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Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain

by Antonio Damasio

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Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life's work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biological roots of what we feel remain a mystery. Leading neuroscientist Antonio Damasio—whose earlier books explore rational behavior and the notion of the self—rediscovers a man whose work ran counter to all the thinking of his day, pairing Spinoza's insights with his own innovative scientific research to help us understand what we're made of, and what we're here for. ( )
  MarkBeronte | Mar 5, 2014 |
I find it a bit confusing if you don't have already good understanding how the brain works.
The introduction of Spinoza thesis is not necessary and a kind of a secondary story. ( )
  basile14 | Mar 27, 2010 |
George Santayana described Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), the renowned Dutch philosopher and proponent of Pantheism, as "one of those great men whose eminence grows more obvious with the lapse of years. Like a mountain obscured at first by it foothills, he rises as he recedes."

So it is that Spinoza’s ideas, largely suppressed as heresy in his own time, have received appreciative treatment in several recent works, notably in Looking for Spinoza. Author Antonio Damasio, head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center, links cutting edge neurobiological research with the Spinoza’s philosophy. As it turns out, they dovetail beautifully. Damasio relates how Spinoza anticipated modern findings about the biological basis of feelings and consciousness.

Although Damasio plumbs the biological underpinnings of spirituality, he strives to avoid reductionism: “By connecting spiritual experiences to the neurobiology of feelings, my purpose is not to reduce the sublime to the mechanic and by so doing reduce its dignity. The purpose is to suggest that the sublimity of the spiritual is embodied in the sublimity of biology and that we can begin to understand the process in biological terms. As for the results of the process, there is no need and no value to explaining them: The experience of the spiritual amply suffices."

"Accounting for the physiological process behind the spiritual does not explain the mystery of the life process to which that particular feeling is connected. It reveals the connection to the mystery but not the mystery itself. Spinoza and those thinkers whose ideas have Spinozian elements make feelings come full circle, from life in progress, which is where they originate, to the sources of life, toward which they point.” ( )
1 vote pansociety | Oct 25, 2006 |
Well written, really insightful. ( )
  grid | Jun 29, 2006 |
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Feelings of pain or pleasure or some quality in between are the bedrock of our minds.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156028719, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:23 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Here, in a humane work of science, Damasio draws on his innovative research and on his experience with neurological patients to examine how feelings and the emotions that underlie them support the human spirit's greatest creations." "Damasio's new book focuses on what feelings are and reveals the biology of our survival mechanisms. It rediscovers a thinker whose work prefigures modern neuroscience, not only in his emphasis on emotions and feelings, but also in his refusal to separate mind and body. Together, the scientist and the philosopher help us understand what we are made of and what we are here for. Based on laboratory investigations but mindful of society and culture, Looking for Spinoza offers unexpected grounds for optimism about the human condition and is a masterwork of science and writing."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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