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Customer Review

on 6 June 2005
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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