: Looking for spinoza: joy, sorrow and the feeling brain (9780099421832) : Antonio R Damasio : Books
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Looking For Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow And The Feeling Brain

by Antonio R Damasio
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Product Details

  • Publisher: VINTAGE (RAND)
  • Publishing date: 2004
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780099421832
  • ISBN: 0099421836

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  • The Feeling Function of Consciousness
    From Amazon

    Antonio Damasio presents a comprehensive understanding of emotions and the feelings by which they are experienced by the conscious mind in "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain." He outlines the basic issue in the first two pages of the book as: "Feelings of pain or pleasure or some quality in between are the bedrock of our minds. We often fail to notice this simple reality because the mental images of the objects and events that surround us, along with the images of the words and sentences that describe them, use up so much of our overburden attention. ....Of all the mental phenomena we can describe, feelings and their essential ingredients - pain and pleasure - are the least understood in biological and neurobiological terms. .. We doctor our feelings with pills, drinks, health spas, workouts and spiritual exercises, but neither the public nor science have yet come to grips with what feelings are, biologically speaking" Neuroscientists are pushing the envelope today towards a modern science of the conscious mind and its embodied brain that makes this possible. Progress towards a science of consciousness results when neuroscientists are able to incorporate useful concepts from earlier philosophers. Bernard Barrs (In the Theater of Consciousness) refers to theater metaphors that date as far back as Plato. Walter Freeman (How Brains Make Up their Minds) finds St. Thomas Aquinas' concept of intentionality essential for understanding human nature and their meaning making with symbols. Damasio finds that Spinoza (1632-1677) has important things to say about feelings, passions, and emotions - and a modern ethic of virtue based on the mutual needs of members of a group for self-preservation realized by caring and compassionate acts. I read "Looking for Spinoza" after I read Damasio's later book "The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness." Spinoza has things to say about the philosophy and psychology of consciousness that have influenced Damasio's thinking in a beneficial way. In glad that Antonia Damasio took the time to share his interest in Spinoza's contributions with others, and I found it a very worthwhile read. I look forward to Damasio's upcoming book "The Conscious Brain: Facts and Consequences" with great interest. A science of consciousness needs to account for the rational and irrational mental contents of consciousness. Feeling as a rational valuing function of top-down judgment (in Jungian terms), feelings known in direct conscious experience (bottom up sensation perception in Jungian terms), and emotions need to be properly accounted for in a model of conscious mind. Damasio's contributions make this possible.

  • looking for spinoza
    From Amazon

    This is the first book, in my experience, which seriously discusses the mental states like emotion,feeling,mind, consciousness and self in relation to neuro science. It is very enjoyable to read. Damasio puts the arguements in favour and against very clearly. Thoughts and language are, I feel, not discussed adequately. I admire his effort to interpret Spinoza to understand the mental experience. Readers might benefit by looking at Sankaracari's (8th cent - south Indian philosopher)Bramha Sutra which similarly states that the world around us is real but we don't see the exact replica; it is only an interpretation

  • A more personal Damasio
    From Amazon

    In this book Damasio gets much more personal describing what constitutes probably at least a part of his personal philosophy. As the title suggests, it is deeply rooted in Spinoza's view on ethics. The book is more philosophy than neuroscience I would say. Actually he is looking for evidence and concepts from neuroscience that might support Spinozas view. This leads to some interesting suggestions about humanness and how to lead ones life. For sure the book is less technical than Descartes Error, and more user friendly. A last point to mention: Spinozas philosophy has inspired, in part, cognitive psychotherapy, which paid attention to findings in neuroscience through its development. The book really is a treat for those who like the way of thinking of cognitive psychotherapy.

  • Part science, part philosophy, part character journey
    From Amazon

    This is three books in one. I liked one part a lot and was only mildly interested in the other two. Dr. Damasio is a neurologist and one of the world's foremost experts regarding the brain. The part of the book that is the science of the brain is deeply engaging. Another third of the book is an exposition about the philosophical nature of mankind and existence from the perspective of (not well known) Spinoza. Lastly, the book is a character journey of modern day Damasio finding connectedness to historical Spinoza. I'm less interested in history or philosophy, so a large part of the book I "got through" to get to the interesting parts of neuroscience weaved throughout.

