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Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain

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The last in a trilogy of books that investigates the philosophical and scientific foundations of human life   Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life's work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biolo The last in a trilogy of books that investigates the philosophical and scientific foundations of human life   Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life's work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biological roots of what we feel remain a mystery. Leading neuroscientist Antonio Damasio—whose earlier books explore rational behavior and the notion of the self—rediscovers a man whose work ran counter to all the thinking of his day, pairing Spinoza's insights with his own innovative scientific research to help us understand what we're made of, and what we're here for.


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The last in a trilogy of books that investigates the philosophical and scientific foundations of human life   Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life's work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biolo The last in a trilogy of books that investigates the philosophical and scientific foundations of human life   Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life's work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biological roots of what we feel remain a mystery. Leading neuroscientist Antonio Damasio—whose earlier books explore rational behavior and the notion of the self—rediscovers a man whose work ran counter to all the thinking of his day, pairing Spinoza's insights with his own innovative scientific research to help us understand what we're made of, and what we're here for.

30 review for Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jon Stout

    Inspired by Descartes' Error, and interested in a neurologist's interest in philosophers, I sought out Looking for Spinoza. It rewarded me in several ways, first by extending my understanding of how emotions as a biological concept are continuous with feelings as a conscious, mental phenomenon, and second by providing a guided, personal investigation into the life of Bento-Baruch-Benedict Spinoza. Damasio has a lot to say about emotions and the structure of the brain, some of it exhaustingly deta Inspired by Descartes' Error, and interested in a neurologist's interest in philosophers, I sought out Looking for Spinoza. It rewarded me in several ways, first by extending my understanding of how emotions as a biological concept are continuous with feelings as a conscious, mental phenomenon, and second by providing a guided, personal investigation into the life of Bento-Baruch-Benedict Spinoza. Damasio has a lot to say about emotions and the structure of the brain, some of it exhaustingly detailed. But the key area for me was in matching what I might introspectively think and feel, with Damasio's experimentally substantiated knowledge of the routes through the neural pathways that electrical and chemical signals follow. One example would lie in Damasio's distinction between emotions and feelings, which I had previously taken to be roughly synonomous. Damasio says that emotions are instinctual reactions that all animals have as a way of coping with environmental stimuli. They are not necessarily conscious. But feelings, according to Damasio, are our conscious perceptions of our bodily states as we are having emotions. Thus a worm can react with alarm, but we conscious beings feel our bodies change when we are alarmed, and we can be alerted to consider why we are alarmed and what we want to do about it. The less theoretical and more personally appealing part of the book is Damasio's personal quest to trace out the life of Spinoza, whose philosophy, Damasio believes, anticipates many of his own findings and conclusions. I love Damasio's drive to fit his scientific work into a philosophical overview, which is both theoretical and personal. Damasio is originally Portuguese, and I can't help feeling that he is driven in part by a sense of kinship with a man who might have shared some of his cultural experiences, albeit separated by centuries. Much of the research on Spinoza is in Portuguese, showing some intensive effort. Spinoza was a Portuguese Jew whose family fled the inquisition for a relatively tolerant Holland. There Spinoza participated in the Jewish community, but eventually was alienated from it, because he had attained views of his own, characteristic of the Enlightenment. Thus he moved from the Portuguese "Bento" to the Hebrew "Baruch" to the Latin "Benedictus" (all meaning "blessed", like "Barack" from Swahili and Arabic, I can't help adding). Spinoza's odyssey is inspiring, as is Damasio's obvious admiration of it, and his own efforts to model his own life as a scientist on a comparable philosophical framework. As I get older (smile), I love it when science and philosophy get personal.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    This book is, by turns, interesting and frustrating. Damasio knows his stuff when it comes to the details of neuroscience (which is to be expected because this is his field) and the details he supplies are fascinating. However, he overreaches himself when he tries to fit all these separate details into his one-size-fits-all model of how emotions and feelings interact together in a living brain; everything becomes ‘evidence’ for his overarching theory. Just because we have the one word ‘feelings’ This book is, by turns, interesting and frustrating. Damasio knows his stuff when it comes to the details of neuroscience (which is to be expected because this is his field) and the details he supplies are fascinating. However, he overreaches himself when he tries to fit all these separate details into his one-size-fits-all model of how emotions and feelings interact together in a living brain; everything becomes ‘evidence’ for his overarching theory. Just because we have the one word ‘feelings’ does not necessarily mean that joy, sorrow, envy, hate, happiness and the like all work the same way or have the same origins. Also he is often unclear as to whether the processes he describes are operating at a conscious or unconscious level. Then at one point in the book he almost implies that cells themselves are conscious. When it comes to evolution he again takes things too far with the equivalent of ‘just so’ stories to describe how emotions and feelings arose. The parallel thread in the book concerns the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Spinoza. Many interesting and fascinating details of his life and work are presented, but Damasio again tries to shoehorn these ideas into his own overblown model of brain function. Spinoza’s thoughts are fascinating but of course he knew nothing of neurobiology, his ideas need to be understood in relation to his own time, in context with the philosophers that came before him and those writing alongside him. Overall, the book’s language is also rather dense and too flowery. On the whole, if you have time to spare, you will find some interesting facts here, both about how the brain works and about Spinoza. However, be prepared to wade through pages of overblown pet theories that the evidence just doesn’t support. You may well find the same information more clearly presented elsewhere.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Melinda Olivas

