Drawing on his experiences with neurological patients affected by brain damage his laboratory is recognized worldwide as the foremost center for the study of such patients , Antonio Damasio shows how the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality.
Descartes' Error Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain
In the course of explaining how emotions and feelings contribute to reason and to adaptive social behavior, Damasio also offers a novel perspective on what emotions and feelings actually are: a direct sensing of our own body states, a link between the body and its survival-oriented regulations, on the one hand, and consciousness, on the other. Descartes' Error leads us to conclude that human organisms are endowed from the very beginning with a spirited passion for making choices, which the social mind can use to build rational behavior.
A Modern Phineas Gage. In Colder Blood. Damasio, M.
Brains evolved, he argues, to look after bodies, to make sure that they survive by constantly monitoring their state and directing them to take any action that might be necessary to keep them safe, stable and in a good state of repair. When anything untoward happens, such as the arrival of a predator, a complex interaction between the brain and the rest of the body occurs which induces an emotional state that prepares the body to flee.
As a result we feel afraid. Emotions and feelings are thus guardians of bodies but have, Damasio says, been curiously neglected by cognitive psychologists. His book is an argument for the scientific treatment of feelings and emotions on the grounds that no one can fully understand how the brain works just by studying the rational or clever things brains do, without at the same time understanding that brains are there to feel and to evaluate for the good of the body.
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He states emphatically that his book is not about consciousness, although certainly consciousness floats in and out of it often enough. Much of the book is about the prefrontal cortex and the role it plays in human life and personality. Damasio starts with an account of the curious history of Phineus Gage, a construction worker engaged in blasting rock to lay railway lines in Vermont.
In , a heavy iron bar was dynamited through his left cheek, travelled up through the front of his brain and exited through the top of his skull. Surprisingly, Gage not only survived this freak accident but at first appeared to have all his faculties intact. He could speak, move normally and his memory was unaffected.
It was only later that it became apparent that his personality had subtly changed. He could rationally decide what to do but it was as though he no longer cared about the outcome. The emotions that normal people associate with various happenings were not there any more. Damasio describes other people, patients of his, who have also had damage to the frontal lobes similar to that experienced by Gage and who have shown the same inability to care about what happens to them.