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The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness 1st Edition

65 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0151003693
ISBN-10: 0151003696
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Editorial Reviews Review

As you read this, at some level you're aware that you're reading, thanks to a standard human feature commonly referred to as consciousness. What is it--a spiritual phenomenon, an evolutionary tool, a neurological side effect? The best scientists love to tackle big, meaningful questions like this, and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio jumps right in with The Feeling of What Happens, a poetic examination of interior life through lenses of research, medical cases, philosophical analysis, and unashamed introspection. Damasio's perspective is, fortunately, becoming increasingly common in the scientific community; despite all the protestations of old-guard behaviorists, subjective consciousness is a plain fact to most of us and the demand for new methods of inquiry is finally being met.

These new methods are not without rigor, though. Damasio and his colleagues examine patients with disruptions and interruptions in consciousness and take deep insights from these tragic lives while offering greater comfort and meaning to the sufferers. His thesis, that our sense of self arises from our need to map relations between self and others, is firmly rooted in medical and evolutionary research but stands up well to self-examination. His examples from the weird world of neurology are unsettling yet deeply humanizing--real people with serious problems spring to life in the pages, but they are never reduced to their deficits. The Feeling of What Happens captures the spirit of discovery as it plunges deeper than ever into the darkest waters yet. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Tackling a great complex of questions that poets, artists and philosophers have contemplated for generations, Damasio (Descartes' Error) examines current neurological knowledge of human consciousness. Significantly, in key passages he evokes T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare and William James. In Eliot's words, consciousness is "music heard so deeply/ That it is not heard at all." It, like Hamlet, begins with the question "Who's there?" And Damasio holds that there is, as James thought, a "stream of" consciousness that utilizes every part of the brain. Consciousness, argues Damasio, is linked to emotion, to our feelings for the images we perceive. There are in fact several kinds of consciousness, he says: the proto-self, which exists in the mind's constant monitoring of the body's state, of which we are unaware; a core consciousness that perceives the world 500 milliseconds after the fact; and the extended consciousness of memory, reason and language. Different from wakefulness and attention, consciousness can exist without language, reason or memory: for example, an amnesiac has consciousness. But when core consciousness fails, all else fails with it. More important for Damasio's argument, emotion and consciousness tend to be present or absent together. At the height of consciousness, above reason and creativity, Damasio places conscience, a word that preceded conciousness by many centuries. The author's plain language and careful redefinition of key points make this difficult subject accessible for the general reader. In a book that cuts through the old nature vs. nurture argument as well as conventional ideas of identity and possibly even of soul, it's clear, though he may not say so, that Damasio is still on the side of the angels. Agent, Michael Carlisle; 9-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (September 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151003696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151003693
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #817,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

236 of 251 people found the following review helpful By DR P. Dash on December 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I'm a clinical neurologist myself, and familiar with Damasio's work...there's no doubt he's a first rate behavioral neurologist, who's made many original contributions on both theoretical and clinical levels to neuroscience and neurology. I believe his particular breakdown of consciousness into several levels..."proto" "core" "autobiographical" and "extended" be both novel and supported by clinical evidence and intuition. It is inaccurate to say that Damasio equates consciousness with the reticular activating system. In fact, he conceives "core consciousness", the unadorned feeling of self, to be a network function including not only the RAS, but the intralaminar thalamic nuclei and cingulate and primary somatosensory cortex. I also disagree strongly with the reviewer who felt the ideas were largely redundant with previous philosophical attempts at explanations of consciousness. Though I agree the book is at times wordy and could use more detailed scientific backup in places, it is clearly aimed at a popular audience. I look forward to seeing his paradigm used in further neuroscientific research on consciousness, and I'm convinced it will be. This book is definitely on the right track, and one shouldn't hesitate to read it. I'd also note that the book is strongly endorsed by leading scientists and philosophers, such as Eric Kandel, David Hubel, and the Churchlands.
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89 of 94 people found the following review helpful By D. F. Watt on September 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a landmark book, almost irrespective of how accurate all of Antonio Damasio's extensive theoretical formulations turn out to be. He is the first to admit (in the book itself) that things are changing so fast in this area of neuroscience that virtually nothing on the table at this point can be considered doctrinal, or not subject to potentially major modifications. That being said, I suspect that much of Damasio's more original terminology, terms such as "proto-self," "core-self," "autobiographical self," "core consciousness," and "extended consciousness" will quickly become part of the basic lexicon in consciousness neuroscience in many quarters, due to the shear force of his ideas and the volume of original thought in this work. At the heart of this enterprise is Antonio Damasio's supposition (generally not informing much theorizing about consciousness) that the brain can't be conscious unless it represents not just objects, but a primitive self, and also represents the basic manner in which the self is being altered by interaction with the object(s). In other words, consciousness requires that the brain must represent not just the object, not just a basic self structure, but the interaction of the two. This is still an atypical foundation for a theory of consciousness, given that until recently, it was implicitly assumed that the self could be safely left out of the equation. There has been a recent sea change on this crucial point, parallel with the cogent formulations in Damasio's book.
The book will challenge and delight the most sophisticated readers, while rarely leaving the less sophisticated lost or overwhelmed.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Earl Dennis on January 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
Damasio breaks down into minute, qualitative descriptive detail how the boby/brain functions in humans, and ergo, de facto, many mammals. This book's strength is that Damasio backs up his claims regarding neural anatomy, physiology, and function with specific examples from comparative neuropathology. The book's weakness is that he goes on at length with qualitative descriptions for non-intuitive notions like how the body and brain function as a singular unit, and how emotions and feelings are integral along with body/brain physiology. I say this is the book's weakness because Damasio often bogs down and even tries to describe phenomena that are possibly ineffable, but these attempts at qualitative description are also one of the strengths of this book. This may seem contradictory, but possibly the book would have read differently if the author had stuck to purely quantitative case studies. However he did not, so we get through Damasio's several qualitative, alternate descriptions of singular phenomena an attempt to flesh out and make organic the dry clinical data. On the one hand the book could have been more concise without the extended descriptive sections, on the other hand the book possibly becomes richer and more meaningful because of them; this is up to the reader to decide.
Having said this, the book itself endeavors to demonstrate how consciousness emerges from gross neuroanatomy and physiology. In this Damasio is successful in using neuropathology to define terms such as: homeostasis, consciousness, language, mental images, neuronal maps, cathexis, and hedonic tone (although he does not use these two latter terms explicitly). In all honesty Damasio is very strict about defining his terms.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By C. Pollett on November 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewer below that Damasio seems a little unclear about who is target audience is. The book has a bright new-agey cover but I doubt too many new-agers will enjoy the frequent 25 cent words. Besides that minor quibble I very much enjoyed this book. It's strong point is that it gives many more case histories and much more experimental evidence than one would find in a typical philosophy of the mind book. I liked the discussions on coma and lock-down syndrome as well as the review of cat experiments. There is also a section distinguishing emotions from feelings where the example was a patient with a calcified amygdala which I thought was very cool. This book gives a very strong case that consciousness should be distinguished from mental use of language. Damasio's argument that consciousness emerges in part of the reticular formation seems pretty believable. I find his argument though about how it emerges as some kind of second-order processing and story-telling of a persons internal senses in relation to objects in the external world as a bit too vague. Namely, he never really seems to say how this secord-order processing works. That is, what is the processing algorithm more specifically? All in all, though,I very much liked this book and can't help but think that true AI where people make machines that can mimic emotions than work up from that (like the facial expression research at MIT) is probably not more than a decade or two away.
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