    I found the book “Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain” by Antonio Damasio an interesting look at the relationship between emotions, feelings, and the brain. I enjoyed reading about Damasio’s almost obsession-like fascination with the philosopher Spinoza. Damasio found Spinoza’s beliefs about feelings, passions, and emotions influential and relevant to his work as a neurologist. I also enjoyed that Damasio included a bit of philosophical flavor throughout the whole of this bo I found the book “Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain” by Antonio Damasio an interesting look at the relationship between emotions, feelings, and the brain. I enjoyed reading about Damasio’s almost obsession-like fascination with the philosopher Spinoza. Damasio found Spinoza’s beliefs about feelings, passions, and emotions influential and relevant to his work as a neurologist. I also enjoyed that Damasio included a bit of philosophical flavor throughout the whole of this book. As a current doctoral student in clinical psychology, I found Damasio’s unique perspective on emotions and feelings interesting, though debatable. I read the book with an open mind yet could not help but think of my clients as their difficulties with feelings, affect, and emotion regulation are relevant to the topic. Damasio believes that emotions are a person’s external or observable expressions of feelings, and that feelings are the hidden, in-the-mind, non-observable experiences. He believes that emotions come before feelings which implies ideas such as one making a facial expression that typically implies “happiness”, then their internal state will also be happy. I find this idea hard to grasp because of the simplicity it suggests regarding emotion regulation. If being “happy” was this easy there would be little need for therapists or clinicians in general. On the other hand, some psychotherapy orientations, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, lend themselves to the idea that one’s internal experience of feelings are inter-dependent on one’s behaviors and thoughts. If one agrees with Damasio’s perspective, it would be interesting to see how a depressed client is affected by “pretending” to be happy. A section that I also enjoyed reading and find applicable to my work as a clinician is that of joy and sorrow. Although Damasio breaks down these two feelings into neurological processes, he does talk about how a person’s choices are influenced by their past experience of the joy or sorrow feeling that they associate it with. Damasio wrote, “A gut feeling can suggest that you refrain from a choice that, in the past, has led to negative consequences, and it can do so ahead of your own regular reasoning telling you precisely the same ‘do not’ ” (147). Many clients seek therapy for problems they have related to attachment or interpersonal skills. These problems can be explained and understood in light of Damasio’s belief because they have dealt with similar situations and had negative consequences in their past. For example, if a person has been hurt as a result of an unfaithful partner and finds they can no longer trust people, it is their “gut feeling” that reminds them not to make the same bad choice and they find themselves alone and uhappy. Damasio suggests that this “gut feeling” or “hunches…steer our behavior in the proper direction” (150). Psychotherapy is a very beneficial and helpful resource for exploring, processing, and challenging the negative “gut feelings”. I found this book to be interesting, applicable to clinical psychology, and, for the most part, easy to read. I liked his style of writing, was entertained with his fascination with Spinoza, and inspired by his passion for neuroscience.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Randal Samstag

    For a devastating critique of this book see: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/23/boo.... Quoted from the review, by philosopher of mind, Colin McGinn: "I have two things to say about this theory: it is unoriginal, and it is false. As anyone even remotely familiar with this topic is aware, what Damasio presents here is known as the ''James-Lange'' theory of emotion, after the two psychologists, William James and Carl G. Lange, who thought of it independently in the 1880's. Not once does Damasio refe For a devastating critique of this book see: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/23/boo.... Quoted from the review, by philosopher of mind, Colin McGinn: "I have two things to say about this theory: it is unoriginal, and it is false. As anyone even remotely familiar with this topic is aware, what Damasio presents here is known as the ''James-Lange'' theory of emotion, after the two psychologists, William James and Carl G. Lange, who thought of it independently in the 1880's. Not once does Damasio refer to it by this name, and he makes only very cursory reference to James's version of the theory. He generally writes as if he were advancing a startling discovery, mere hints of which, with the benefit of hindsight, can be extracted from Spinoza and James. In fact, the theory is a standard chestnut of psychology textbooks, a staple of old-style behaviorist psychology, with its emphasis on outer behavior at the expense of inner feeling. The errors of the theory are chiefly those of exaggeration. While it is a truism that whistling a happy tune can improve your mood so that external actions can initiate a change of emotional state, it by no means follows that feelings play no causal role in the production of behavior. And it is quite clear that an emotion can shape the course of a person's actions over time, as when someone stays in bed all day because he feels depressed. We do often cry because we are sad -- even though the crying can work to augment the feeling. There is causal interplay between feelings and their bodily expression, rather than a one-way dependence. The fact, cited by Damasio, that a bodily fear response can precede a conscious feeling of fear does not show that once the feeling is present it has no causal control over behavior -- and it clearly does, as with fleeing and hiding. What about the idea that an emotion is a bodily perception? Suppose I am delighted that my son has become a doctor. I may have various sensations in my body that express this emotion -- say, lightness in my limbs and a warm feeling in my viscera. But the object of my delight is not my body; it is my son's success. My bodily sensations are directed to my body and my emotion is directed to my son. Therefore my emotion cannot be identical to my bodily sensations -- for the two have different objects. This refutes the James-Lange theory. As Wittgenstein remarks in his classic discussion of this theory, the horribleness of my grief when someone I love dies cannot be explained as the horribleness of the sensations I feel in my body. It results, rather, from the horribleness of what my grief is about; my bodily sensations may not be particularly horrible in themselves. Nor do we try to assuage someone's grief by attending to her bodily sensations; instead we talk about what she is grieving over. The James-Lange theory fails because it ignores what philosophers call the intentionality of emotion -- that is, what emotions are about, their representational content, which are generally things outside the body. The theory tries to reduce an emotion to its sensory bodily symptoms, but these symptoms have the wrong kind of intentionality: the state of the body, not the state of the external world." I would never take this guy (Damasio) seriously.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    In Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain Antonio Damasio uses neurological and physiological markers to delineate the process of emotions and feelings. Then, he further integrates these scientific findings with social studies. This in and of itself was quite impressive and perhaps demonstrates the fields (e.g., what individuals call the soft sciences and hard sciences) coming together and taking a different integrative perspective of how mental health can be conceptualized. Of In Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain Antonio Damasio uses neurological and physiological markers to delineate the process of emotions and feelings. Then, he further integrates these scientific findings with social studies. This in and of itself was quite impressive and perhaps demonstrates the fields (e.g., what individuals call the soft sciences and hard sciences) coming together and taking a different integrative perspective of how mental health can be conceptualized. Of particular interest to me was when Damasio indicated that problems in the environment prompt self-preserving behavior. This perspective is very much in line with behaviorist thinking. However, on a more psychodynamic note, it makes me think about how personality becomes engrained, especially in the case of individuals with personality disorders. It makes me think about how crucial early relationships with significant others are. For example, an individual with antisocial personality disorder lacks empathy for others, because the individual more than likely experienced abuse, neglect, modeling of antisocial behavior in early relationships with significant others, and/or had a parent with an inability to set healthy boundaries (e.g., overindulgent parent). Conceptualizing psychopathology from the perspective that most behavior is aimed at self-preservation helps me conceptualize clients that may be difficult to work with from a different, perhaps more empathic, perspective. Additionally, conceptualizing all behavior as self-preserving behavior also makes one aware of the behaviors that our client’s pull from us and how therapy can serve as a problem or change in the environment that may prompt our clients to change their behaviors. Also of clinical relevance was Damasio’s conceptualization that feelings serve as information about internal states of what is happening within the individual. This reminds me of client’s that wish that uncomfortable feelings would dissipate and go through quite a number of measures to ignore, avoid, and not feel unwanted feelings. The amount of energy that they expend in that process at times is significant. In the avoidance of unwanted feelings sometimes more emotional damage emanates rather than in accepting feelings as indicators that something in going on within. Perhaps, offering a metaphor of an unpleasant feeling being akin to a physical marker of pain (e.g., a person cutting their finger and blood the pain resulting from the experience) would help our clients come to accept some of their unpleasant feelings. The conceptualizing of the emotional healing process within the framework of a physical injury may also help our clients more holistically integrate and accept their feelings. Overall, the book was full of food for thought. It was filled with clinical relevance and is worthy of keeping on a shelf as a book that could be re-visited for varying purposes (e.g., a clearer understanding of how neurology and psychopathology emanate in different cases, in helping conceptualizing certain clients, and so forth).

