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Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 9, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
As he has done previously, USC neuroscientist Damasio (Descartes' Error) explores the process that leads to consciousness. And as he has also done previously, he alternates between some exquisite passages that represent the best popular science has to offer and some technical verbiage that few will be able to follow. He draws meaningful distinctions among points on the continuum from brain to mind, consciousness to self, constantly attempting to understand the evolutionary reasons why each arose and attempting to tie each to an underlying physical reality. Damasio goes to great lengths to explain that many species, such as social insects, have minds, but humans are distinguished by the "autobiographical self," which adds flexibility and creativity, and has led to the development of culture, a "radical novelty" in natural history. Damasio ends with a speculative chapter on the evolutionary process by which mind developed and then gave rise to self. In the Pleistocene, he suggests, humans developed emotive responses to shapes and sounds that helped lead to the development of the arts. Readers fascinated from both a philosophical and scientific perspective with the question of the relationships among brain, mind, and self will be rewarded for making the effort to follow Damasio's arguments. (Nov.) (c)
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"Exquisite…Readers fascinated from both a philosophical and scientific perspective with the question of the relationship among brain, mind, and self will be rewarded."
"The marvel of reading Damasio's book is to be convinced one can follow the brain at work as it makes the private reality that is the deepest self."
—V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Laureate and author of A Bend in the River and the Enigma of Arrival
“Damasio makes a grand transition from higher-brain views of emotions to deeply evolutionary, lower-brain contributions to emotional, sensory and homeostatic experiences. He affirms that the roots of consciousness are affective and shared by our fellow animals. Damasio's creative vision leads relentlessly toward a natural understanding of the very font of being.”
—Jaak Panksepp, author of Affective Neuroscience and Baily Endowed Professor of Animal Well-Being Science, Washington State University
“I was totally captivated by Self Comes to Mind. In this work Antonio Damasio presents his seminal discoveries in the field of neuroscience in the broader contexts of evolutionary biology and cultural development. This trailblazing book gives us a new way of thinking about ourselves, our history, and the importance of culture in shaping our common future.”
—Yo-Yo Ma, musician
“The epicenter of Self Comes to Mind concerns the neurological basis for cognition and the issue of the superposition of a “self’ onto the construct which we address as reality. In very characteristic style, Antonio is both eloquent and scholarly. His command of the themes he approaches is impressive, as is the vigor with which he tackles such recondite issues as the elusive “self,” inside the head. A wonderful read, and a recommended one!”
—Rodolfo R. Llinás, Chair and Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University
“In this astonishing work, Antonio Damasio puts his years of investigation into the processes of the brain to open the impenetrable mysteries of self and mind, where all the contradictions of human experience unite in the ultimate unknown, consciousness.”
—Peter Brook, theater and film director and author of The Empty Space and Threads of Time
“Awareness may be mostly mystery, but Damasio shapes its hints and glimmerings into an imaginative, informed narrative.”
“A thoughtful work.”
—Scientific American Book Club
“A very interesting book…cogent, painstaking, imaginative, knowledgeable, honest, and persuasive…Damasio’s quest is both thorough and comprehensive”
—New York Journal of Books
“Ambitious…a lucid and important work.” –Wired.com
“Self Comes to Mind is a Big Idea book penned by a luminous thinker…The result is this beautifully sprawling and marvelous work.” –The Dallas Morning News
“[Damasio] writes with such flair and confidence that it is almost as if he makes the mystery dissolve into knowledge before our eyes…a compelling picture, once one sets aside the power of the unconscious, and of grasping, other-hating, defensive, anxious, ideologically-motivated consciousness…what one has to applaud is the imaginative vision Damasio brings to the task.” –Barnes and Noble Review
“Intriguing…introduces some novel ideas.” –New Scientist
“An important and impressive study.” –The Magonia Blog and Magonia Review of Books
“I found Self Comes to Mind a delight…an intellectual journey well worth the effort.” –Wilson Quarterly
“Breathtakingly original.” –Financial Times
Top customer reviews
The self experience as--(1) primordial, (2) core and (3) autobiographical--is pure explanatory power, since it allows for the embodied self experience, the customary self experience, and the self experience we become to ourselves and others (autobiographical/narrative)--all foundational to reality--with implicated underlying neuroanatomical processes: brain stem, thalamus, cerebral cortex, respectively.
