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on 20 July 2017
Great product. Thank you for the prompt delivery.
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on 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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on 8 April 2011
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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on 2 November 2015
This book is a serious contribution to understanding the relationship between brain processes and the conscious mind. Does it answer the question posed on the blurb - 'how is consciousness created?' - well yes and no. Yes in the sense that Damasio details (perhaps in too much detail) the mapping and neural feedback processes that are engaged in articulating the mechanisms of the self. But no in that the core question of consciousness remains unanswered and one gets the impression towards the end of the book that Damasio knows it remains unanswered. That is, how is it that a lump of matter knows it exists, and moreover knows that it knows, that is, how is it the brain is not only conscious but also self-conscious? Damasio proposes a tri-partite model of the self as 'proto', 'core' and 'autobiographical' in ascending degrees of awareness. But while the proto-self, of primordinal feelings, corresponds roughly to the brain stem, none of these levels 'happen' in one region or centre of the brain but are emergent (not sure if Damasio actually uses this term but it's what he means) and result from the articulated operation of many sites. In the end then we have parallel systems of neural and mental activity and while the latter is obviously dependent on the former (its necessary not sufficient condition) we still have a mind/brain dualism. I don’t particularly have a problem with this but others do. Also his concepts of the self(s) are undeveloped and neglect a lot of the literature from social psychology and sociology on the modalities of the self. In particular he mentions language only in passing but this is crucial to our whole engagement with the world including our own bodies. The autobiographical self is a linguistic self and much more is needed on the relationship between non-linguistic and linguistic processes. His forays into the social world can be trite – as when the criminal justice system is ‘sociocultural homeostasis’ – a kind of brain system writ large. He can also be confusing – for example he wants to establish a distinction between emotions and feelings but then talks about ‘feelings of emotion’. Finally given his problem is the self I found it too much focussed on endogenous processes while the self is continually (even in dream states) interacting with others or imaginary others and is simultaneously a social as well as neural process. Damascio is struggling with some critical problems but it is still work in progress. Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
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on 14 December 2010
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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on 8 December 2010
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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on 13 November 2015
Damasio is an expert on neuroscience and the anatomy of the brain, and the best parts of this book clearly explain these to lay readers such as myself, without condescension. However, the hard science is interleaved with speculation and poor philosophy, with very little to warn the reader which is which.

The hard science is where Damasio talks about his studies of brain lesions, where he is a world leader, and his reviews of studies involving various types of brain scans of humans and other animals. However, Damasio allows himself to be led into speculation, based on his intuitions about which animals are 'conscious', and his own introspection. Introspection is a notoriously unreliable tool, though as Damasio acknowledges, it can lead to hypotheses that can be tested in more rigorous ways. In this book, however, there are few markers to warn the reader of the difference between such speculation, and tested ideas. (One rule of thumb is to look for external references -- in the speculative sections, these are few and rather tenuous.)

For example, many neuroscientists consider the seat of consciousness to be the more evolutionarily recent parts of the brain such as the cerebral cortices. Damasio considers that it is far lower and older -- parts of the brain stem and cerebellum. This is a fascinating theory, which tallies with introspection about the importance of feelings to consciousness -- literally the feedback loop that links brain to internal organs. Sadly, no proof is given of these ideas. It is as if the book is a collection of ideas for future research, rather than the current state of the art.

Turning to philosophy, Damasio talks about the importance of qualia. What he means by qualia is the link between perceptions and feelings, and he talks intelligently about this link. However, this is not what philosophers mean by the word. In general, Damasio wants to relate the words that philosophers and other thinkers use to describe the mind, self and consciousness, to simple underlying brain processes. In some cases this may be possible, but Damasio starts with the assumption that this simple linkage exists for everything. Damasio is rather like a car mechanic trying to understand an Italian waxing lyrical about the romance of Ferrari. There simply aren't pieces of the car, or even systems within it, that map to the poetical ideas that are being expressed.
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on 25 February 2016
This book, like so many other scientific books on the nature of consciousness is a sort of part-science, part-philosophy hybrid. This would be fine if it weren't for the fact that it is avowedly scientific and avoids the philosophical debate entirely (aside from mentioning William James, who for some reason seems to get mentioned quite frequently in science books).

What I mean by "part-philosophy" is that some of the claims that are made are not empirically verifiable; he more or less defines consciousness as simply being what is present when the self is present, and I have to say that the "self" is rather ambiguously described throughout. There is some interesting philosophical work on the idea of the self, and if Damasio had engaged with it he might have been able to present a coherent viewpoint. As it is, we more or less end up with the self being defined as when somebody is aware of their own feelings, which is arguably more or less the same thing as consciousness anyway so it isn't really clear what the main point of this work is, even if he does describe the self as a "function."

Some interesting (but not particularly enlightening) speculation on the nature of consciousness, but it is difficult to call it "scientific" even if it does mention many scientific studies. If I said that the whole of reality was actually just imaginary then no matter how many scientific examples I used in my book, my viewpoint would still consist of speculation and possibly philosophical reasoning, but it wouldn't be science.
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on 5 March 2011
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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on 12 February 2011
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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