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The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness Paperback – October 10, 2000
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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"This is an extraordinary book. I know of nothing like it."—Jerome Kagan, Harvard University
"There is no simpler way to say this: read the book to learn who you are."—Jorie Graham, Poet and Pulitzer Prize Winner
"Everyone will be talking about it; everyone will have to read it."—Patricia and Paul Churchland, UCSD
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I also like that Damasio is focusing significant attention on the role of the emotions in thinking and consciousness in general. Although it might turn out that things aren't quite what he says, he has set a new benchmark for explorations in this area and made difficult concepts accessible to large numbers of people. This can only help our understanding of emotions and consciousness as more talented people become involved in studying these areas.
I also like Damasio's other books, which are much more readable, but somewhat less fascinating. If you want to wade into reading some of Demasio's more accessible work, then "Looking for Spinoza" might be a better place to start.
I don't fault Demasio for including non-scientific speculations or using empirical case studies to back up some of his thinking. Clearly, he is doing some philosophizing and in an area such as consciousness, I don't know how one could avoid this. I value scientific rigor, but I also don't dismiss creative thinking. After all, it is usually at the level of intuition that most great discoveries get their start.
I do have a bias that consciousness is more than an epiphenomenon. Therefore, I accept validity criteria outside of the scientific method that might be appropriate to studying subjective phenomenon. Interestingly, it is difficult to study love via the scientific method, yet people are willing to give up their lives for love. While I can't look at love under a microscope, I am convinced it exists. I think the study of consciousness brings up similar kinds of epistemological difficulties, so I can forgive Demasio for pushing the limits of the current scientific paradigm and its underlying assumptions. I find him provocative, but in a good way.
I believe it is the fact that words are fuzzier than mathematics that allows someone like Shakespeare to express beautiful thoughts poetically. While mathematics might be more precise, it can't always capture every dimension of human experience. In a similar way, I don't think initial inquiries into the nature of consciousness can avoid speculation or a lack of precision at times. I give the guy credit for taking the whole question on in the first place. At least he is asking the important questions and taking a "swing at the ball" in terms of explaining them in a way that engages others in meaningful dialogue and further research.
With that statement, Damasio courageously took his own discipline's psychologists and neuroscientists to the woodshed for ignoring the importance of the affective domain, and that quotation perhaps explains the love-hate relationship that different reviewers express about this particular book.
His observation is verifiable. One source is the history of citations on "emotion regulation" in the Handbook of Emotion Regulation by James J. Gross, editor. Another is the consignment of Benjamin Bloom's research team's second volume Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain to a collector's item in used book heaps. In all honesty, that 1964 volume was decades ahead of its time, well before Damasio's, and it is still a useful resource if you can get a copy. It is unfortunate how quickly its importance was dismissed, but Damasio's statement largely shows why Bloom's older volume 1 on the cognitive domain Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain received a much warmer reception. John Dunlosky and Janet Metcalfe Metacognition noted that history reveals psychologists according metacognition with similar low status and held metacognition hostage for a time as an aspect of consciousness not worth the study.
Damasio's work seems instrumental in accounting for the exponential upswing in research on affect. I found the book fascinating, not particularly difficult reading, and a useful resource to me as a college teacher and faculty developer. I've recommended it to many professors.
On the other hand, his writing style is dense and sometimes hard to get through. I had to carefully reread some of his writing to really get the ideas he was trying to explain...so be prepared to do some slogging.