unexplained) but powerful and purposeful "will to survive" has also evolved to promote much more specialized and infinitely more complex survival requirements, components and imperatives.
This increased specialization and complexity combined with the unexplained need for a cell to survive, alone appear to be the key elements explaining human motivation, the economics of value, "intention," "anticipation," the ability to predict, the need to reason and plan, as well as "will" itself. Arguably, it is these unexplained aspects of the cell that drive the machinery of life, self and the life of the mind. With it, the cell (as well as the body as organism), is motivated to adapt in order to live, and as a result of this built in imperative, it has "learned" over eons how to coalesce and combine with other cells to form "colonies," which over those years have also evolved into specialized sub-components (such as organs of the body, etc.) and ultimately into organisms and other larger living eco-systems themselves -- all engineered and controlled by the DNA of the genes (or their equivalents, mimes of culture).
It is the members of these specialized groups of cells, the neuron in particular, that is the protagonist and hero of this story: One that in my view finally gets the mystery of consciousness out into the open, and the story about consciousness, the self, emotions and feelings, right. The neuron is not just a cell, but the "micro system" at the cellular level that through its signaling, mapping, imaging and messenger roles, is pretty much responsible for sculpting, and controlling the activity of the larger macro system called the body (or organism).
Nothing in science is quite so dense, so elegant, so surprising, so cogent, or so beautiful as the author's carefully honed and incremental descriptions, that build into a crescendo, of how the neuron through evolution has resolved the long-standing and formidable "mind-body" problem. That problem is dispatched as a matter of course, and so easily and with such elegance that it reduces simply to a side issue dealing with the question of the need for the body to maintain less than a dozen or so parameters within very narrow homeostatic ranges.
In it role as the conductor of a symphony of a multilayered orchestra of cells, it is the neuron's job as the CEO of that operation to maintain the body in the necessary homeostatic condition. However, "body maintenance" is a job that predated even the brain and exists even in animals without a conscious mind. These "proto-mental" capacities were important antecedents to the mentality that eventually encompassed what we have come to know as "conscious mentality." Therefore the older brainstem, which still "maintains" the body through passive processes and processing, is strongly implicated and shown to necessarily have been a precursor to the more complex later set of brain operations that we have come to recognize as the "self" and as consciousness.
The neuron conducts the body's orchestra of both "normal body maintenance" as well as its self-reflective activities, which actually create the "self." The neuron does this by being a serious multi-tasker; one scripted to provide the charts for the music of the body: its feelings and emotions (which just happen to bring them into being). The sheet music comes in the form of interactive maps, images and bi-directional messages of the cell's and the organism's activities, all brought together as a symphony of managed anticipation, forward feedback and pre-processing, predictions, storage, retrievals and editing from memory, and the channeling of interests and attention -- all in defense of maintaining homeostasis -- that is to say in defense of the body's (or the system's or organism's) global survival interests. The summation of this mostly cartographic activity, called up as perceptions, maps and images, from either inside or outside the brain, is what constitutes the brain's response to the imperatives of life. We sense this constant teeming brain activity as conscious feelings and emotions that we can uniquely attach to the self. QED.
All of this exquisite complexity is resolved beautifully in the Occam's Razor sense. To wit: No other theory, so far, explains what the brain or the mind does quite as economically as does Professor Damasio's. No other theory explains how the "self" comes into being quite so cogently as Professor Damasio's. No other theory explains how evolution plays such a critical role in the development of this orchestra as does that of Professor Damasio's. And all of this knowledge is gained by him the hard way: through careful observation of diseased brains, of split-brain research, through the author's on over-sized introspective brain, and by the pulling together of the research of nearly every fruitful avenue in neurology over the last century. To say that this book is a tour de force would be an understatement.