  6. 5 out of 5

    cole

    If you buy the Enlightenment belief that scientific truth can be obtained and man made better for it, then take my review with a grain of salt. If you are convinced of the fact that using the terms "bad" and "human nature" in the same sentence is pretty acceptable, you won't like this too much. Damasio's science seems interesting enough and does pose some engaging questions. However, there are far too many condescending logical leaps for me to stomach. The low point came with the rather absurd s If you buy the Enlightenment belief that scientific truth can be obtained and man made better for it, then take my review with a grain of salt. If you are convinced of the fact that using the terms "bad" and "human nature" in the same sentence is pretty acceptable, you won't like this too much. Damasio's science seems interesting enough and does pose some engaging questions. However, there are far too many condescending logical leaps for me to stomach. The low point came with the rather absurd statement that placing self-preservation and it's biological mechanisms at the center of human ethical systems was in no way problematic, as if that hadn't been the ostensible justification for a horde of repugnant choices, national efforts and reform programs throughout history. This was far too much Nietzsche in sheeps clothing and far too little virtue. As a classmate noted, the parts about Spinoza are interesting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Looking for Spinoza is essentially two books wishing it could be one. The first half covers the neurobiology of emotional life. Damasio lays out an interesting overview for a lay reader of how the brain operates as a self regulatory system, connecting this self-regulation to emotions and feelings. The second half is essentially a slim biography of Spinoza. Unfortunately, for a man whose major life events consisted of excommunication, writing philosophy and grinding lenses until he died, there is Looking for Spinoza is essentially two books wishing it could be one. The first half covers the neurobiology of emotional life. Damasio lays out an interesting overview for a lay reader of how the brain operates as a self regulatory system, connecting this self-regulation to emotions and feelings. The second half is essentially a slim biography of Spinoza. Unfortunately, for a man whose major life events consisted of excommunication, writing philosophy and grinding lenses until he died, there isn't much that Damasio could add to our knowledge of Spinoza. Damasio clearly wants to do more with Spinoza's philosophy and Neurobiology, he just does not have the command of the philosophy to pull it off.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Divya Palevski

    I liked this book but found some parts weary to read. When Damasio writes about the neurology of the feeling brain , it is easy to assemble the author's love for his subject. However, found his sentence structuring elaborately wounded ( I had to read some sentences twice) and repetitive. But that being said, his monolistic view of mind/ brain and body and his reverence towards Baruch Spinoza is admirable. I believe in Monolism and the idea of feelings variably related to the homeostasis of the b I liked this book but found some parts weary to read. When Damasio writes about the neurology of the feeling brain , it is easy to assemble the author's love for his subject. However, found his sentence structuring elaborately wounded ( I had to read some sentences twice) and repetitive. But that being said, his monolistic view of mind/ brain and body and his reverence towards Baruch Spinoza is admirable. I believe in Monolism and the idea of feelings variably related to the homeostasis of the body makes great sense.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Charles Daney

    The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes pleasant, elegant prose. Unfortunately, aside from that, this book, first published in 2003, is somewhat of a disappointment. The main concern of his scientific career has been to understand the mechanisms underlying "emotions" and "feelings". He has given good accounts of this subject in two previous books: Descartes' Error (1994) and The Feeling of What Happens (1999). What is good about Damasio's writing, especially in the earlier books, is that he do The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes pleasant, elegant prose. Unfortunately, aside from that, this book, first published in 2003, is somewhat of a disappointment. The main concern of his scientific career has been to understand the mechanisms underlying "emotions" and "feelings". He has given good accounts of this subject in two previous books: Descartes' Error (1994) and The Feeling of What Happens (1999). What is good about Damasio's writing, especially in the earlier books, is that he doesn't do much dumbing down of the material, by avoiding technical terms, to appeal to the "general reader", as too many "science writers" do. The book reviewed here, however, doesn't cover the subject in as much depth as the previous books, and in particular it doesn't very well illuminate the distinction - which the author insists upon - between "emotion" and "feeling". It appears that Damasio wanted to write on what interested him about Spinoza, but didn't have enough to fill a whole book. So the first five chapters (about 3/4 of the total text) are devoted mostly to the neuropsychological issues, while the final two chapters are on Spinoza, and are connected only tenuously with the rest of the book. Damasio has championed the idea that human consciousness and other psychological phenomena - emotions and feelings especially - aren't rooted primarily in the brain, but instead are shaped by physiological processes going on throughout the whole body. This may be surprising to some, but it's not an especially radical idea. It makes good evolutionary sense. An animal's main evolutionary objective is to be good at survival and reproduction. Emotions (at least in animals with more than a rudimentary nervous system) exist to motivate an individual to seek things that favor survival and reproduction (shelter, food, sex), and to avoid threatening things (excessive heat or cold, predators, reproductive rivals). They seem to form a bridge between the sensory and motor systems. In animals with a developed cerebral cortex, like humans, emotions work partly through cognition. Note that the words "emotion" and "motivation" share the same linguistic root: the Indo-European MEUh-. Emotions, whether conscious or not, are what motivates animal behavior. Emotions in general and feelings in particular allow humans to make critical decisions quickly, when the situation requires that. It seems unlikely that inhabitants of the planet Vulcan, like Mr. Spock of Star Trek, could have successfully evolved without the help of emotions. (Though perhaps they became able to suppress them at a later stage.) I wish Damasio had been clearer in this book about his distinction between emotions and feelings. Are things like "fear", "pleasure", "shame", etc. emotions or feelings? Most people, I think, might use either term for them. But for Damasio, it seems, an emotion is represented in the brain only in certain specific regions, and may or may not appear in consciousness. For instance, a person (who is capable of consciousness) may have a "je ne sais quoi" sensation of fear on encountering an animal or object or situation with which the individual has had a negative experience in the past, even if that has been forgotten. The person will still avoid the particular stimulus without giving much thought as to why. A feeling, on the other hand, enters consciousness and additionally involves parts of the brain related to deliberate behavior. ("I like (or don't like) this whatever and want to remain (or not remain) exposed to it.") Naturally, if an animal doesn't have "consciousness" in the human sense - a worm, say - the animal can still be said to have "emotions" if it is motivated to approach or avoid certain things, for its own benefit. At any rate, that's how I interpret Damasio's thesis, and if I've misinterpreted it, a lack of clarity may be the reason. As far as the two chapters on Spinoza are concerned, they may be the most interesting part of the book in spite of their brevity. He lived from 1632 to 1677, entirely in Holland. This was mostly before what historians consider the "Age of Enlightenment", which flowered in the 18th century. Spinoza, however, is generally considered one of its earliest avatars. He was born into a moderately prosperous Jewish family, but eventually renounced both his material and religious heritage. Temperamentally he was reclusive, yet congenial with others in his limited social sphere. He came to reject both Judaism and Christianity, evidently for both philosophical reasons (of which see below) as well as revulsion at the irrationality and cruelty of both religious traditions. Fortunately for Spinoza, he lived in Holland, which at the time featured the least intolerant variety of Christianity. Nevertheless, his main philosophical work, the Ethics, was published only posthumously - and was almost immediately banned by both secular and religious (Jewish, Catholic, and Calvinist) authorities because of its "heretical" philosophy. Later leading philosophers of the Enlightenment (e. g. Locke, Hume, Leibniz, and Kant) apparently studied the Ethics - but were fearful of acknowledging its influence on them. At least Spinoza managed to escape the fates of other "heretics" like Giordano Bruno and Galileo. If you're interested in much discussion of Spinoza's philosophy, the present book is disappointing on this too, for at least three reasons. First, Damasio alludes in passing only to a few places in Spinoza's writing that deal with the psychology of emotions and feelings. Although he suggests that Spinoza foreshadowed current research findings, Spinoza's musings on these issues, however prescient, can't be much more than lucky guesses about what neuroscience now knows. Second, Damasio is wise not to deal at length with Spinoza's take on philosophical questions like "free will" and the "mind-body" problem. That's because the occupation of philosophers is to argue endlessly about issues that can only be satisfactorily resolved by scientific investigation. Third, Spinoza's opinions on religion aren't crystal clear. It's true that Spinoza was perhaps the most noteworthy Western philosopher of the preceding 1500 or so years to flatly reject dogma of the polluted swamp of traditional religion. However, arguments (among philosophers who care about such things) are still going on as to whether Spinoza's opinions actually represented atheism, agnosticism, "panentheism", or "pantheism" (which has generally been attributed to Spinoza).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jorge Hurtado

