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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 20 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (Paperback)
Requires hard work, focus and concentration - not an easy read but nonetheless a very rewarding book. Can be very dense at times.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!, 17 July 2013
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This review is from: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (Paperback)
I found it hard to put this book down. It's quite a challenge to follow Damasio's discussion of complex research. However, the book has been carefully edited to differentiate in-depth background material from his gradually developing insights..
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting approach. Have only read a few chapters so far - because of difficulty in getting the download into my Kindle Fir, 2 Feb 2013
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Have only read a few chapters so far - because of difficulty in getting the download into my Kindle Fire. Will be able to say more about the book after I've read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible - a privilege, 20 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (Paperback)
Cogito Ergo Sum - three infinite words spiralling out of our language centres of our brains...
The author has brilliantly transformed intricacies of brain science to simplistic fundamentals aiding understanding of our mysterious brain. Wonderful book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A neuroscientific account of consciousness attempting to be airlifted out of a sea of reductionism, 6 Jun 2012
This review is from: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (Paperback)
Damasio sets out to establish the importance of the prefrontal cortices (anterior part of frontal lobes) implicated in the executive function of categorising contingencies. Since these are directly connected to every avenue of motor and chemical response available in the brain, they therefore form "the basis for the production of rich scenarios of future outcome required in making predictions and planning".

Whereas Descarte's error was to crudely separate mind and body or thought and emotion - with emotion residing in the body - Damasio explores visceral information in the cognitive process and makes a case for the mind and body coming together harmoniously in the prefrontal cortices.

Crudely speaking 'Descarte's Error' is very much written from the perspective of the western medical model but with a heavy philosophical slant and, as might be expected from an erudite clinician, the style can be overly long-winded and surgically disengaging at times which makes for ponderous reading if your background is not neuroscience. The axis of what is to many in the arts and humanities a basic conclusion takes such a long time to reach that some readers could be underwhelmed to discover (possibly due to the book's age) that the mind and body are entwined, though it must be said in the best scientific tradition that Damsasio only ever offers working hypotheses.

That said, though the medical school terminology and cold hearted approach abounds, Damasio does not ignore the human dimension and more than understands that western medicine has concentrated for far too long on the physiology and pathology of the body, rather than the "human heart in conflict with itself", i.e. with a mind of its own as a function of the organism. The overthrowing of Cartesian dualism and its set of sub-specialisations is recognised in that only a part of the circuitry in our brains can ever be determined by genes as the human organism operates in collectives of like beings. Brain circuitries are unique at any given moment and are shaped by cultural and social context, especially in their regulation of pain and pleasure.

The 'somatic marker hypothesis' put forward is that emotions play a critical role in our ability to make fast, rational decisions in complex and uncertain situations, which might explain the rather old-fashioned trait of stubborn dominance guiding alpha types in making key gut decision when faced with complex and conflicting choices - and many an addiction to the boardroom scenes in the BBC's version of The Apprentice! Those with frontal lobe damage do not have easy access to visceral feedback and are incapable of flying by the seat of their pants in making the fine adjustments to their social situations. These individual are still however able to make logical 'as if' decisions, or response images that can be stored in long term memory and provide the ammo for high scores in a battery of cognitive tests. There therefore might be a neuroscientific explanation for the much overused mantra that high intelligence does not always exhibit common sense!

Such a fascinating finding was measured in two unequivocal experiments. The first one showed that those with prefrontal lobe damage were incapable of generating skin conductance to a series of projected slides with randomly screened disturbing images. The second experiment was carried out with a a more life-like game of cards paying rewards and penalties. Its findings consistently revealed that those with prefrontal lobe damage bypassed their emotional hunches that would tell them something about the stimulus that they had encountered over time, so that they exhibited a myopia for making future predictions in their miscalculation of 'goodness' and 'badness' in gambling different decks. According to Damasio this is a crucial factor in constructing personal decisions about one's welfare and guidance, a fate that misfell the infamous Phineas Gage.

I could not help but make the link with the ultimate Buddhist somatic marker of 'life as suffering' which Damasio would conclude puts us on notice as the best possible protection for survival: it becomes a motivator for our drives, instincts and decision making strategies. If patients with prefrontal damage have altered pain responses how does this affect their connection with cosmic events, if this is their belief? Such a conclusion also led me to consider Damasio's findings in its application to management practice in that those in ivory towers should suffer to give them a rounded decision matrix. Thus one must be more than a little bit wary of people who cannot feel, especially bosses...
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic book, 5 April 2012
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This review is from: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (Paperback)
This is simply a great book that shows how important feelings and emotions are for rational thinking. It is a must for anybody working in the field of psychiatry or clinical psychology.
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5.0 out of 5 stars antonio damasio; the future direction of neuropsychology?, 6 Feb 2012
This review is from: Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (Paperback)
At present I only just flicked through the book and read a few pages nonetheless I find the themes very interesting.
It appears to be a well written and very accessible book, offering a perspective which is in balance between the personal opinion and beliefs of the author and the scientific tangible facts of his professional environment.
I am looking forward to continue reading it!
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Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain
Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio (Paperback - 6 July 2006)
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