Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain Hardcover – Aug 4 2000
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As he seeks to unlock the secrets of such things as joy and sorrow, Antonio Damasio pursues a unifying theory in Looking for Spinoza. Why Spinoza? The philosopher, whom Damasio calls a "protobiologist," firmly linked mind and body, paving the way for modern ideas of neurophysiology. Damasio examines this linkage, which ran counter to all scientific and religious thinking of Spinoza's day, and lays out the reasoning and evidence behind its truth. As he has in his previous books on the subject (Descartes' Error and The Feeling of What Happens), Damasio is careful to use clear examples from life to explain the often dry and difficult science of the brain. When he wants readers to understand, for instance, brain stem control of emotions, he offers an Oliver Sacks-style case study of a man whose stroke left him unable to keep from bursting into tears or laughter at inappropriate times.
Damasio also defines his terms, which is crucial, as he means something very specific when he says feeling ("always hidden, like all mental images") instead of emotion ("actions or movements... visible to others as they occur in the face, in the voice, in specific behaviors"). Using an impressive array of biological and psychological research, Damasio makes a compelling case for his idea of the feeling brain as crucial for survival and sense of self. But this isn't just a book about brain science. It's a record of an intellectual journey, a diary of Damasio's musings about history, philosophy, and Spinoza's life, all wrapped up in a simply astonishing explanation of a subject most of us don't give a thought to--the feelings that we live by. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
The third in a series that began with Descartes' Error, this book deftly combines recent advances in neuroscience with charged meditations on foundational 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and the result is Damasio's fullest report so far on the nature of feelings. A Salk Institute professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center, Damasio makes a useful distinction between emotions, which are publicly observable body states, and feelings, which are mental events observable only to the person having them. Based on neuroscience research he and others have done, Damasio argues that an episode of emoting begins with an emotionally "competent" stimulus (such as an attractive person or a scary house) that the organism automatically appraises as conducive to survival or well-being (a good thing) or not conducive (bad). This appraisal takes the form of a complex array of physiological reactions (e.g., quickening heartbeat, tensing facial muscles), which is mapped in the brain. From that map, a feeling arises as "an idea of the body when it is perturbed by the emoting process." Because they "bear witness to the state of life deep within," feelings are a vital guide to decision-making. Damasio goes on to connect his own views to Spinoza's and sympathize with that thinker's "secular religiosity," which identified God with nature. He ends by discussing spiritual feelings, which he relates to "the sense that the organism is functioning with the greatest possible perfection." Given his professional background, it is not surprising that Damasio is more persuasive when talking neuroscience than philosophy. But overall, he succeeds in making the latest brain research accessible to the general reader, while his passionate Spinozist reflections make that data relevant to everyday life.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Dr. Damasio focuses on some basic points instead. One basic point that he spends over 100 pages illustrating is the distinction he makes between "emotions" and "feelings". The former word he applies to objective emotional experience, such as facial expressions, body postures, measurements of autonomic function and behavior in humans and animals, even fruit flies. The latter applies to human subjective emotional experience. OK, I think most readers knew the difference between objective and subjective before page 1, so what is all this except to introduce the reader to the particular way Dr. Damasio uses a couple of words? Eventually he advances the thesis that "feelings" are secondary to "emotions" something like perceptions are to sensation. Really? Why not the other way around sometimes? Why not something more complex? Certainly perception influences both "emotions" and "feelings". Is it always "emotions" before "feelings"? If that's the case with Dr. Damasio's brain, I might enjoy playing poker with him.
He spends nine pages on an anecdote resulting from treating patients with Parkinsonism by placing electrodes into the midbrain. In one patient, a fluke placement of electrodes produced a profound sadness when stimulated, the emotion ending about 90 seconds after the current is turned off. The patient experienced it as artificial, connected at the time to sad images and desires, but not to any part of her life before or after.Read more ›
While I do not agree with everything he says -
(specifically his evidence regarding the difference between 'feeling' and 'emotion' seems to me to point toward 'feeling' occuring earlier, at least in some form)
the science is there to be tried and tested.
The other thing I didn't like about it was the writing style was too much in the philosophical vein for my personal tastes... but then science is philosophy, and the style is conciously chosen for that reason.
Overall a great read, though. The ideas presented far, far *far* outweigh the minor complaints I have about the book.
In confronting our suffering and our need for salvation, in addition to Spinoza's requirement that we live "a virtuous life assisted by a political system whose laws help the individual with the task of being fair and charitable to others," Damasio writes (pg 275):
"The Spinoza solution also asks the individual to attempt a break between the emotionally competent stimuli that trigger negative emotions--passions such as fear, anger, jealousy, sadness--and the very mechanisms that enact emotion. Instead, the individual should substitute emotionally competent stimuli capable of triggering positive, nourishing emotions. To facilitate this goal, Spinoza recommends the mental rehearsing of negative emotional stimuli as a way to build a tolerance for negative emotions and gradually acquire a knack for generating positive ones. [Wow!--Exposure/CBT, circa 1670, but without the cognitive distortions.] This is, in effect, Spinoza as mental immunologist developing a vaccine capable of creating antipassion antibodies."
Additionally, Damasio writes: "The individual must be aware of the fundamental separation between emotionally competent stimuli and the trigger mechanism [which, as current neuroscience now shows, includes amgdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, cinguate] of emotion so that he can substitute 'reasoned' emotionally competent stimuli capable of producing the most positive feeling states."
In an earlier part of the book (pg 58) Damasio discusses triggering and executing emotion and writes that after the presentation of an emotionally competent object, regardless of how fleeting the presentation:
"...Read more ›
Damasios main concern in this book is to present an neurobiological account of feelings. Now the first move he makes is to distinguish them from the related phenomenon of emotions. These are not to be confused, even when they are highly related. Felling, to Damasio, comes only after the emotion, and is very different from it. Emotions are complexes of chemical and neural patterns that drive the organism by automatical alterations of the state of the body, towards evolutionarily set places of well-being. Fellings are the perceptions of changes in, or the states of the body, and the modes of thinking that these ensue. To Damasio then, the feeling of fear would consist of the infromation provided by the body proper as well as of the way the cognitive mechanism functions because of the changes that are taking place. Since Damasio considers body regulating, homeostatic, and body sensing so important for feelings, he mantains the neurobiological underpinnings of feelings must be structures related to these functions. And he has evidence to support this claim.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
As his 2 other previous books, this book has the clarity and consistency of truth. The insight it gives on our personal mental world is simply beautiful. Read morePublished on July 15 2004 by Luis Ferreira
Be careful, Mr. Damasio, you don't have a hold of Spinoza yet. He does know that mind and body are of one substance, but neither is dependent on the other. Read morePublished on April 14 2004 by Dr John D Sommer
I'll keep this short. Not knowing much about neuroscience, I'll assume the science in this book is ok. That said, what's NOT ok is Damasio's sense of the ethical. Read morePublished on Feb. 26 2004
Part of this is a celebration of the 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinosa whose world view is very much in concert with that of Antonio Damasio. Read morePublished on Dec 17 2003 by Dennis Littrell
Damasio has leapt almost to the top of the philosophical pyramid with his books on feelings and consciousness. Read morePublished on Sept. 23 2003 by Stephen A. Haines
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