  • A joy to read
    From Amazon

    "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain" (Harcourt, 2003) is first-class philosophy and neuroscience book from a first-rate neuroscientist. Antonio Damasio is currently the David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology and Neurology as well as the Director of the USC College Brain and Creativity Institute in Southern California. He opens the book with his mission statement: "to understand feelings" (p. 7). Included in the first chapter are three wonderful drawings by Hanna Damasio who is the Dana Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology and Neurology at the Univ. of Southern California. The subject of chapter two is 'emotions' and opens with the question of whether emotions allow us to adapt to the environment? Dr. Damasio welcomes the question and lets us know that the goal of having emotions remains a "mystery" (p. 78). But thanks to the excellent scholarship of Damasio, the final cause and purpose of an emotion becomes more clear: to "provide a natural means for the brain and mind to evaluate the environment within and around the organism, and respond... adaptively" (p. 54). Damasio kindly gives us a "manageable description" (p. 64) of how an emotion proceeds from (i) a "single stimulus" toward (ii) the "recall of other related stimuli," then (iii) to "modifications" of the stimulus by a person's awareness and "cognitives process", and then finally (iv) to the "sustaining", "amplification" and "abatement" of the emotion by one's personal thoughts and cognitive processes. This "manageable description" of an emotion is valuable for three reasons. First, the four-step process is natural, for Damasio writes, "Our organisms gravitate toward a 'good' result of their own accord" (p. 51). Second, the clear description of an emotion above allows us to arrive at a clear definition of a "mood", which refers "to the sustaining of a given emotion over long periods of time" (p. 43). Lastly, Damasio's manageable description shows us our ethical responsibility to think about ways to sustain pleasurable emotions and to remove painful emotions. Aristotle writes, "Every passion and every action is accompanied by pleasure and pain, for this reason also virtue will be concerned with pleasures and pains" (Nichomachean Ethics, 2.3). Damasio agrees and writes, "We can simply use sheer willpower and just say no. Sometimes" (p. 52). A person's cognitive awareness can sustain and amplify pleasurable emotions and has the power to abate and reduce painful emotions. And we learn how use our cognitive power by making mistakes, by observing mature people and by finding time to think about the stimulus we are processing emotionally will lead to virtues. The subject of chapter three is 'feelings' and introduces the reader to the question of whether a feeling is an awareness "of varied body changes?" (p. 121) Damasio accepts the question even though he hopes the reader acknowledges that his solution is a rough draft. "I caution that the emergence of mental images from neural patterns is not a fully understood process" (p. 88). Damasio then responds to the question affirmatively and writes that "feelings arise from the neural patterns exhibited in body maps" (p. 123). Thanks to "nerve endings" in "every region of the body" (p. 124), a person may become aware of various changes in his body and detect the "intimate functional state of that living flesh" (p. 128). Like the excellent "manageable description" of emotions in chapter two, Damasio reveals the "basic processes that permit feeling" (p. 109). To begin with, (i) a person must have a body with a "nervous system" and the "means to represent that body inside itself." Then (ii) a person's nervous system must "be able to map body structures" and to "transform the neural patterns... into... images" (p. 110). Next, (iii) a person must become aware of the body structures as reported by the nervous system in sets of images, although, as Damasio admits, this is a delicate step: "The relation between feeling and consciousness is tricky" (p. 110). Lastly, (iv) a person's nervous system must be able to bring about and "evoke" feelings about various "configurations of the body state" (p. 132). The curious thing about the above four-step process is that it is taking place 100% of the time. Damasio writes, "At every moment of our lives the brain's body-sensing regions receive signals with which they can construct maps of the ongoing body state" (p. 112). 