    I didn't know the author before, but now I admire him. Antonio Damasio is not just a scientist, he is also a humanist; he is a philosopher. He understands the deep of what he talks about and never claims to have the truth (as others claim) of difficult issues such as feelings, consciousness, moral values,... As the tittle suggests, the author talks about how emotions work, from a neurobiological perspective, and admires the evolutionary process that had to take place in order to reach a point of I didn't know the author before, but now I admire him. Antonio Damasio is not just a scientist, he is also a humanist; he is a philosopher. He understands the deep of what he talks about and never claims to have the truth (as others claim) of difficult issues such as feelings, consciousness, moral values,... As the tittle suggests, the author talks about how emotions work, from a neurobiological perspective, and admires the evolutionary process that had to take place in order to reach a point of complexity able to host those feelings. He let you see how emotions are the key component of humanity, the main thing which makes us do something, instead of nothing. A scientist of today would stop there, and limit himself, but he goes further. He speculates about a moral system based on those feelings, a moral system which should optimize survival and well-being of humanity. That's when he talks about Spinoza, interpreting his philosophy and ethic with the scientific knowledge of today, realising the level of truth that Spinoza reached thanks to his life, culture, family, friends, introspection, intelligence,... Full of biography and references, this is a masterpiece, not just because the truth it holds, but because the humility and bravery with which the author tackle difficult problems with the knowledge of today, in order to motivate the search of tomorrow.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Humanism from a neurobiologist Part of this is a celebration of the 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinosa whose world view is very much in concert with that of Antonio Damasio. Spinosa's demolition of Descartes' mind/body duality is the thread that Damasio takes up and weaves into this graceful and agreeable narrative. Furthermore, it is Spinosa's recognition that we are part of, and contained within, nature and not materially different from nature (another of Descartes' errors) tha Humanism from a neurobiologist Part of this is a celebration of the 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinosa whose world view is very much in concert with that of Antonio Damasio. Spinosa's demolition of Descartes' mind/body duality is the thread that Damasio takes up and weaves into this graceful and agreeable narrative. Furthermore, it is Spinosa's recognition that we are part of, and contained within, nature and not materially different from nature (another of Descartes' errors) that attracts Damasio's admiration for Spinosa. Leaving aside this framing device I want to concentrate on Damasio's argument about the nature of humans based on his experience as a neurobiologist, which is really the core of this book. Damasio recognizes that feelings, like consciousness itself, are perceptions, not states of mind. What is being perceived is the state of the body itself, and what is doing the perceiving is the brain. In this understanding--and I think it is a felicitous one--the brain operates as a sixth sense, something like the so-called third eye of the Hindus. It is not, of course, a supernatural sixth sense, but a sense organ in addition to the other five whose job it is to perceive the homeostasis of the organism, a sense organ that looks within instead of without. Instead of the sensation of color or sound, the sixth sense perceives emotions. Of course the Van Allen Distinguished Professor of Neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center does not use such a term as "sixth sense" nor would he allude to the third eye of the Hindus. He is a neurologist, a scientist and (despite his demurral) a philosopher. I mention these other ways of "knowing" in an attempt to provide a larger context for Damasio's argument. This argument is not original with Damasio (and I don't think he would claim it is). In one sense it is derivative from the growing understanding that consciousness itself, a kind of meta-awareness, is actually a perception. Damasio's "feelings" are part of this consciousness. A further part of Damasio's argument is that emotions are prior to feelings. First there is an emotionally competent stimulus (ECS). Then there is an "appraisal" of that stimulus which results in appropriate and automatic emotion, followed by feelings based on a perception of the emotion and the external situation. This is on-going, and we usually don't notice it. In extreme cases, such as danger, our feelings are more pronounced. In Damasio's scheme, an ECS might be a grizzly bear come upon suddenly while hiking. The "appraisal" would be the recognition that this is a bear, that it is big and it is potentially dangerous. The "emotion" would be all the systemic glandular, chemical and muscular responses in preparation for the flight or fight response. The "feeling" itself would be what we call fear. Damasio attempts to explain the experience of feelings in anticipation of "naysayers" who contend that such things are eternal mysteries. He makes a distinction between what, say, a Boeing 777 with all its sensing devices might "feel" and how humans feel. The crux of Damasio's distinction is the enormously greater complexity of the biological organism. But this argument, beginning on page 126, is not satisfactory because it does not explain the subjective experience of pain, which is what the "naysayers" are really talking about. What I think Damasio should say is that we can never know what the Boeing 777 is feeling (or if it is "feeling") since feelings are subjective experiences. They can only be recognized in ourselves (if we have them) and identified with in the report of others. It is the same as trying to explain what the color red looks like to a blind person or how strawberries taste to someone who has never tasted one. Analogies and comparisons may be drawn, but there is no way that I can ever be sure that I feel what you feel or that the subjective nature of any sensuous experience between one entity and another is the same. In the fourth chapter, "Ever Since Feelings," Damasio attempts to account for how feelings arose in an evolutionary sense. He believes they help complex organisms solve complex problems. (p. 177) "Body-state maps" work automatically for most organisms, but, Damasio argues, with emotions made conscious through the experience of feeling, humans are able to achieve not only a "concern for the individual self" but with "sufficient integration of the now, the past, and the anticipated future" a more effective game plan for survival and well-being. (p. 178) Feelings signal the conscious mind to become involved and this has proven adaptive. What I think is profound about this argument is how naturally it would have arisen from the evolutionary experience. Before humans and other sophisticated animals arose, most creatures probably made little or no distinction between themselves and their environment. Their responses were mostly automatic and they had no sense of self. Along comes this great leap forward called consciousness and it works because it makes us more effective at protecting ourselves. It also makes us more fearful of death, of course, which is part of the human predicament. Despite some difficulties, I am very much impressed with Damasio's effort, and I think that his approach from neuroscience and biological evolution, and through the use of scientific experiment, is eons ahead of the old schools in psychology which attempted to understand human beings based on arbitrary models such as psychoanalytic theory or on limited approaches such as behaviorism. But it must be realized (as I'm sure Damasio does) that we are at a tentative stage of understanding. Some even say that we will never be able to completely understand how our brain works. Some even cite Russell's paradox and Godel's proof about the limitations of self-referential systems (the brain/body is such a system) and deny that it is even theoretically possible for us to completely understand ourselves. Maybe only our artifacts, our computers will be able to understand us. --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    This book was both not enough of and way more than I expected. I enjoyed the physiological discourse for which I picked up the book, and appreciated the philosophical overtones that were brought out in the latter parts.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pierre

