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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very important book on consciousness
This is undoubtedly Antonio Damasio's best book to date. 'Looking for Spinoza' was
somewhat disappointng but then dealing with philosophy is when he is at his weakest.
Like all good specialists he is excellent in the field he specialises in. A philosopher of
mind may be well-read in the science of neurology but that does not make him a
neuroscientist...
Published 16 months ago by Savita

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conflict with Neuroscience
The merits of this book lie in the clarity of expression, which makes difficult material accessible to a lay audience, and encourages us to think about the whole area of consciousness and the self. The author's main theme is the influence of inputs from the body on consciousness. In itself this represents an advance on much of twentieth century consciousness studies, with...
Published on 8 April 2011 by S. G. Raggett


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very important book on consciousness, 4 April 2013
This is undoubtedly Antonio Damasio's best book to date. 'Looking for Spinoza' was
somewhat disappointng but then dealing with philosophy is when he is at his weakest.
Like all good specialists he is excellent in the field he specialises in. A philosopher of
mind may be well-read in the science of neurology but that does not make him a
neuroscientist anymore than reading a lot of philosophy puts Damasio on a par with the
philosophers although he clearly is very well-read in philosophy.

For the benefit of anyone who is not at all familiar with this book or its author, this is a
brilliant neuroscientist who is very keen on trying to explain consciousness and through his
work with brain-damaged patients has had the opportunity to see when, where and how
consciousness is impaired by brain damage. He has formulated a number of hypotheses
including the well-known somatic marker hypothesis that result, in this book, in a
framework that the author hopes can be tested in the coming years to produce a proper
theory. This is not the answer and is not presented as such. It is a work in progress but it
makes a very important contribution to our understanding of how the human brain works,
how it evolved to be that way and why consciousness came about even if there is still a lot
that requires a proper explanation. No dead-end jobs in neuroscience!

Criticisms in reviews and comments here about the book's editing seem to me entirely
unjustified. The book seems to be intended for everyone from neoroscientists,
psychologists, psychiatrists and philosophers down to the interested layman and given
that remit it does very well with what is an incredibly complex subject. Question the remit
certainly, but not the editing. No, it is not a "light read" but if you want a light read then
perhaps avoid philosophy and neuroscience completely. An intelligent reader will no
doubt skim over areas that are not relevant to his or her interest but still come away with
masses of interesting insights since the book is full of them.

If, like me you are interested from the philosophy of mind point of view then you will
probably want to read a number of philosophers in the field as well if you have not already
done so and you'll note that at the time of writing this book Damasio had not read David
Chalmers recent book "The Character of Consciousness" that puts forward a big
challange regarding our explaining of consciousness. It is also the hardest challenge to
the position that Damasio along with many other scientists subscribe to that "brain states
are mental states". Peter Carruthers and Andy Clark are also well worh reading in
conjunction with Damasio as well as the 'Philosophy of Mind' collected papers edited by
Chalmers. Humphrey's "Seeing Red" and Prinz's "Gut Reactions" are also very good. I'd
also recommend 'Neuroscience & Philosophy' by Bennett, Dennett, Hacker and Searle if
you are at all interested in the debate about using psychological predicates when
discussing the brain as Damasio was one of the many criticised by Bennett and Hacker in
this respect (along with Dennett and Searle who give their responses in the aformentioned
book).

If you have never read Antonio Damasio before and don't work in the same field then I
recommend you do not make the mistake that other reviewers and commenters appear to
have made and start with this book. Although there are overlaps, reading "Descartes'
Error" and "The Feeling of What Happens" will put you in a much better position to
appreciate this book.

If you are new to philosophy then "Understand Philosophy" in the 'Teach Yourself' series
isn't a bad starting point. I'm sure other people have very different opinions about book
recommendations but I hope these are of some use.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy for a light read!, 14 Dec 2010
By 
D. Smith (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Damasio discusses the phenomenon of consciousness mainly from the perspectives of neurobiology and evolutionary biology, but also makes interesting points about the philosophical, psychological and cultural significance of his ideas. If you are an interested layman like me rather than an expert, then you might find it helpful to read Chapters 1, 10 and 11 first in order to gain a broad understanding of the framework being offered. Chapters 2-9 are often highly detailed and technical, and threaten information overload if delved into unprepared.

As the title of the book indicates, Damasio argues that in order to be conscious a brain needs to construct 'maps' or 'images' of the knower as well as of the known. Subjectivity requires a subject, but the subject isn't a soul or a homunculus but a self which is being continually generated by interacting neural structures. In the course of evolution, processes supplying a protoself developed into processes supplying a core self, which in turn developed into processes supplying the autobiographical self typical of humans.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conflict with Neuroscience, 8 April 2011
By 
S. G. Raggett (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The merits of this book lie in the clarity of expression, which makes difficult material accessible to a lay audience, and encourages us to think about the whole area of consciousness and the self. The author's main theme is the influence of inputs from the body on consciousness. In itself this represents an advance on much of twentieth century consciousness studies, with its tendency to view the brain as an isolated computer.