'Feelings' are the subject of chapter four which addresses the question of whether feelings help us to manage our lives? Damasio approves of the question and warns the reader that his solution is a rough draft. "The foregoing, I note again, are ideas whose merits remain to be assessed" (p. 169). Damasio then addresses the question and answers affirmatively, "Feelings improve and amplify the process of managing life" (p. 178). The final cause and goal of a feeling is to increase "the efficiency" of a person's "reasoning process and making it speedier" (p. 148). For example, the feeling of joy signifies an "optimal physiological coordination and smooth running of the operations of life" (p. 137) which enables a person to decide how to sustain the smooth running operations. Thus, feelings assist a person's decision making activity by steering his "behavior in the proper direction" (p. 150) and by showing that his "life governing processes are either fluid or strained" (p. 130). Damasio has seen many patients who had both problems with becoming aware of their body structures and problems with making decisions. In "Descartes' Error," Damasio clearly demonstrates the relationship between "impaired reasoning/decision making and impaired emotion/feeling" (D.E., p. 60). And Damasio writes in "Looking for Spinoza," "I suspect that the downward spiral of addicts' lives begins as a result of the distortions of feelings and the ensuing decision impairments" (p. 152). In summary, feelings are "neural maps" in the form of images about a person's "body states" (p. 176) which allow the person to make good decisions that promote the "survival," "balance" and "well-being" of life (p. 167). Chapter five opens with a whole new topic and asks whether the mind is dependent upon the brain? Damasio consents to provide an answer as long as the reader remembers this will be a rough draft. He writes, "I venture, and am ready to admit I may be wrong" (p. 210); and "Others may disagree with my interpretation" (p. 216). Damasio then responds to the question and writes, "And so, perhaps for most scientists working on mind and brain, the fact that the mind depends closely on the workings of the brain is no longer a question" (p. 190). And he quotes Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) who writes, "The human mind is capable of perceiving a great number of things, and is so in proportion as its body is capable of receiving a great number of impressions" (The Ethics, 2.15, p. 212). An excellent bibliography for students who are interested in this fascinating topic on the mind's relation to the body is kindly provided by Damasio (p. 322, no. 2). And I enjoy reading clear thoughts of Damasio who is an expert neuroscientist who addresses this mysterious and philosophical question. However, there are three possible misconceptions about the mind in chapter five that I wish to address here. First, Damasio writes that "the mind arises from or in biological tissue -- nerve cells..." (p. 190). This seems to be a misconception since the mind is not physical and cannot arise from physical causes, such as a body with a nervous system. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) writes, "[I]n the case of a loud sound we cannot hear easily immediately after, or in the case of a bright colour or a powerful odour we cannot see or smell, but in the case of mind thought about an object that is highly intelligible renders it more and not less able afterwards to think objects that are less intelligible: the reason is that while the faculty of sensation is dependent upon the body, mind is separable from it" (De Anima, 3.4). Our ears get tired after hearing a loud jet engine and our eyes need a break after being in the sun for a long time. But the mind does not get tired after studying philosophy and does not need a break after understanding the wisdom in chapter five. The second possible misconception is the belief that "ideas... are, in one way or another, brain representations of the body." This is appears to be a misconception since the brain does not produce ideas. John Poinsot (1589-1644), a Spanish philosopher from Madrid, writes, "For the signification of something cannot be perceived, unless an order to another is perceived; but to know order is to know a relation and comparison, which the internal sense of a brute animals is not able to know, much less the external sense" (Treatise on Signs, trans. 1989, p. 210). Brute animals have brains and neural processes but do not have ideas, since brute animals do not detect relations and comparisons, and since they do not change their diets as human animals do. To illustrate, a kangaroo knows who its mother is but does not know she is a 'parent', a 'vertebrate' or a 'chordate'. The third possible misconception is that there is a "neurobiological level of operations that also include what we call mind and consciousness" (p. 206). This is seems to be a misconception since the mind is not physical and ideas are not caused by the nervous system. To illustrate, common nouns are ideas that signify a class of people, places or things and are abstract productions of an abstract mind. And if ideas were fabricated by a physical