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The Feeling of What Happens


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ANTONIO DAMASIO is the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. He is also an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. He is a member of both the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Descartes' Error was an international bestseller. The Feeling of What Happens is being translated into seventeen languages.


What is wrong with The Feeling of What Happens? It is meant to be an introduction to current knowledge in the study of human consciousness. Instead, amusing anecdotes are presented as experimental results, and old findings are presented as remarkable new discoveries. The text is simultaneously verbose, diffuse, and ostentatiously erudite. One might assume that the long chains of (rarely defined) technical terms were written for scientific readers. Yet the lack of scientific rigor suggests that the book is aimed at a general audience. Neither group is likely to be enthralled by meandering thought processes, paragraph-length sentences, and obscure literary tags. In audio format, the textual difficulties become nearly incomprehensible. George Guidall is a highly experienced, extremely competent reader, but listening to him read this title is audio- torture. Damasio is a well-known neurologist and author, and at times his writing has great charm. Unfortunately, this book lacks both facts and focus. A textbook would be a more interesting and informative read. Someone get this man an editor! Not recommended. I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Tackling a great complex of questions that poets, artists and philosophers have contemplated for generations, Damasio (Descartes' Error) examines current neurological knowledge of human consciousness. Significantly, in key passages he evokes T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare and William James. In Eliot's words, consciousness is "music heard so deeply/ That it is not heard at all." It, like Hamlet, begins with the question "Who's there?" And Damasio holds that there is, as James thought, a "stream of" consciousness that utilizes every part of the brain. Consciousness, argues Damasio, is linked to emotion, to our feelings for the images we perceive. There are in fact several kinds of consciousness, he says: the proto-self, which exists in the mind's constant monitoring of the body's state, of which we are unaware; a core consciousness that perceives the world 500 milliseconds after the fact; and the extended consciousness of memory, reason and language. Different from wakefulness and attention, consciousness can exist without language, reason or memory: for example, an amnesiac has consciousness. But when core consciousness fails, all else fails with it. More important for Damasio's argument, emotion and consciousness tend to be present or absent together. At the height of consciousness, above reason and creativity, Damasio places conscience, a word that preceded conciousness by many centuries. The author's plain language and careful redefinition of key points make this difficult subject accessible for the general reader. In a book that cuts through the old nature vs. nurture argument as well as conventional ideas of identity and possibly even of soul, it's clear, though he may not say so, that Damasio is still on the side of the angels. Agent, Michael Carlisle; 9-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Antonio Damasio has done it again! Writing for the layman as well as the scientist, he constructs a compelling solution to the problem of consciousness.--Victoria Fromkin, UCLA
This is an extraordinary book. I know of nothing like it.--Jerome Kagan, Harvard University
There is no simpler way to say this: read the book to learn who you are.--Jorie Graham, Poet and Pulitzer Prize Winner
Everyone will be talking about it; everyone will have to read it.--Patricia and Paul Churchland, UCSD

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