Problems arise with the degree of emphasis on bodily inputs, at the expense of inputs from the external world. The author focuses almost exclusively on inputs from the body to the brain stem. This approach looks to ignore a lot of what has been going on in recent neuroscience, where there is a model of sensory inputs from the external world that are evaluated in the orbitofrontal cortex. Processing here directly correlates to subjective experience, with this region projecting to the basal ganglia areas that are important in determining behaviour.

Damasio does lay stress on the role of dopamine and other neuromodulators, but does not bring out the fact that although the nuclei producing these molecules are in the brain stem, it is the basal ganglia that are substantially responsible for their release into the rest of the brain. He also fails to say much about how sensory inputs are processed by the amygdala and orbitofrontal before being signaled to the body, creating an interactive process rather than the simple feed forward implied in this book. In all Damasio has given us a model that is in significant conflict with some recent research. This is not to say his position is wrong, but he needs to provide more justification as to why his picture is at such variance with this research.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Changes the way you think about your thinking, 8 Dec 2010
By 
H. de MAN (Geldrop, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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Neuroscience is hot and for a good reason. After years in which we had to believe that we are the masters in our bodies and brains and that we are the creators of our destiny, the new biological paradigm of brain science teaches us some modesty. We are our brains, as the Dutch neurologist Swaab writes. And these brains operate on conscious as well as unconscious levels. The interesting thing about Damasio's book is that it show us that what makes us human - our highly developed consciousness - is rooted in biological processes in the brain. Trillions of cells, embedded in the architecture of the brain, cooperate to produce the pattern that we call consciousness. The author builds this up step by step, dealing with the image-making capacities of the brain (the mind) as a condition for consciousness, and the development of a feeling of self in a long evolutionary process. The text is not always easy and some prior knowledge of the brain and its functions really helps. The mystery of what consciousness really is, does not disappear after reading. On the contrary, after turning the last page, I had the feeling that it has become more of a mystery how we experience our bodies and the world and manage to maintain a sense of identity constructed by the immensely complex machinery of the brain.
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52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating and disappointing, 21 Jan 2011
By 
Dr. WD Ashton (UK) - See all my reviews
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Having had a longstanding interest in philosophy of mind and the problem of consciousness, I was looking forward to reading this book. Damasio has clearly acquired a reputation over the last few years, though I had not read anything of his previously. As a consultant physician with a reasonable knowledge of neuroanatomy and neuroscience, I felt reasonably well equipped to negotiate the trickier parts of the text. As I progressed through the text, however, I became more and more frustated by Damasio's apparent inability to edit out what is not essential to the idea being communicated. There is simply to much detail in all the wrong places. The result of this is that really important ideas are almost completely submerged under a mass of information, much of which is only marginally relevant to what is being communicated.

This is a common fault with some scientists, but should be corrected by firm editing. There is simply too much information in relation to the ideas presented, even though some of the ideas are original and controversial. I found myself having to take a deep breath each time I picked it up, wondering if I could really be bothered wading through all the background noise to harvest the occasional nuggets of gold. I did make it to the end, but I can't honestly say the journey was worth it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind how you read!, 12 Feb 2011
By 
Pipistrel (Oxford United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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By coincidence, two great books on mind and brain have appeared almost simultaneously, the other being The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran. This one is the less readable of the two, but it is profound and original, and if you want to see how controversial the subject is you should read both.

Damasio expects you to work hard, and he gives little help with technical terms. Even with an atlas of the brain at your side, you may still have difficulty in following the physical detail. On the other hand he is admirably clear and consistent in his use of fuzzy terms like 'self', 'mind' and 'consciousness', and the picture he draws is persuasive.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Protagonizing the mind, 5 Mar 2011
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Living creatures come in all shapes and sizes, from unicellular organisms to elephants, and life in some form or other has been around for over three billion years. Joining the dots through time and space, replacing the mythical unity of creation with a unifying scientific principle, is Darwin's tree of life. Evolution by natural selection is the main driver of change, the means by which such amazing diversity has arisen. But for each individual living creature there is a very different kind of dynamic process at work - homeostasis or life regulation - constantly working in a multitude of ways to keep things the same. In mammals, for example, the temperature of the body and the density of red blood cells must be kept within certain narrow ranges, otherwise the animal risks death. As Antonio Damasio puts it in this remarkable book, "the balanced range of body chemistries compatible with healthy life" is the most essential possession of any living being, whether you happen to be an amoeba or human. "All else flows from it" - including the mind, consciousness and the self.

Anything worth fighting for has value, and the struggle to survive creates biological value: from an organism's point of view, there is better and worse. The trick of life is to seek out the good and avoid the bad. Over long enough timescales, selective forces produce new adaptations: the humble earthworm evolves to flourish in an arsenic-rich soil that would kill its ancestors. Over short timescales, all kinds of behaviours facilitate quick reactions to changing circumstances, to evade a predator, to capture prey, to mate, and so on. And even though single cells can exhibit seemingly intelligent and purposeful behaviour (indeed, Damasio argues that every cell in our body has a kind of "nonconscious attitude"), it's having a brain that makes the big difference.