Because Professor Damasio's theory does not even attempt to explain where the cell's "will to survive" comes from, it leaves the back door open for the "Intelligent Designers" to pounce on. I predict that it will be just a matter of time before they seize on this single isolated fact as an opportunity to say that: it is a god that implants this will to live into the cell? Surely, they will do this, but when they do, it will be a poison pill as surely they can then will be able to see that they have walked into a trap of their own making: as they then will have no choice but to accept Darwin's theory of evolution as god's own handiwork. If they want to do that, then fine. It simply makes god superfluous, as we already knew he always was. Fifty stars.
on November 21, 2010
"Self Comes to Mind - Constructing the Conscious Brain" is Antonio Domasio's latest landmark book on the nature of consciousness and how it is created. In his previous book "The Feeling of Knowing" Damasio provided an account that was logically consistent with third party perspectives of philosophy, psychology, plus the latest findings in neuroscience.
In the "Self Comes to Mind" he announces his intention to "start over" with explanations, and he stakes out new ground with a daring first person subjective perspective that is akin to William James view of "my" objects of attention versus "I" as the self or protagonist who is the active agent in the changing stream of consciousness, and "owns" the other objects as "knower". He successfully brings off this new venture of understanding.
He names the two questions to be addressed: how does the brain construct a mind? and how does the brain make that mind conscious? He affirms James' idea of the importance of a self, and brings it alive with his own earlier ideas of the three aspects of self (the proto self, the core self, and the autobiographical self) but develops them more fully in the "Self Comes to Mind" with the active protagonist in mind.
The shift to Damasio's first person subjective protagonist perspective from his prior third person objective prospective takes place when he makes the distinction between neural maps constructed by the brain for information, and images formed in the mind (conscious or unconscious) for use by the protagonist in navigating their external environment to achieve goals having biological and cultural value.
He acknowledges in the Appendix that the mind-brain equivalence hypothesis is not universally liked or accepted. I believe the Domasio's mind-brain hypothesis is logically correct for two main reasons. First, the equivalence of subjective mental images and objective brain neural maps is quite convincing - after all, people can communicate their mental images with one another by talking and listening while paying close attention to each other. A "sentence" can be spoken, listened to, and repeated back to the speaker to confirm error free communication, high fidelity, and understanding of the intended meaning. A third witness can verify the accuracy of the information exchanged. Second, Domasio avoids the common philosophical error of dualism which is so easy to make when moving from the outside objective view to the inside subjective view of the human brain and its mind. Mortimer Adler, renown American philosopher, reminds us that there are three object types (real, subjective, and intentional), and all three must be included when discussing the conscious mind. Intentionality was lost as a philosophical concept since Kant obliterated it. This is OK for mindless rocks, but not for human beings with meaningful language. Domasio puts the Protagonist process back in the Jamesian stream of consciousness with attention and intention. The stream of consciousness runs on a layered foundation of proto self, core self, and extended or autobiographical self.
Part IV is a nice wrap up for the non-specialist public with an deep interest in neurology, psychology, and philosophy of mind. Domasio takes care to not use suit case words that mean different things to different people, and in the process introduces delightful new words that are more general and less controversial.
He introduces the term Genomic Unconscious (page 278) to provide for the biological diversity of dispositions (another new term) to better convey psychological concepts (instinct, automatic behaviors, drives, and motivations) from a neurological foundation. Domasio acknowledges that the Genomic Unconscious has something to do with what Freud and Jung sensed, but avoids getting bogged down on Freud's emphasis on sexuality that caused Jung to break company from him. Jung went on to develop concepts of consciousness (personal consciousness, personal unconsciousness, and the collective unconscious or archetypal realm) and enduring patterns that arise in civilization as it ascends to the pinacle of consciousness. Yes, Genomic Unconscious covers this!
Damasio includes feeling and value as fundamental observables of the self and its objects. He briefly uses the "intuition" word without reservation (page 276). Jung included intuition in his functional classification of sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling. Jung identified four ways of perceiving and judging both the external and the internal objects in the field of consciousness. The subjective sensation function monitors subjective feelings, and the subjective rational valuing function makes judgments as to whether a privately held object of attention is good or bad, OK, or not OK.