brain, then every living things with a brain would have grammar books. But this is clearly not the case, since only humans have grammar books. As a result, all three myths show how it is false to conclude that "the brain managed to create the mind" (p. 4). Chapter Six is an excellent review of the life of Baruch Spinoza. Students who are not familiar with Spinoza, "a decisive engine behind the development of the Enlightment" (p. 257), will enjoy reading this chapter, since Damasio describes Spinoza's room and library in Amsterdam, relates the horrible curses given by unreasonable Jewish leaders that tragically and unfairly fell upon Baruch, and carefully explains "silicosis" (p. 261) which is the respiratory ailment -- caused by dust from grinding glass -- that killed Spinoza when he was 44 years old. And three more beautiful drawings by Hanna Damasio are included. Chapter seven asks the question of whether Spinoza's view of happiness is a healthy view of happiness? Damasio approves of the question and writes, "Today, the new understanding of the machinery of emotion and feeling makes Spinoza's goal all the more achievable" (p. 275). Here Damasio gives an excellent over-view of the philosophy of Spinoza and compares it to that of Johann Goethe (1749-1832), William James (1843-1910), the "adorable genius" (p. 281) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955). The goal of a human person, according to Spinoza, is to gain "some clarity about the meaning of one's life" (p. 268). We do that by clarifying our feelings about the things in our lives, such as "love, family, friendships, and good health" along with one's "job", "pleasures and the accumulation of possessions" (p. 268). All these things trigger our emotions, change our body states, give us ideas and concepts and challenge us to make efficient decisions. Damasio writes, "Spinoza's solution hinges on the mind's power over the emotional process" (p. 275). If this is the genuine solution to human life, then Damasio's Looking for Spinoza is the perfect book for life. But there are two objections to Spinoza's plan for happiness. First, "Spinoza's solution works best in isolated self-centeredness, away from human intimacy" (p. 278). Second, James noticed the "bubbliness" of Spinoza and concluded that Spinoza failed to see the dark side of human life. To the first objection, Damasio writes, "Why should Aristotle's wisdom not prevail here? Aristotle insisted that... health, wealth, love, and friendship are part of contentment" (p. 278). I totally agree. Happiness, for Aristotle, involved riches, power, fame, pleasure beauty and honor in moderate levels. He writes that a person "cannot be supremely happy without external goods" (Nich. Ehics 10.8). Damasio responds to the second objection and writes, "I do not believe Spinoza had any difficulty in seeing the darkness in nature, having experienced its effects himself" (p. 281). It would be hard for anyone to remain bubbly after receiving the unloving and unfair curses that Spinoza received from Jewish leaders. Damasio closes his wonderful book with a description of happiness that he bases on the philosophy of Spinoza and on the medical care of his neurological patients. "This path includes a life of the spirit that seeks understanding with enthusiasm and some sort of discipline as a source of joy... The practice of this life also assumes a combative attitude based on the belief that part of humanity's tragic condition can be alleviated." This is profound, in my humble opinion. According to Damasio, a person may become happy by becoming enthusiastic about a subject, such as science and art, becoming trained in the subject, and using one's enthusiasm and training to solve problems and to help people. Damasio writes, "I believe Spinoza was entirely on the mark in his view that joy and its variants lead to greater functional perfection" (p. 285). And I believe Damasio is completely right-on since Aristotle writes, "For an activity is intensified by its proper pleasure, since each class of things is better judged of and brought to precision by those who engage in the activity with pleasure; e.g. it is those who enjoy geometrical thinking that become geometers and grasp the various propositions better, and, similarly, those who are fond of music or of building, and so on, make progress in their proper function by enjoying it" (Nich. Ethics, 10.5). If we do things with joy and pleasure, then we do them better, more precisely and with "greater functional perfection." And when we are doing things more precisely and better, we can truly help others. I can honestly tell that Damasio had pleasure writing Looking for Spinoza and felt joy when making a bridge between Spinoza's seventeenth century philosophy and his own twenty-first century neuroscience.

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