First came unminded brains, operating "on the basis of dispositions" (know-how formulas that generate useful behaviours): a neuron transmits a signal, a muscle twitches, the insect takes flight. For a long time in evolution, many of "the organisms so equipped did perfectly fine in suitable environments".

Then came brain mapping, the critical biological development that led to the appearance of minds. As brains got bigger and more complex, small circuits of neurons began to be "organized across large networks so as to compose momentary patterns". Minds emerged when these patterns - or maps - were able to "represent things and events located outside the brain, either in the body or in the external world". Such brains "had available more details of the conditions inside and outside the organisms and thus could generate more differentiated and effective responses than unminded brains".

The new invention (maps and their images, the main currency of mental activity) fitted in around the long-established dispositions, but soon became the engine that transformed "plain life regulation into minded regulation and, eventually, into consciously minded regulation". Neurons remained the nuts and bolts underneath the bonnet, but now they were also literally mapping the body for which they worked, constituting "a sort of virtual surrogate of it, a neural double". This "relentless pointing to the body" - this "aboutness" - is their defining character, and why nervous systems "developed as managers of life and curators of biological value".

The next step (an easy logical one to take but another huge "turning point in biological evolution") was for some of these patterns to "represent the brain's own processing of other patterns". When the brain began to map its own doings, it acquired a whole new property: subjectivity. Until this point, all minds had been unconscious, each mind unaware of itself. Indeed, there was no self of which to be aware.

This decisive step was, as it were, for some images to climb out of the mental stream of the unconscious mind, to shake their boots dry and take ownership of the whole river of life that belongs to the singular organism, now perfectly bounded in space (the body's boundary) and time (between birth and death). Thus is the "self-as-subject-and-knower" born: self comes to mind.

When Damasio describes consciousness as "a state of mind with a self process added to it" and suggests that the fundamental advantage of consciousness is that it improves "life regulation in ever more complex environments", readers who have been brought up to associate consciousness only with the deepest mysteries of life may feel a little shortchanged. That the "deep body-relatedness of the brain" is one of the important themes of this book may also disappoint anyone still in thrall to the ghost in the machine, as will thinking of feelings "as barometers of life management". I believe he is right, however, that these ideas help dispel many of "the oddities and mysteries of some of the traditional categories of psychology" (such as emotion, perception, memory, language, intelligence and consciousness).

Damasio himself admits that the "perspective adopted in this book contains a hypothesis that is not universally liked, let alone accepted - namely, the idea that mental states and brain states are essentially equivalent". Nor does he claim to have solved "the mysteries surrounding brain and consciousness". Indeed, even if he had made such a claim, I would be a long way short of judging whether or not he had been successful. I personally have got a great deal out of this book, but I had to cope with many lacunae of comprehension. When Damasio asks, "is it enough to combine the microevents of protocognition and synchrony and scale them up across a nested, hierarchy distributed within the three neuroanatomical divisions"? I feel more like Homer than Lisa Simpson. Thank goodness there are many more simpler sentences of the kind: "The perceptual readout of the emotion is a feeling."

Biology and evolution have made us what we are - and the beauty of reading Antonio Damasio is the magnificent account he gives of just what it is that we are, to the best of his considerable ability. Our minds are capable of inquiring into the past and imagining the future, and using reason to reduce suffering, minimize loss and increase the chances of happiness. And, brought into being each time we awake, orchestrating each consciousness performance, is the self.
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5.0 out of 5 stars sort out your thinking., 11 Mar 2014
By 
John Ross "returningworm" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Important and closely argued, but very densely written. Absolutely essential reading for anyone wants to grasp the physical foundations of the things we used to call souls or minds.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleased!, 15 Oct 2012
Was very happy with how fast I received the product and was the correct description. A great book to read would recommend it if interested in psychology and biology.
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1 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Isn't it logically shaky in saying that Mind = Brain using Brain?, 12 Jan 2011
By 
Masayoshi Ishida "Non-Materialist" (Tokaimura, Japan) - See all my reviews
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Together with the author's previous book (in 1994) Descartes' Error, this book also is a work of materialistic scientists, who are trying to explain everything of scientific phenomena on the basis of current materialistic science. This science assumes that our physical world is a closed system.
There is a saying in logic that if a Cretan says "All Cretans are liars," the statement is not reliable. Perhaps the Cretan should logically correctly say that "All Cretans except me are liars." This example admonishes that in logic avoid self-reference.
A similar situation exists in neuroscience (that should be logically correct) that if a neuroscientist says using his Brain that "My self-consciousness is essentially an emergence of my Brain's function." Maybe the scientist is logically correct in saying that "My patient's self-consciousness is essentially an emergence of his Brain's function." However, the statement reflects to the scientist him-/her-self. Hence, the statement is logically shaky and maybe not reliable!
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