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The Feeling Of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness [Paperback]

Antonio Damasio
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2000
One of the world's leading experts on the neurophysiology of emotions, Professor Damasio shows how our consciousness, our sense of being, arose out of development of emotion. At its core, human consciousness is consciousness of the feeling, experiencing self, the 'very thought of' oneself. Brilliantly wide-ranging in his scope, Damasio illustrates his thesis with fascinating and illuminating neurological case studies that are both stimulating and provocative.

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The Feeling Of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness + Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain + Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (5 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099288761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099288763
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon 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 behaviourists, 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 rigour, 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 humanising--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


"The life-changing read of the year... The book is crammed with tiny gems of information with which to reassess how you look at the world and think about yourself" (Katie Mitchell Guardian)

"A tour de force...a monumental book...a gem of a work" (Anthony Clare Sunday Times)

"Compelling...a story told with clarity and pace, unencumbered by unnecessary technical jargon and illustrated with insightful clinical anecdotes" (The Times)

"A fascinating and suggestive book" (Literary Review)

"Both Descartes' Error and The Feeling of What Happens are essential reading. They are groundbreaking classics of psychology and neuroscience. These are the books to buy, keep and ponder upon. Do so, and you will be ahead of the ruck by at least a decade" (Journal Of The Royal Society of Medicine)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Feeling of Self 18 Dec 2003
Beware! This book will change forever your idea about your self. Starting from the premise that selves begin in bodies, Damasio outlines how the brain's ability to build a map of the state of the body, using electrical and chemical mesages, forms the basis of the 'proto-self' and how 'second-order' maps of the changes which result in the body as a result of stimuli ( both external and internal) add a second-order of mapping which, by being repeatedly recreated over time emerge as the 'self'. It is, says Damasio, upon this self that higher orders of memory and intellect create the elaborate structure of the individual.When I first read it, I suspected the author of the usual slight of hand which gets us from biology to awareness, but I've read it three times now and am convinced. This is really the only biology of Self that I have encountered. Personally I'd like to add a little of Daniel Dennett's 'centre of narrative' to the mix (see 'Consciousness Explained'), despite his less convincing biology, but my neuroscience contacts tell me that Damasio's approach is now the most widely accepted, and I can well understand why. A stunning idea lucidly expounded. Read it!
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seminal work 26 Feb 2008
I very seldom come across a book that is so groundbreaking in its content as to make me determined to fully understand what the author is trying to convey (even if it means rereading it three times!) Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens is an astonishing achievement and I believe that the science of consciousness has been vastly enriched with this contribution.

It may help you to know, however, that this is by no means light reading. Even with my medical background, I struggled to keep up, especially the first time round. It probably helps reading Descartes' Error first, but you also need oodles of persistence. But then no thoughtful person ever expected a serious text on the neural underpinnings of consciousness to read like pop psychology. That said, I do think that Damasio's style has eased the burden of understanding considerably. His text is rich with metaphors and examples and I don't believe that anything is beyond the grasp of the enthusiastic lay reader.

In a nutshell, if you put in the effort with this book, you will be richly rewarded. And, as the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine said: '... you will be ahead of the ruck by at least a decade.'
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tony tumbles temples 6 Jun 2005
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Damasio is not one to let traditional concepts restrain expression of good research. This book overturns many long-held ideas, replacing them with fresh insights on how our minds and bodies interact. Not afraid to tackle the big questions, Damasio offers a rich, substantial analysis of how our brains and bodies interact. That interaction is called our "mind". It's not always easy to see how these two aspects of ourselves are so intimately merged, but Damasio makes it all clear in this book. Why does consciousness feel to us in the manner it does?
Essential to Damasio's analysis of consciousness is his division of it. "Core" consciousness is the brain's "automatic" processes - breathing, heartbeat and the countless other biological functions. "Extended" consciousness is the realm of memory, conception, "thinking" and other aspects we generally associate with the mind. The latter are those featured in most cognitive studies, which he argues are inadequate. Damasio stresses repeatedly that the "core" - "extended" distinction isn't absolute. The links between core and extended consciousness are multiple and varied. They occur in many places in the brain and its association with the rest of the body. He calls for further studies on those interactions as the foundation for a better understanding of full consciousness.
Damasio has particularly fine presentation skills. He puts us at ease in describing his patients, his theories and how they fit together. His patients, after all, are only us with some brain disturbance. Many are people we could encounter daily. They have, however, suffered some malady that disconnects essential parts of their brains' mechanism. Damasio explains in an intimate conversational style what they are suffering. Consciousness in these people has been impaired.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Synthesizing human existence 13 Sep 2008
The best thing I have read in many years. Understanding of what it is to be human has been blighted by the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between studies that treat man as a disembodied spirit and those that reduce all man's thoughts and actions to the search for food and sex. Damasio's account of consciousness does not attempt to fuse these strands together in uneasy reconcilliation but rather enacts a synthesis - the synthesis that man really embodies - between insecapable physicality and a seemingly unbounded mental and emotional capacity. For Damasio the two sides are not in opposition. He shows, rather, how biology forms the basis for the evolution of these rational, emotional and creative capacities. Like Marx, Damasio's work also reveals the ongoing metabolic exchange between man and environment; how each shapes the other; man is neither a passive recipient of stimuli, nor is he the god-like being postulated by technological advancement striving forth to act upon the world. Damasio's work therefore bridges science, philosophy, psychology and the social sciences (and his writing style has the subtle but undeniable poetic feel), between which, true understanding of what it is to be human can be found.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT BOOK
Damasio has written an extremely erudite, comprehensive work which deserves attention.

However, I tend toward the hypothesis that consciousness is NOT inside the brain,... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mrs. Judith Lugg
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
A very interesting hypothesis about how the conscious mind arises out of the brain. At times it felt too much like reading something from one of the old-school philosophers. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Andrew E Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Consciousness
A very comprehensive view of the nature of human consciousness, very plausible and well argued. It needs concentration to read it, as the ideas are difficult at times, but it is... Read more
Published on 7 July 2011 by Mr. Jonathan Bayley
4.0 out of 5 stars Rational emotions: emotional rationality
Damasio's work is among the most important to emerge in the theory of neuroscience in the past decade. Read more
Published on 12 July 2010 by Arthur Piper
4.0 out of 5 stars Feeling of the Self in the Act of Knowing
For me this was not an easy read all the way through.I had to keep putting it down every several pages sometimes ,to avoid automatically reading it and not understanding it... Read more
Published on 22 May 2010 by nicholas hargreaves
5.0 out of 5 stars Interested in Conciousness - read this!
A fantastic book written by one of the mos intelligent writers I have ever read. If you are interested in the neurological basis of consciousness you should read this book.
Published on 24 Oct 2007 by Voracious
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate book
I am a doctor and I found this the best book on consciousness that I have read. I feel that Damasio in on the right lines to explaining this very difficult problem. Read more
Published on 12 Nov 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars No body, nevermind ... and other gems
This is a book about a difficult subject, but Damasio makes it a pleasure to explore. His writing style is wonderful and exhibits the humanity and feeling that is so inherent to... Read more
Published on 15 July 2002 by J. Kristensen
2.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts
Tha author develops the idea that we 'feel' feelings using consciousness, and consciousness itself is a feeling. Er...that sounds like a bit of a circular argument to me! Read more
Published on 18 Feb 2002 by bobobob5
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