    Absolutely fascinating!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ari Landa

    Not an easy book to go through. Can get a bit too technical and sciencey, also the writing isn't as fluid as others (Perhaps there's a lot of "feelings of ideas" in the writing style which clouds the sentence syntax:)). That said it's a very smart book that explains a lot and also invites a lot of questions regarding the implications of feelings on the cognitive brain. For example, if the brain is built up from emotions to feelings to rational logic, and just as feelings are a more complicated e Not an easy book to go through. Can get a bit too technical and sciencey, also the writing isn't as fluid as others (Perhaps there's a lot of "feelings of ideas" in the writing style which clouds the sentence syntax:)). That said it's a very smart book that explains a lot and also invites a lot of questions regarding the implications of feelings on the cognitive brain. For example, if the brain is built up from emotions to feelings to rational logic, and just as feelings are a more complicated expression of emotions, would we then say that rational logic is just a more complex expression of feelings? Is all knowledge "feeling based?" I think Spinoza would say emphatically yes. But what does that mean for us humans? For example, should we forget about arguing politics and just focus on the underlying "feeling of the idea" we're arguing about? If two academics differ in their theories do they also have a differing underlying "feel" of their worlds? Is there any idea in our world that exists outside our feeling brain? Do feelings, or the idea of the feeling (or the feeling of the idea) guide our philosophical perspectives or intellectual discoveries? I would have liked to see a bit more speculation at the end of the book regarding possible implications of this idea. Nonetheless, a difficult but worthwhile read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Frank Strada

    Much of Damasio's book is about brain anatomy. Too much detail (I skimmed most of this section), but his point is well taken: that Spinoza, who lived in the 17th century, had it right regarding human feeling and emotion, despite his lack of knowledge about neural systems. Baruch Spinoza is known for his book Ethics and his Treatise on Politics and Religion, which had to be published under a pseudonym in once case and posthumously in the other. He advocated separation of church and state and demo Much of Damasio's book is about brain anatomy. Too much detail (I skimmed most of this section), but his point is well taken: that Spinoza, who lived in the 17th century, had it right regarding human feeling and emotion, despite his lack of knowledge about neural systems. Baruch Spinoza is known for his book Ethics and his Treatise on Politics and Religion, which had to be published under a pseudonym in once case and posthumously in the other. He advocated separation of church and state and democracy (long before Jefferson), both radical ideas in his time. But perhaps he was most reviled for his religious beliefs. He wrote about the primacy of reason in finding truth and used reasoned arguments to show that there is no supernatural god; that god is nature. Damasio's focus is on Spinoza's writings on feelings and emotions, and what it is to live a virtuous life and to understand God. His views got him banished from the Jewish community in Amsterdam when he was just 24 years old forcing him to live the remainder of his life in a sort of exile in Holland. I would recommend this book if you're interested in how the European Enlightenment influenced how we think today. Spinoza was perhaps the spark that led to the ideas put forward by the likes of Voltaire, Diderot, Jefferson and Franklin.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Drenda