On the last two page of the last Chapter, Damasio acknowledges imagination's ability to navigate the future as the ultimate gift of consciousness, and this depends on the intersection of self with memory, tempered by personal feeling, with consideration of the well-being of members of society. Damasio handles mapping vs simulating body states on pages 101-107, and touches on the recent discovery of mirror neuron's ability to simulate body state feeling of another creature (monkeys were the subject) in the observing self's brain-mind. He suggests that being able to simulate or imagine the other "object" would not be possible if the neurological network were not first in place to simulate and imagine one's own "self" in an "as-if" future. It is important that imagination is included in Damasio's new neurologically based model of the intentional attentive protagonist self-in-mind.
James devoted entire Chapters in his two books to imagination and attention. Jung, coming from an empirical study of the mental categories of objective and subjective knowledge, came up with the sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling categories of information that can be held in the conscious mind and witnessed by the small momentary "self", against a longer term unconscious background of the larger "Self". Jung included imagination as an actual perceptual content of the intuition function, but not as a separate intentional function. However, Jung included a fifth transcendent function that comes into play for reconciling opposing tendencies of the functional information about objects. This transcendent function works with symbolic images that may be developed and brought forth in a process described by Jung as active imagination. Jung also identified the two directions of attention and interest known as the extraverted and introverted attitudes of consciousness. Jung's terms extraversion and introversion are widely used today. They are included as options of attentional choice in the MBTI®(Myers Briggs Type Indicator), and as one of the five factors in the Five Factor Model of Personality. Geldart included attention and imagination as functions of intentionality, plus Jung's four functions of perception and judgment for both subjective and objective objects of attention in the EPIC model (Emergent Patterns of Individual Consciousness).
Damasio implicitly puts William James psychological and pragmatic concepts of self, attention, imagination, ideomotor force and steam of consciousness on a modern neurological foundation. I think it is time for Carl Jung's knowledge categories of consciousness (very suitable for the autobiographical self) to be considered for its pragmatic value by scientists of consciousness today. Why so? Jung spoke of the four functions (knowledge aspects) of consciousness (S, N, T, and F) or sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling. Jung described them in his Psychological Types in 1921. Beebe thinks of them as types of consciousness, not types of people [Beebe, J. (2004). Understanding Consciousness through the theory of psychological types, Cambray and Carter (eds.) Analytic Psychology: Contemporary Perspectives in Jungian Analysis]. Brunner-Routledge. Geldart included imagination and intention as functions of intention, along with Jung's four extraverted functions for real external objects and four introverted functions for subjective internal objects of consciousness in the EPIC model (2010).
Damasio has something to say on page 14 about attempts by others to relate a view of the mind as a nonphysical phenomenon with laws of quantum physics. He appeals to relying more on an unfolding understanding from neuroscience instead of possibilities from a more remote and less accessible quantum physics. He prefers not to explain the mystery of conscious mind with another mystery of quantum physics, and refers to several authors leaning on a quantum physics explanation. He does not refer to the work by Schwartz, J. and Begley, S. (2002). The Mind and its Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. Schwartz working with Henry Stapp found that the effect of attention can be modeled in Schrodinger's wave equations that are normally applied to physical matter at the sub-atomic level. They assume that attention can change the odds on which wave function wins and hence which thought wins (page 362, Figure 8 of their book). Obviously, this does not explain how consciousness emerges in mind with associated mental images, nor is this what they intend to do. But it is a creative effort to show that selective attention of the subject-agent (as James described it) is not something metaphysical, but something permitted in the laws of physics. This hardly needs to be proved because Schwartz's book provides ample evidence that learning new habits and unlearning obsessive compulsive habits can be accomplished by harnessing the self's power of attention to achieve actual free will or free won't choices in the transient moments of decision prior to a voluntary response. What makes this challenging is that Domasio's "core self" is a transient phenomenon that provides the only window of opportunity to make a new free will or free won't response in the real world where things are matter and do matter.
