A. Damasio's book Descartes' Error

Mark Van Alstine mvanalst at rbi.com
Fri Apr 14 14:49:48 EST 1995

In article <3mk3ig$mgd at host.di.fct.unl.pt>, tvm at fct.unl.pt (Tiago Vaz Maia
[gpl]) wrote:


>  Some of the issues I would like to consider are:
> - How speculative do you find the book to be and how far do you believe the
>   hypotheses are scientifically grounded?

I thought Damasio's book to be fairly grounded in his research. The tests
he performed seemed to lack that "hard" science conclusiveness one may be
used to dealing at the neuroanatomical level leves me feeling somewhat
indecisive... But this is most certainly due to my lack of background in
the field. In spite of this, I did think his test and theories deserved to
be taken seriously. They in fact were quite intriguing and seemed to fit
together with how I understand the brain to function at the neural level.
I took a lot on faith as well. ;)

> - Do you believe the book raises interesting questions? Has interesting 
>   answers? Interesting speculations? None of these?

Most definetly. The question of the mind/brain issue had been approaching
convergence since the field of cognitive neural science has flowered
again. The interesting twist, one the the neural cognitists haven't really
tackled yet, is including the body in the mind/brain approach. In
retrospect it seems to make a lot of sense. 

Another issue I find extremely interesting is Damasio's attempt to
reconcile "emotions" with "reason" into a single process. Again, taken in
retrospect, this too seems to make a lot of sence. At the least, I find it
an aesthetically pleasing theory. It seems to fit into the way Nature
incorporates older systems into newer ones. (I have felt the partitioning
of emotive thought from objective reasoning was too artificial. Now
Damasio gives voice to my feelings.) 

> - Do you know of additional work that goes in the same direction as that 
>   attempted in this book?

Not specifically. Most of my current reading in the neuroscience field
focuses on either the neurophilosophical (i.e Patricia and Paul
Churchland), or in the neurocomputational area. Damasio's book seems to be
a bit different than this, as he takes a much more, if you will pardon the
phrase, holistic approach by focusing on the higher level (anatomical)
brain systems. Even so, I found his book to be insightful. 


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