    Damasio is a prominent researcher in the field of neurology and has written a series of books describing the achievements in his field to the lay public. He is also a very informed reader of Spinoza and part of the charm of this book, and there is much charm to be found here, is that he is more than willing to expand on both his field and his interest. Much of the time the researcher and the philosopher are just two different stories. Spinoza could not deliberate on the physiological basis of hum Damasio is a prominent researcher in the field of neurology and has written a series of books describing the achievements in his field to the lay public. He is also a very informed reader of Spinoza and part of the charm of this book, and there is much charm to be found here, is that he is more than willing to expand on both his field and his interest. Much of the time the researcher and the philosopher are just two different stories. Spinoza could not deliberate on the physiological basis of human sensing, emoting and cognition since it was exactly in his time that the first scientific studies of the human body were being made. Much later, initial studies in brain functioning were pointed at finding specific locations in that organ for the specific processes: seeing, movement, language. That has been left far behind as the search is on for neural mappings wherein many nerve pathways are combined with chemical pathways in order to produce the smallest change in an organism. But it is easy to see how Spinoza could become a favorite of a broad minded neurologist. Both start from a foundation of human behavior that centers in the individual's basic need to maintain itself. Spinoza's description of this most basic concern can sound almost Darwinian, as, of course, does the neurologist's. Once again, the basic aim of any organism is to maintain itself. One branch of organisms were most successful with the development of sensitivities to the outside world-seeing, hearing, touch-that combined with increasing mobility, allowed them to flee predation and find nourishment. That entailed the development of an advanced nervous system, which needed to become more complex as the world became more complex. For homo sapiens, for example, the world became extremely complex when individuals had to deal with group interaction and social responsibilities. In fact, the neural interactions became so complex that the ultimate organizer was evolutionarily advantageous-consciousness. No one really denies the trouble that happens with the appearance of that ultimate organizer, consciousness. Descartes came at the issue from the side of consciousness and left us with the unfortunate tradition of mind/body dualism. The sciences since the Enlightenment have come to the problem from the side of the body and many in that community have dealt with it by simply collapsing the mind into the body, claiming that with enough time, research will eliminate mind musings with complex neural mappings. Damasio tries to avoid such a simple minded approach and readily lists consciousness as one of the ingredients necessary to describe human behavior. He admits that neurology can't bridge the gap between mind issues and brain issues: We can describe neural patterns-with the tools of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuro- chemistry-and we can describe images with the tools of introspection. How we get from the former to the latter is known only in part (p. 198) However, when I read Damasio, I can't foresee any movement toward bridging the gap except with finding more and more complex neural interactions. I have many paragraphs in this book where I had to write 'by finding more complicated neural pathways?' Perhaps Damasio would say higher-order pathways, meaning some pathways have organizing functions over many other pathways, but I either don't buy the distinction or Damasio is left with defending higher-order in some way that is really not brain function. Consequently, Damasio falls back into the usual scientific collapse of mind into body. His philosopher hero, Spinoza, would not have allowed such a collapse, since that eliminates an aspect of a thing, and Spinoza was all about inclusion. Spinoza's monism covered everything under the sun and beyond. He not only said that mind and body are aspects of the same thing, but that 'thing'-nature/god-has a multitude of aspects, perhaps an infinite number, being indeed, god/nature. The universe is one glorious or morbid whole, a stone, light waves, a hydrogen atom, smoke from the fireplace, a human being all equally reflecting that immutable being. the only thing that human being have going for them is the slight possibility f moving toward the joy of realizing this infinitely faceted whole. I believe there is a way to take Spinoza's decription of the mind/body gap seriously, that they are aspects of the same thing, without collapsing either side into the other. Dmasio himself provides a hint as to how this might be done. He says at one point that the basic unit of neurobiology was not the atom but the cell, being in itself a striving system maintaining its own integrity while contributing to higher levels of organization. I assume most people who fall under the mantel of biology would say the same. So we have biologists who have their language for best describing the world, the physicists who use the language of the atom-why not be inclusive as Spinoza encourages and allow the language of the geologist, the sociologist, the chef and the beekeeper. Each language reflects an aspect of nature/god in its own way, often with no means of translating to another language without destroying its own integrity. I think few people in the western tradition, and with the obvious exceptions, would deny Damasio's outline of how consciousness came about. But once it was there, it became its own aspect of the human condition, with a language no longer translatable to its physiological foundation.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Freddie Berg

    Never thought I would understand Spinoza. Never thought I would understand feelings. Never thought I would understand the psychophysiology and chemistry of the brain. Made me even more grateful to doctors and healers of all stripes and plaids.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Freddie Berg

    An excellent explication of many issues. Initially skipped a few sections on the complexity of neural electricity. Re-read other portions over several years, and still pick it up from time to time. Offered it to several friends. On my all time favorites shelf.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    So far not as good as "Blink" or "Opening Skinner's Box". So far not as good as "Blink" or "Opening Skinner's Box".

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Andrews Cummin

    Anything I write probably won't do justice to Damasio's book. In part because not being a neurobiologist when there is specific stuff about his or that part of the brain, my brain checks out. Same thing would happen with any technical discussion, really, of stuff I don't know anything about. But I got the gist of the argument about how and why feelings, as opposed to emotions (which are more basic) evolved and what they do for us. Also that Spinoza, in Damasio's view was the first to tackle the Anything I write probably won't do justice to Damasio's book. In part because not being a neurobiologist when there is specific stuff about his or that part of the brain, my brain checks out. Same thing would happen with any technical discussion, really, of stuff I don't know anything about. But I got the gist of the argument about how and why feelings, as opposed to emotions (which are more basic) evolved and what they do for us. Also that Spinoza, in Damasio's view was the first to tackle the issue of what feelings are and if they arise out of the body or . . . what? In short, yes, feelings which are in some ways a refinement or further development of emotional response (say, terror, panic vs. guilt and shame, or ecstasy vs joy evoked by listening to Bach) and that all of what is in our minds, what we are aware of, arises out of the body. The evolutionary purpose of all is in the attempt to keep the organism in homeostasis, in balance with itself -- alive and thriving. Damasio does a good job in weaving technical information in and explaining the mechanics of the brain for the layman. I didn't get it all, but got enough, I think. Bringing Spinoza in, in the personal way he does, visiting his abodes, trying to get a sense of who he was adds a dimension to the book that was very welcome. The last section meant the most to me -- Spinoza made the point that humans don't have a lot of choice, but one of the gifts our complex system of emotions into feelings and self-awareness gives us choice. You can choose not to perseverate, in other words, choose to decide not to linger on the negative side -- you don't pretend it isn't there the way a Stoic would, but you don't wallow because why? Sounds simplistic, almost ridiculous? Try it next time you start excoriating yourself. Ask yourself: how will punishing myself help me or anyone? Of course, not everyone does have the ability to make this kind of choice, but most of us do. Anyway, this rational but compassionate approach did not even begin to gain any traction until the late 19th century. Spinoza offered it in the 1500's but was banned so successfully and totally that his work still hasn't surfaced or received the merit it deserves. He was not an atheist but he did not envision God as a reflection of humanity or even interested in humanity, but that a being or intelligence was evident in everything around us. I remember responding strongly to Spinoza in college philosophy class. An early humanist, really. ****