I loved hearing this neuroscientist give his account of witnessing a Pelican diving into the water: all explained by underlying neuroanatomical processes. Damasio, as a neuroscientist, has neuroanatomical maps that the rest of us do not see. That makes it very tempting for him to believe that what he "sees" automatically is truth.
Damasio has a long history of fighting against the cognitive bent of both neuroscience and philosophy. He has provided cogent research on the foundation of emotions in neuroscience, which is still an uphill battle. He fought against philosophers who would reduce the human to Cartesian dualism. Congratulations to him for fighting the good fight, against the grain.
And yet he finds himself ironically being critiqued for making the cognitive error of mistaking his scientific observations for philosophical truth, the circular reasoning of assuming consciousness to explain consciousness, call it what you will: [...] (See John Searle, New York Review of Books, 2011)
To clear it up, I have an idea of how to approach eliminating the problem for the reader:
(1) If you think of having a text replace function, and go through his book and do the following: replace "image" with map (or schema), replace "self" with "self experience," and replace "consciousness" with "experience of consciousness," you will eliminate the problem of word choice. However, you can take the words out of the argument, but you can't take the argument out of the words.
(2) Watch out for the ideological/metaphysical argument. He is arguing for "consciousness" as a construct (as a "thing-in-itself"), and for "self" as an agent of consciousness, and as "consciousness" as an increased level of species development. That is when the philosophers and all of us general readers start reacting/disorienting, and feel confused because he has gone off the road. You can tell when he is in the ditch: when he starts claiming that he is not Cartesian, because he is arguing for the existence of consciousness, that "image" is not about a false Cartesian correspondence theory between what we see and what is there, etc.. This false idealism is not only disorienting to critics and us, but also to his ability to simply put his brilliant science out there and let it speak for itself: Just let our sense of self be the product of the consciousness processes outlined.
(3) Enjoy this otherwise brilliant life-work.
(4) Networks of the Brain by Olaf Sporns helps to found brain mapping in a more coherent and emergent context so that the philosophical pitfalls of Damasio's approach are avoided.
PS: You can skip the last chapter. His attempts to apply his theory to real life problems seem painfully naive: "cognitive unconscious" regarding ethics (yikes)? A neurobiological basis for writing just laws for society? etc.
Unfortunately, the subject is difficult to present clearly for casual readers and accurately for experts. I give the author 4 stars for trying, but I'd give him 5 stars if he had included more diagrams and a more detailed appendix as a tutorial. He does include a few diagrams, but he should have included some that show every brain region he mentions in the text. As I was reading the book, I kept a textbook on the anatomy of the brain nearby so that I could look up the regions he mentioned.
In general, I would consider this book required reading for students and experts in any branch of cognitive science that addresses phenomena and mechanisms related to consciousness. The footnotes contain copious references and occasional insights that clarify issues discussed in the text. One footnote, for example, mentions the effects of propofol on the brain and explains why it was so powerful and dangerous for Michael Jackson.
With a lifetime of very extensive medical (he's a doctor) and research (he
heads a research group at a California university) documentation stuffed back
into his head, he takes a deep breath and exhales the guts of that information
(and it IS the latest, being written in 2010 as I recall) to the common man
rather than to fellow specialists. Yes, he gets detailed on the brain anatomy
stuff. But isn't that too what one of us who wants to understand himself or
herself is interested in? I sense here the balancing influence of his wife and
fellow researcher, Hanna Damasio. Takes care to credit fellow researchers.
And to respectfully even directly disagree with them. This adds to our suspicion
that he's very basically interested in the truth. Nice updating from his previous
also very excellent three books.
Most recent customer reviews
The book is filled anatomical terms that mean nothing to the lay reader.
I'm sure neuroscientist will find it engaging but, again, any lay reader...Read more