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Damasio views brain development through the lens of biological evolution - starting with the simplest organisms that exhibit elaborate life regulation devices but do not require brains. The arrival of neurons, possessed of the unique ability to transmit and receive messages, allows neurons to organize themselves in complex circuits and networks, networks that serve to represent events occurring in the body, influence the function of other cells, even their own function. In this framework, the distinction between body and brain is blurred - the neurons that make up the brain and eventually generate the mind are body cells and are perpetually connected to the body.
Neurons are the producers of mind states. And in the increasing complexity of the patterns in which neurons organize themselves is to be found at once the mystery and the clues to the myriad ways in which the brain operates.
The systems of neurons that govern life in the interior of a body - the process of homeostasis - are first assisted by reflex-like dispositions, and eventually by images, the basic ingredient of minds. But the flexibility and creativity of the human mind do not emerge from images alone. They require images to create a protagonist, a self capable of reflection. Once self comes to mind, the devices of reward and punishment, drives and motivations, and emotions can be controlled by an autobiographical self, capable of personal reflection and deliberation. The reflective self becomes a rebellious apprentice to nature's indifferent sorcerer. It uses expanded memory, language, and reasoning to create the very possibility of culture.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jeff Cartwright on 05-17-11
Some important and amazing stuff in this book!
I can’t imagine a better author to take this subject matter on.
Damasio’s offerings about the genesis of the conscious self are both comprehensive and remarkably clever. He offers lots of justifications for why we construct our sense of self the way we do. Those justifications and explanations seem to arrive at the perfect time in the dialog. It seems Damasio knows and anticipates the readers reaction to each of the new cutting-edge assemblage he creates for us. Just as my mind would stall with one of those - “Yeah, OK, but what about … ?”, he anticipates and addresses my ego's reactive inquiry in the very next paragraph. I found that to be very thoughtful and considerate in a technical publication. It went a long way to keep my ego out of defensive mode and in a more focused learning mode.
I must admit that I did choke on a few of his choices of very large compound words, some of his own design, in a gratuitous fashion. “I get it Antonio, you’re brilliant… now stop it [Smack], I don’t need any extra sizzle from you, I’m totally here for the steak my friend.”
The book is dense with technical content which was useful, delightful and challenging at times. It’s the type of challenge that gives me that feeling of accomplishment when I discover something I could not conceive of before. So it was all good. There were some noticeable places where the narrator was not entirely grasping what he was reading. He would place emphasis on the wrong part of a phrase and I had to play it over in my head several ways with different emphasis before it made sense in context.
I would imagine this book will become a very important body of work as more and more people realize the value in knowing how their own, and each other’s stuff works “under the hood”. 5 Stars by a mile. Thank You Mr. Damasio!
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
By Ken on 06-21-11
Not quite an answer to the questions it raises
If you are not already familiar with Damasio's work, this is a great introduction, and one that does a solid, concise job of covering both basic concepts and neurophysiological details. He does a terrific job of closing some of the gaps in previous accounts of how intentional decision making and reasoning work, but his goal of explaining how self comes to mind is unreached. What David Chalmers calls the Really Hard Problem of consciousness remains a "smooth-walled mystery," as Patricia Churchland would put it -- there are no handholds here. If you want a good functional account of how self works, however, this is a great read.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful