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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 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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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 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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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
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. The impairment is in the realm of emotion and feeling.
Those two terms are the core of Damasio's thesis. Unlike mainstream cognitive scientists, he separates them, with one being the "public" expression and the other private. Feelings belong to us, where emotions are shared with the world. He is breaking new ground in cognitive studies with his work. The result is a highly detailed book, with intense examination of brain operations. A reader unfamiliar with these topics may find the book increasingly challenging as you progress through the topics. The rewards for persistence, however, are rich. Damasio has provided an innovative scenario of how consciousness is structured. This book deserves serious attention and will remain fundamental for some time.[stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2010
Damasio's work is among the most important to emerge in the theory of neuroscience in the past decade. His svelte writing style and his understanding of a broad range of philosophical ideas about the brain and mind make this an excellent if challenging introduction to the subject.

As I understand it, his most important idea is that all thought entails emotional content because the mind and body work together to create our understanding of the world. Feeling and thinking are fundamentally mixed. That means that even logic and rational argumentation has its basis in our body and our emotions, which might help explain why rational debate can get so heated!

This idea is important because critics often separate science and art - one belongs purely to the mind, the other to the heart. Damasio challenges that idea.

There is a philosophical problem buried in Damasio's argument though. Damasio says that our representations of the world formed by our body join with those formed by our minds. But he does not define the word representation well enough for this argument to totally convince. This fudge over the issue of representation and image - a key plank of his theoretical argument - runs through all his books.

Along with Daniel Dennett's work, I'd say Damasio is a must read for anyone interested in this area
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 15 July 2002
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 his theories. In this way the book is not just a dry academic account, but it attemps to integrate into LIFE. As it should.
His work is also a philosophical one, although that is not his major purpose of the book. However, his foundational idea that the body is the frame of reference for consciousness have some wide ranging consequences. Considering things like the soul and other spiritual concepts in the Damasian view makes you think twice.
His book is mostly about things normal, although he provides some examples from neuro-pathology to make his points. As such he doesn't speak much about curing the mentally ill, but his work will, eventually, have an immense importance for how we humans view ourselves and our curious condition. The body is such a little-liked thing in Western culture, yet it is all we have. Perhaps when we learn to cherish and understand that body, we will learn how to fully realize our potential.
Don't miss this book. (And be sure to check out Descartes' Error if you haven't read that one yet)
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2000
Antonio Damasio says that - contrary to general belief - he suspects consciousness is not after all the most difficult or interesting thing in the universe to explain. As I read this book, I came to believe that he's well on the way to explaining it. Once he brings together the evidence and the logic, it seems obvious that consciousness starts with the representation of your own body: the only thing stable enough in your experience to give you a basis for an on-going 'I'.
Part of the story comes from his wide experience of people with brain damage in different places - what damage goes with what? Damage to parts of the brain that process information from the external world never affects consciousness, whereas damage to the spot where all the various types of information about the body come together knocks it out.
(And if you've ever been tempted to wish people were more rational and less emotional, read his description of someone who has lost the ability to feel emotions. It's not that they're cold or psychopathic, they are simply incapable of surviving. If you have no (e)motivation about personal survival, what stops you from jumping out the window?)
On the way he says some wise things about the psychology of emotion (and why it was non-U for a while in the 20th century). And how obvious it is that some animals share at least something of the experience of consciousness with humans, though he talks about what humans have on top of core consciousness.
It is feeling, not reason, that must underpin consciousness. Read this book, and I challenge anyone to diagree. A profound, and hugely enjoyable book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 May 2010
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 fully,having said that I was rubbish at Biology at school.Surprisingly for the most part its not that hard going, and at the end of it you get a good idea where your sense of self comes from and the constituent parts of the Brain and Brain stem that are involved in the processes of consciousness.There are helpful diagrams and a good appendix which make the going a bit easier for the layman and the author has a good ability to impart knowledge without baffling or presupposing excessive medical training.I'd recommend it to anyone with a curiosity in perception and how emotions are generated and perceived.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Damasio has written an extremely erudite, comprehensive work which deserves attention.

However, I tend toward the hypothesis that consciousness is NOT inside the brain, or manufactured there, but that it is all around us and the brain acts as a 'receiver', filtering what is necessary for a sentient being to be able to survive in our world. The area of Quantum Mechanics holds, I believe, the key to this.

Therefore I cannot agree with most of the ideas in the book, BUT, unless books similar to this are written and read, there would be not debate at all, as we do not yet know enough to really decide one way or another.

In that light, this books certainly needs to be read and considered.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2011
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 most rewarding when you grasp how he integrates emotions and mind theory.
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