  21. 5 out of 5

    Srividya

    It took laborious effort to trudge through the concepts in the book.Though I am fascinated by the subject, I do not have formal knowledge to understand all the perspectives detailed in the book.The book has a lot of technical information and relational connections between the machinery of the brain and the mind.For me, glimpses into Spinoza's life interspersed with the technical interpretations added allure to the presentation.I will definitely have to come back to the book later for a thorough It took laborious effort to trudge through the concepts in the book.Though I am fascinated by the subject, I do not have formal knowledge to understand all the perspectives detailed in the book.The book has a lot of technical information and relational connections between the machinery of the brain and the mind.For me, glimpses into Spinoza's life interspersed with the technical interpretations added allure to the presentation.I will definitely have to come back to the book later for a thorough understanding but thought it worth to note down a few points from the current attempt. The book lays out clearly the difference between emotions and feelings, till i read this book they were synonymous.Emotions are the ‘externalities’ played out for public expression and feelings involve the working of the inner machinery namely the mind.Emotion precedes feelings and when one loses the ability to express an emotion the associated feelings will also be lost.The associations of emotions ,feelings with the neural mapping of body states was interesting to read but I did not really grasp everything under that and same with Emotions vs reflexes, Feelings vs background emotions.The entire machinery of feelings is explained in detail from the conception of the thought that triggers emotion, the sensing of the body state to form the body maps, the simulated body states and how the actual and simulated states contribute to the mental experience and all this to the homeostatic regulation. It also seems that he picked up only part of the solution from Spinoza.The book sets out to prove empirically Spinoza’s theory that Mind and Body are the same substance and our idea of pain and pleasure drive all the activity.But Damasio also claims that knowing these details we must be able to willfully regulate our emotions and our exposure to the associated environment.However If you completely go by Spinoza’s philosophy - There is no absolute or free will in the mind, and the solution cannot be uncomplicated.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Sue

    Hats off to neuroscience. This was not easy reading but I stuck with it to learn about the 17th century Dutch philosopher Spinoza and more brain science and how the brain, mind, and body work together. First come emotions, then feelings. Emotions are public, actions or movements in the theatre of the body. Feelings are hidden and play out in the theatre of the mind. There are lots of brain figures in the book which help to illustrate which parts of the brain are related to different feelings, em Hats off to neuroscience. This was not easy reading but I stuck with it to learn about the 17th century Dutch philosopher Spinoza and more brain science and how the brain, mind, and body work together. First come emotions, then feelings. Emotions are public, actions or movements in the theatre of the body. Feelings are hidden and play out in the theatre of the mind. There are lots of brain figures in the book which help to illustrate which parts of the brain are related to different feelings, emotions, etc. The author is fascinated by Spinoza and his philosophy and bridging of neurobiology and ethics. Happiness comes from successful endeavors. Seek well-being and joy. Chapter 5 delves heavily into the body and brain connection. Chapter 6 gives a history of Spinoza, and how he was expelled from the synagogue in Holland. He influenced many Enlightenment philosophers. Spinoza's God is nature. Be kind to others, love them and you will be happier and find your own salvation. He was not a believer, but did use biblical principles in his thinking. Knowledge and reason need to be used too. Good food for thought. I plan to read his prior books as well. Interesting stuff.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Niklas

    Damasio is a first-grade neuroscientist and a decent writer on that matter as well. He's able to tie together very complex thing into understandable words. I've been fascinated with emotions lately and this was the first of his many books on this topic. Neuroscience-wise, there were new things for me and but especially the latter part of the book, the semi-biographical account of Spinoza was completely unknown to me beforehand. It was interesting to read and get to know about this philosopher and Damasio is a first-grade neuroscientist and a decent writer on that matter as well. He's able to tie together very complex thing into understandable words. I've been fascinated with emotions lately and this was the first of his many books on this topic. Neuroscience-wise, there were new things for me and but especially the latter part of the book, the semi-biographical account of Spinoza was completely unknown to me beforehand. It was interesting to read and get to know about this philosopher and his ideas - of which some of them could be thought revelational even today. How to life a good life and how to alleviate ourselves from suffering - aren't these the things we're all looking for? Damasio ties Spinoza's philosophy and modern neuroscience very well together and that's the beef on this book. Although it might feel a bit bore, it does live up to its promise in the end. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in emotions (in neuroscientific sense) and/or Spinoza's life.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fred Melden

    Damasio has little light to shed on Spinoza, mostly because the latter lived a very private life. The book reveals a lot about the Jewish community's practices and political position in 17th-century Amsterdam. In addition, I found the distinction between emotion and feeling enlightening. For these alone, the book is worth reading. Against these are the convoluted writing style - probably the result of writing in a second language - and the rather tenuous tie between Spinoza and the discussion o Damasio has little light to shed on Spinoza, mostly because the latter lived a very private life. The book reveals a lot about the Jewish community's practices and political position in 17th-century Amsterdam. In addition, I found the distinction between emotion and feeling enlightening. For these alone, the book is worth reading. Against these are the convoluted writing style - probably the result of writing in a second language - and the rather tenuous tie between Spinoza and the discussion of the emotion/feeling issue. Other reviewers have objected to some of the philosophical positions either stated or implied. I can overlook these because I think the author's use of language is imprecise. However, if I'm wrong in this, if Damasio has an errant view of philosphy, the book is not diminished by this; it remains equally useful to read a tract with a faulty viewpoint, as long as we, the readers, use it as grist for critical thinking.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Xavier Alexandre

    Antonio Damasio successfully connects the most recent discoveries of neuroscience with the conclusions Spinoza reached in his study, almost 400 years ago. In particular, the idea that the body and the soul are inextricably linked - definitely not an Aristotelian thought - and that the drive to survive, modulated through aeons of evolution, is the main engine that not only sculpted our bodies, but also our emotions and feelings. Spinoza was right about all this, against Descartes, among others. I Antonio Damasio successfully connects the most recent discoveries of neuroscience with the conclusions Spinoza reached in his study, almost 400 years ago. In particular, the idea that the body and the soul are inextricably linked - definitely not an Aristotelian thought - and that the drive to survive, modulated through aeons of evolution, is the main engine that not only sculpted our bodies, but also our emotions and feelings. Spinoza was right about all this, against Descartes, among others. It does cast a light on free will, or lack thereof, too. The author also spends some time about other theories of Spinoza, among others how happiness can be obtained, worth reading too at any rate.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paul Schwartzmeyer