I went back to William James to study his understanding of attention as a macroscopic (not quantum physics) phenomenon on the conscious mind side of the mind-brain system. A closer reading of James found that he discovered (without naming it) a psychological quantum of action and intentionality on the scale of fractions of a second to a few seconds. James' indivisible ideomotor action released in body by the self as agent, and James' indivisible privately voiced mental statements about mental images (the pack of cards is on the table) are pragmatic evidence of a psychological quantum of action effect. This predates quantum effects in physics.
Antonio Domasio's new book "Self Comes to Mind:Constructing the Conscious Brain" is delightful, well worth waiting for, and well worth reading over and over. It's bound to become a classic.
Walter Geldart developed a logical model that integrates William James' intentional functions of attention and imagination with Carl Jung's perception (sensation and intuition) and judgment (thinking and feeling) functions of consciousness. The information is held briefly in working memory. The mathematical model predicts emergent patterns that are analogous to information patterns owned by a "core self" (Domasio). The predicted patterns can be interpreted with definitions from philosophy,psychology, and neurology. The EPIC model is inclusive. It omits no necessary categories of object types (all three real, subjective, and intentional object type categories of philosophy are present). Then it maps ten necessary and sufficient psychological functions from Jung and James to the correct object type categories and to their own position in ten intervals in the momentary indivisible event cycle of consciousness (the Jamesian quantum of psychological activity). It then becomes possible to predict emergent strings of functional content of consciousness using the mathematics of prime number division of the integral duration of the event cycle.
The Epic Roles of Consciousness: Emergent Patterns of Individual Consciousness - Paperback (Jan. 15, 2010) by Walter J. Geldart
on March 17, 2011
...reading through this book was a mental exercise. Though the book was a tough read, I liked his central theory on how the brain constructs conscious minds. I've seen other reviews about the difficulty in understanding this book but simply sticking to the main gist helped me sail through to the end.
Consciousness: A fusion of Mind processes and Self processes.
Mind processes: Activities across a network of neuronal circuits organized into patterns that represent external events (outside the brain).
Self processes: Broken down into the Protoself, Core self and Autobiographical self.
Thus, when self (self processes) comes to mind (mind processes) we have a conscious mind.
This basic idea was my compass through the stormy seas of this book.
Other than that, I remain a fan of Damasio!
on March 1, 2012
Reading Pr. Damasio's book is a bit like having a good French croissant for breakfast : a pleasant experience, but one which leaves you feeling short on substance.
His book has some very positive aspects. He describes in a convincing way a gradation of consciousness from the inorganic to the human (the evolutionary side of self), and secondly he describes the different layers which result from this evolution in human consciousness (proto-self, core self, autobiographical self).
He anchors his arguments in a layer of neurophysiology which is potentially accessible to the interested lay-person.
He has a couple of good chapters on the neural underpinnings of emotion and of memory.
On the other hand, the neurophysiology, including extensive referencing of some 30 or so latin named brain areas, should have been accompanied by adequate circuit diagrams and brain maps, not the unpleasant, vague, blurry, uninformative, grey illustrations which are all we are given. Without it the non-specialist will be lost (I had to spend a couple of days on the web to find information at a level which enabled me to make sense of his references).
Secondly, his book seems to exist in a vacuum : there is very little referencing of other science or philosophy.
My main problem, however, is that at the last minute he shies away from the main fence. Right at the end of the book he introduces a discussion of 'Qualia I and Qualia II', and you think 'aha ! He's going to address Chalmer's 'easy question' and 'hard question', which is all I really care about in a book which is centred on Self and Consciousness. But no, he just turns around and wanders aimlessly away. His Qualia I are the neural underpinnings of sensation, the Qualia II, which he introduces as 'why do we have experience at all ?', are just the same neurobiology seen from the evolutionary perspective. What a let-down. It's clear that he is a 100% materialist, but at least he could have said so and recognised that other schools of thought exist.
Finally, the hard-back book is an ugly object. I never thought I'd have to say that about a book. The jacket is minimalist and poor quality, the uneven page cut makes it look like they had no money, the book-paper itself is rough, and the illustrations are awful. A cheap job.