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The Feeling of What Happens: Body and…

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of… (1999)

by Antonio Damasio

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(Original Review, 2000-10-15)

I don't agree that it is as big mystery as pointed out elsewhere in another review I’ve read...I think we do know a great deal about consciousness. The problem lays also in our willingness to explore altered states of consciousness. This must be included in any theory...Some examples of books dedicated to this subject of consciousness. I have been reading lately: “Complete works of Freud and Carl Jung”, “The Tibet Book Of The Dead”, “Tao Te Ching”, R. D. Laing’s “The Politics Of experience (Birds Of Paradise)”, “The Tao Of Physics” by Fritjof Capra, Works Of Richard Feynman, Works of Spinoza, “Altered States Of Consciousness” by Charles T. Tart, “The Conscious Mind” by David J. Chalmers, and Anthropological Studies on Shamanism and so on, indicate that the human animal has not progressed much physiologically over the past two or three thousand years. However we have progressed massively technologically...Plenty of food for thought in this area.

Panpsychism describes almost perfectly what has been my own thoughts about consciousness for a while now. I tend to think of consciousness as an all-pervading attribute of our Universe which only becomes apparent (emerges) in certain conditions such as when matter becomes sufficiently complex*, as is the case with ourselves and with other life forms that have evolved. Should an alien life form more complex than mankind exist somewhere in the Universe, then their consciousness - their sense of selfhood - might be even more apparent to them. In fact the difference compared to us might be akin to the difference between human consciousness and cat consciousness - something to ponder.) (*It's interesting to wonder if there might be other conditions necessary beyond complexity.).

It seems to me that there is a very obvious key element to consciousness that clears this away, in combination with the work of Oliver Sacks and the like and the philosophy of Damásio and Dennett: Subjectivism. Every consciousness can be investigated from without using an MRI scanner or a length of lead piping. Only one consciousness can ever be viewed from within by itself: consciousness has a privileged position in observing itself from within. This is not a mystery but a trivial result of its being a consciousness, as know thyself shall be the whole of the nature of what consciousness means. Qualia and all the trimmings are just what this privileged position looks like.

For some reason, this makes me think of Alan Turing's concept of the Universal Machine. I imagine some (hypothetical) minimum amount of language, and a minimum amount interpretation (synthesis, re-statement, re-telling using that language) as the nexus of consciousness. Funny thing: our senses are only aware of what they have evolved to perceive: bats model sound waves the way we model light waves. But the end result, inside the brain is the same.

Thanks to Damásio for a very interesting round up of where we currently are in relation to the hard problem. Though it's no harder than the tricky dicky problem, does a cheater exist, though for some the answer appears pretty obvious, but to prove it is another matter.

NB: Damásio a fellow Portuguese. ( )
  antao | Dec 21, 2018 |
As a look into what consciousness means, as well as how feeling, memory, emotion, consciousness, and embodiment all engage with each other, this is a powerful look into what it means to be human and experience the human condition. Damasio's work is a careful exploration of what consciousness is and is not, and what must be understood in any examination of how the brain works to untangle and allow for experience & memory. Most of the book is wholly accessible to the average reader (if requiring some real concentration and not just casual dipping in...), though a few chapters delve deeper into the science involved and may or may not be of interest to every lay reader. That said, though, the author's talent for blending explanation with philosophy, case study and history with science, and theory with fact is impressive, and makes for a fascinating read.

Truly, readers interested in better understanding their own human condition or that of others, or consciousness and senses of self, couldn't do much better than to pick up this work if they're willing to put in the focus that the book sometimes requires. It is, without doubt, engaging and powerful throughout, and well worth the time involved.

