A. Damasio's book Descartes' Error

Justin Baker st004131 at brownvm.brown.edu
Wed Apr 19 10:41:13 EST 1995

tvm at fct.unl.pt (Tiago Vaz Maia [gpl]) wrote:
> 	- How speculative do you find the book to be and how far do you believe the
> hypotheses are scientifically grounded?
> 	- Do you believe the book raises interesting questions? Has interesting answers?
> Interesting speculations? None of these?
> 	- Do you know of additional work that goes in the same direction as that attempted in
> this book?

A. Damasio's book is really a step in the right direction for cognitive 
neuroscience.  While the claims about the organization of conscious and
cognitive activity are somewhat speculative, they are not at all far fetched.

Damasio, as mentioned in other posts, tries to first eliminate the dichotomy
between "emotion" or affective response and "cognition" or the decision-making
response.  This idea is not really a novel one, but I think that Damasio
does an especially good job of supporting the reasoning behind this claim.

Damasio impressively connects emotional response to "the state of the
body" and the cognitive response to "the state of the mind" and provides
important reasons why they should have to converge somewhere.  The internal
and external information from ones environment must be fused by some
brain system in order to allow the brain to initiate an appropriate motor
response.  Such is the basis for adaptive behavior in humans.  Such is
also a likely candidate for the directing of attention.

The one aspect of Damasio's book in which I feel that he fell somewhat
short was in the neurophysiology.  While he hypothesizes the existence
of a brain system which performs the said necessary integrations, he
does not support the specific system involved very well.  Notably, not
very much research has been done on such systems.  I claim, however, that 
some very important research has been done which directly supports
Damasio's claims and links them to a specific network of neurons projecting
to localized areas within the striatum, cortex, and limbic structures.

Admittedly, as the nature of Damasio's claims about consciousness and
awareness are somewhat difficult to experimentally show, the research
which I mention is not completely conclusive.

The system of neurons of which I speak is the so-called 
Mesocorticolimbic Dopaminergic Network.  Plenty of research has been
done on the system of neurons, but not a lot of that research has 
made the connections to higher order integration.  I have written a
short (13 page) review of much of this research, with specific consideration
of the connections to higher order integration and regulation, entitled
"The Mesocorticolimbic Dopaminergic Network: Role in the Neuroregulation
of Awareness and Behavior".  If anyone is interested, I can be 
contacted by private email.

Similarly, I posted a note a few weeks ago about another paper by 
Dr. Ayub Ommaya which makes many of the claims that Damasio makes, but
in a somewhat different context.  The paper is entitled: "The 
Neurobiology of Emotion and the Evolution of Mind". This paper can 
be obtained by contacting the author directly at:

Dr. Ayub Ommaya
8006 Glenbrook Road
Bethesda, MD  20814

Justin Baker                                st004131 at brownvm.brown.edu
Brown University                            Justin_Baker at brown.edu

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