    I typically don't give negative reviews but this book was a scream. It's about a guy, the author, looking for Spinoza. What was funny was he was actually looking for Spinoza. He would go to places where Spinoza used to live and look in the windows! hahaha. Since Spinoza died in 1677, he never seemed to find him. I was looking for a book ON Spinoza, not a what I did on my summer Sabbatical. He certainly is knowledgeable enough about Spinoza, but the condescension and over emotionalizing of Damasio I typically don't give negative reviews but this book was a scream. It's about a guy, the author, looking for Spinoza. What was funny was he was actually looking for Spinoza. He would go to places where Spinoza used to live and look in the windows! hahaha. Since Spinoza died in 1677, he never seemed to find him. I was looking for a book ON Spinoza, not a what I did on my summer Sabbatical. He certainly is knowledgeable enough about Spinoza, but the condescension and over emotionalizing of Damasio's summer vacation was a bit extreme.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rosemary

    As someone who previously thought that emotions and feelings were the same thing, I did learn something from this book, although beyond that distinction I found the neurological parts hard to follow. The parts about Spinoza attracted me more, but they turned out to be rather superficial, with nothing that I didn't already know. So I was probably not the ideal reader for this book. It would be better suited to someone who had more of a grounding in science and less in philosophy. As someone who previously thought that emotions and feelings were the same thing, I did learn something from this book, although beyond that distinction I found the neurological parts hard to follow. The parts about Spinoza attracted me more, but they turned out to be rather superficial, with nothing that I didn't already know. So I was probably not the ideal reader for this book. It would be better suited to someone who had more of a grounding in science and less in philosophy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    “If we do not exist under oppression or in famine and yet cannot convince ourselves how lucky we are to be alive, perhaps we are not trying hard enough.” -Antonio Damasio in Searching for Spinoza. “to face the music and dance [anyway]” Damasio’s conception of the human condition and what to do about it. I enjoyed this book even though it was somewhat dry. I think Damasio's purpose is admirable. He is trying to reconcile current findings in neuroscience with philosophy. In this case, the philosophy “If we do not exist under oppression or in famine and yet cannot convince ourselves how lucky we are to be alive, perhaps we are not trying hard enough.” -Antonio Damasio in Searching for Spinoza. “to face the music and dance [anyway]” Damasio’s conception of the human condition and what to do about it. I enjoyed this book even though it was somewhat dry. I think Damasio's purpose is admirable. He is trying to reconcile current findings in neuroscience with philosophy. In this case, the philosophy of Benedictus Spinoza. He intertwines the physiological and neurological basis for emotions and feelings (two distinct phenomena according to him) and the story of Spinoza's life and the explication of his philosophy. Basically, emotions are what we share with animals, they are, in some sense, involuntary—fear, pain, pleasure, anger, sadness. Feelings are our mental states that we get once we’ve sort of processed our emotions. Emotions are public which means that they can be inferred by facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc.; whereas feelings are private and are always hidden. Emotions and feelings are different parts of a continuous process. He points out that feelings are more important to us, so we tend to think that feelings precede emotions, but it is actually the opposite. And this is so simply because evolution developed emotions first, which many animals have, and feelings later, which most animals do not have. He says that evolution developed a “homeostasis machine” for us. And he describes that emergent(or nested) machine with a tree metaphor: the lower trunk is metabolism, reflexes, and immune system, the middle trunk is pain and pleasure behaviors, the large branches are drives and motivations, the small branches are “emotions-proper”, and the leaves are feelings. Drives and motivations are what Spinoza called “appetites” which include “hunger, thirst, curiousity and exploration, play and sex.” When we become aware of these drives, they become “desires” according to Spinoza. The reason he links this new physiology and neuroscience about feelings and emotions with Spinoza is because Spinoza said that there is an emotional basis or back drop to rationality and reason, to the mind in other words. He also believed that the purpose of a human being is self-preservation plus homeostasis, or, joy. At least that’s what Damasio says. I don’t know, the parts about Spinoza were pretty boring mostly, his connection between what he has to offer and Spinoza often don’t feel all that necessary—maybe I’m just sad because the prose was so dry. Emotions and feelings obviously have a physical basis in the brain. Without certain regions of the brain we can’t have feelings or in some cases can’t experience social feelings like embarrassment, awkwardness, compassion, etc. Oh, he also has something interesting to say about the mind-body problem. Namely that the mind maps body states, the mind is around, evolutionarily, (emerged from, not other than) the body proper which includes the brain. Therefore, in contradistinction to Descartes, mind and body are not two different substances. For Spinoza, body and mind are two different attributes of the same substance, which is not just semantics but an important distinction. He also says things that creep me out—like there is no place for sadness in the human organism anymore. That sadness had it’s place, but now we should just focus on joy. He doesn’t accept that sadness is an implicit part of the human condition which is strange because later, at the end of the book, he cites the problem of having consciousness plus autobiographical memory plus empathy and relates it to how death, and knowing we are going to die, and, in fact, having loved ones die takes us out of our homeostasis. He does not go into detail about how sadness can be avoided altogether. Although his focus is human flourishing, and he believes that elucidating how emotions and feelings work will help individuals and human institutions revise and improve their conception of human nature so that we can be “combative” toward the human condition; i.e., use our feeling mind to eradicate as much suffering as we can. Particularly the easy and obvious targets like famine, oppression, abject poverty, etc. He spends a lot of time talking about “emotionally competent stimuli” which I understand to mean external objects and people that cause an emotion to happen. What he doesn’t quite get at, but what Echart Tolle does, is that by observing our mind having feelings, we don’t have to have such a close identity with them, we can find space in our mind for relaxation (peace) from The Interpreter, from our own endless thoughts, judgments, feelings, desires, wants, etc. “The human mind is the idea of the human body.” Damasio’s words, an idea he attributes to Spinoza. He talks about body-maps. The emotion-feedback continuum are the feedback which tell us on a moment to moment basis how the body is doing. “For Spinoza, human beings naturally endeavor, of necessity, to persevere in their own being; that necessary endeavor constitutes their actual essence.” -I like this quote because I think it corresponds very well with our understanding of DNA.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ana C.

    I loved this book. Spinoza is one of the most underrated philosophers in history, and is an important philosopher for neuroscientists. He was the first to understand the relationship with the environment, and the ethics of emotions. I'm still learning and studying his writings. A great book to know about Spinoza and neuroscience. I loved this book. Spinoza is one of the most underrated philosophers in history, and is an important philosopher for neuroscientists. He was the first to understand the relationship with the environment, and the ethics of emotions. I'm still learning and studying his writings. A great book to know about Spinoza and neuroscience.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marta Ch

    It is interesting, especially those who study psychiatry and psychology because there are some terms used in the subject studied about feelings. I found it complicated besides I tried to finish the book without jump some pages which usually I do not do. Unfortunately, this one did not catch much of my attention.

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