Recommended. ( )
1 vote whitewavedarling | Jan 12, 2016 |
The publication of this book is an event in the making. All over the world scientists, psychologists, and philosophers are waiting to read Antonio Damasio's new theory of the nature of consciousness and the construction of the self. A renowned and revered scientist and clinician, Damasio has spent decades following amnesiacs down hospital corridors, waiting for comatose patients to awaken, and devising ingenious research using PET scans to piece together the great puzzle of consciousness. In his bestselling Descartes' Error, Damasio revealed the critical importance of emotion in the making of reason. Building on this foundation, he now shows how consciousness is created. Consciousness is the feeling of what happens-our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience. Without our bodies there can be no consciousness, which is at heart a mechanism for survival that engages body, emotion, and mind in the glorious spiral of human life. A hymn to the possibilities of human existence, a magnificent work of ingenious science, a gorgeously written book, The Feeling of What Happens is already being hailed as a classic. ( )
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  MarkBeronte | Mar 5, 2014 |
The best account on consciousness i've read so far.
Damasio addresses the problem from a biological and evolutionary perspective and show us that consciousness is not the monolith we are used to think of: rather, it comes in many stages, core and extended.
Under both these two kinds there's another level, the 'protoself': an automatic and uncoscious representation held in our brains of everything that happens in our body. This mechanism has the primary role of mantaining the homeostatis, an essential state of equilibrium of our chimical internal state, thus providing a primitive stage for consciousness in the form of a unitary though ever-changing scheme of the organism.

The trick of consciousness happens when we are involved in knowing something.
We have both the sensory cortices of our brain elaborating the characteristics of the object, and the structure of the protoself detecting the changes our organism undergoes in the processing of the object (these may be emotional responses, changes to permit a better elaboration of the input).
At this point, the brain elaborate a second-order 'map', a representation which holds both the object processing and the body engaged in the knowing.
It's simple as that.

But this is not the whole picture: here arise a lot of incomprehension in those who hold skeptical opinions on the explanation of consciousness.
The kind described above is the core version of consciousness, owned by a large number of animal species.
It's a simple though very effective survival device because it develops an individual perspective in the organism, an ability to locate itself in its environment and think of innovative strategies for react to possible threats (way better than an unconscious emotional response as fear or rage).
Though, this knowledge is restricted to the 'here and now': it's the kind owned by a fox, an eagle or a baby.

What makes us human is extended consciousness.
Our brain and his amazing processing power allow us to develop a huge number of memories through all our life, unique facts of which we became conscious.
Extended consciousness springs up when, beside the world we face each instant, we keep continously in mind memories pertaining our identity, our plan for the future, our recent and ancient past.
Only then we could say that 'we' are doing something, that our actions have a meaning.
If someone's afraid that despelling consciousness would throw away our uniqueness as human beings, it's this second kind of consciousness he wants to defend, not the former: and he should not be afraid either, because this vision of human mind is even stronger than every other possible religious weirdness.

Two more remarks: extended consciousness doesn't need language: it seems that monkeys has it, as well as some other intelligent species (a gleaming example: your dog). However, language amplifies extremely consciousness' potentialities, expanding our identies like tiny big bangs.
Second: Damasio also scolds philosophers who more often than not muddle up the whole thing. In particular, it's a long debated problem that of the impossibility to experience the mind of an another subject only by means of scientific inquiry and objective knwoledge (how does it feel to be a bat?).
This is a logical fallacy rather than a real problem.
The only time that 'be something' and 'know something' coincide is in our personal experience, and i don't see how it could be otherwise: not much of an argument against scientific research, imho. ( )
2 vote Ramirez | Oct 15, 2009 |
Pros: interesting topic; good and detailed analysis at times
Cons: very unconvincing; some extremely important arguments are taken for granted and shoddy, which leads to a questionable foundation for further argument; not a good treatment on feeling "self" ( )
1 vote sphinx | Jul 17, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156010755, Paperback)

As you read this, at some level you're aware that you're reading, thanks to a standard human feature commonly referred to as consciousness. What is it--a spiritual phenomenon, an evolutionary tool, a neurological side effect? The best scientists love to tackle big, meaningful questions like this, and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio jumps right in with The Feeling of What Happens, a poetic examination of interior life through lenses of research, medical cases, philosophical analysis, and unashamed introspection. Damasio's perspective is, fortunately, becoming increasingly common in the scientific community; despite all the protestations of old-guard behaviorists, subjective consciousness is a plain fact to most of us and the demand for new methods of inquiry is finally being met.

These new methods are not without rigor, though. Damasio and his colleagues examine patients with disruptions and interruptions in consciousness and take deep insights from these tragic lives while offering greater comfort and meaning to the sufferers. His thesis, that our sense of self arises from our need to map relations between self and others, is firmly rooted in medical and evolutionary research but stands up well to self-examination. His examples from the weird world of neurology are unsettling yet deeply humanizing--real people with serious problems spring to life in the pages, but they are never reduced to their deficits. The Feeling of What Happens captures the spirit of discovery as it plunges deeper than ever into the darkest waters yet. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:06 -0400)

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