From one of the world’s leading neuroscientists: a succinct, illuminating, wholly engaging investigation of how biology, neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence have given us the tools to unlock the mysteries of human consciousness
“One thrilling insight after another … Damasio has succeeded brilliantly in narrowing the gap between body and mind.” –The New York Times Book Review
In recent decades, many philosophers and cognitive scientists have declared the problem of consciousness unsolvable, but Antonio Damasio is convinced that recent findings across multiple scientific disciplines have given us a way to understand consciousness and its significance for human life.
In the forty-eight brief chapters of Feeling & Knowing, and in writing that remains faithful to our intuitive sense of what feeling and experiencing are about, Damasio helps us understand why being conscious is not the same as sensing, why nervous systems are essential for the development of feelings, and why feeling opens the way to consciousness writ large. He combines the latest discoveries in various sciences with philosophy and discusses his original research, which has transformed our understanding of the brain and human behavior.
Here is an indispensable guide to understanding how we experience the world within and around us and find our place in the universe.
Neuroscientist Damasio (Descartes’ Error) sets out to demystify the nature of consciousness in this erudite yet accessible study. He proposes that human consciousness is built upon a series of developments that evolved to ensure homeostasis, the conditions necessary to continue an organism’s life. Homeostasis applies to even the simplest life forms, and Damasio argues accordingly that consciousness is not an exclusively human trait; he grants a type of consciousness to ants and bees, and debunks the exceptionalist view of humankind that “diminishes nonhumans,” which he characterizes as “deeply flawed.” Damasio also explores what consciousness does: in his view, it is the mechanism that allows humans to adapt to threats to their homeostasis, and therefore ensures a greater chance of overcoming those threats. Among the many asides are references to myth and literature (a close reading of Emily Dickinson’s “Poem XLIII” reveals it as “making penetrating observations on the human mind,” for example), an investigation of artificial intelligence and its limitations, and a mention of the Jerome Kern song “I Won’t Dance” (to prove that feelings are “hybrids of mind and body”). Damasio’s investigation of the “hard problem” of consciousness successfully produces a credible theory–one that’s worth checking out. (Mar.)
– Publishers Weekly
From world-famous neuroscientist Damasio (it all started with Descartes’ Error) relies on recent discoveries in neurobiology, psychology, and AI to explain what consciousness really is.
– Library Journal
The renowned neuroscientist delivers a short but definitely not superficial investigation of consciousness, widely but wrongly looked on as mysterious.
Damasio–the chair of neuroscience and professor of psychology, neurology, and philosophy at USC, where he heads the Brain and Creativity Institute–emphasizes that he has no patience with efforts to solve the “hard problem”–i.e., explaining how the mass of neurons in the physical brain generates conscious mental states. His reason: They don’t, at least not by themselves. While the brain plays an indispensable role, it requires input from “non-neural tissues of the organism’s body proper.” At the simplest level, our physical senses provide feelings, and our memory provides context that our sense of self integrates into what we experience as consciousness, which the author defines as “a particular state of mind resulting from a biological process toward which multiple mental events make a contribution,” Feelings, writes Damasio, “provide the mind with facts on the basis of which we know, effortlessly, that whatever else is in the mind, at the moment, also belongs to us. Feelings allow us to experience and become conscious. Homeostatic feelings are the first enablers of consciousness.” Refreshingly for a professor of neuroscience, Damasio writes lucid prose clearly addressed to a popular audience. Even better, the book is concise (180 pages of main text plus notes and references) and helpfully divided into dozens of short chapters–e.g., “The Embarrassment of Viruses,” “Nervous Systems as Afterthoughts of Nature,” “Turning Neural Activity Into Movement and Mind,” “Algorithms in the Kitchen”–many only one or two pages. Make no mistake, however; Damasio is a deep thinker familiar with multiple disciplines, and this is as much a work of philosophy as hard science. Readers familiar with college level psychology and neuroscience will discover rewarding insights, many of which the author covered in his last book, The Strange Order of Things (2018).
Penetrating observations and speculations for scientifically inclined readers.
– Kirkus Reviews
Here the master scientist unites with the silken prose-stylist to produce one thrilling insight after another . . . Damasio has succeeded brilliantly in narrowing the gap between body and mind.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“Damasio’s concise, precise, and lucid prose effectively convey the core insight he has distilled over decades (2): that affect–encompassing, emotions, feelings, motivations, and moods–is central to understanding what we do, how we think, and who we are.”
“Damasio writes lucid prose clearly addressed to a popular audience. Even better, the book is concise and helpfully divided into dozens of short chapters, many only one or two pages. Make no mistake, however; Damasio is a deep thinker familiar with multiple disciplines, and this is as much a work of philosophy as hard science. Readers familiar with college level psychology and neuroscience will discover rewarding insights.”
“So much of what novelists and poets write about touches on the centrality of feeling, especially on the polar opposites of feeling joy or suffering. I think great books, and movies too, touch on humanity so deeply. Their topics are the ones I chose for my research.”
–The Boston Globe
“There is something seductive about the succinct, almost literary, chapters and Damasio’s unabashed wonder at and reverence for the concept of consciousness–although he believes it can be explained using the disciplines known to us, he is no less in awe of its mechanisms. It is clear, for example, that Damasio holds in reverence the fact that our bodies can both experience feelings and modify those feelings within the same vessel. And often, this awe shines through in charming, allusive, whimsical sentences.”
– From the Publisher