Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Descarte's Error by Antonio Demasio

Descarte's Error by Neurologist Antonio R. Damasio delves deeply into the workings of the brain and the use of emotion to make decisions. He moves through concepts such as biological ethics, social norms, rational thinking, pre-frontal lobe damage, and finally into Descartes error. He digs into cognitive science to understand how the separation of body and mind was an error by one of the most famous philosophers of yesteryear.

"I think, therefore I am" is an important saying of Descartes as he philosophized the nature of human life. Yet many seem to have forgotten his clarification a few lines below:

"From that I knew that I was a substance, the whole essence or nature of which is to think, and that for its existence there is no need of any place, nor does it depend on any material thing; so that this "me", that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from body, and is even more easy to know than is the latter; and even if body were not, the soul would not cease to be what it is."-Descartes

To Damasio the body and mind are the same. One cannot exist without the other. More importantly, the body feeds the mind through its senses and feelings exist throughout the entire body. To him it is not possible to understand the brain without knowledge related to neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurochemistry. He sums up his argument as:

"The comprehensive understanding of the human mind requires an organismic perspective; that not only must the mind move from nonphysical cogitum to the realm of biological tissue, but it must also be related to a whole organism possessed of integrated body proper and brain and fully interactive with a physical and social environment."

Under such circumstances the mind is more than an animal spirit. It exists within the cognitive, physical, and social aspects of life. Each component fits within the nature of its existence and defines who and how it will think. Senses draw information, the mind has a sense of existence, and society defines its perception. If such a concept were true then to expand the mind would mean exploring the physical, mental, and social aspects of one's life.

The book is not for the amateur. At times it can be heavy and other times more theoretical. However, the premises of the book seems to fit more closely with current cognitive research. More importantly the book provides a way of looking at the mind as having three planes of existence that help it make meaning in the lives that we live. To understand the root of emotions and thought is to create greater insight into the nature of our lives. It is through this nature we can help develop a stronger perspective of our learning, working, and feeling existence. An extensive list of references are included in the work.

Price: $11
Pages: 252
Blog Ranking: 3.8/5
Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes' Error: emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Grosset/Putnam Book. ISB: 0-399-13894-3

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