Mind & Body: Antonio Damasio on Descartes and Spinoza
April 19, 2003 2:25 PM   Subscribe

I Feel, Therefore I Am. Consider the work of Dr. Antonio Damasio, humanist and neuroscientist, who has turned the Mind and Body debate between René Descartes and Benedictus de Spinoza upon its head--or at least the heads of Phineas Gage and one Elliott--via his research and writings such as The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Descartes' Error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain and Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. He's influenced writers like Ian McEwan and David Lodge, and via his thoughts on the perception of music, inspired a composition. (More Inside)
posted by y2karl (21 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Descartes' famous dualist theory proposed human beings were composed of physical bodies and immaterial minds. Spinoza disagreed and argued that body and mind are not two separate entities but one continuous substance.

Spinoza thought Descartes' view of the mind as a reasoning machine was dead wrong. Reason, he insisted, is shot through with emotion. More radical still, he claimed that thoughts and feelings are not primarily reactions to external events but first and foremost about the body, in fact, suggesting the mind exists purely for the body's sake, to ensure its survival.

It seems history may have sided with the wrong man. For more than a decade, neuroscientists armed with brain scans have been chipping away at the Cartesian façade. Gone is lofty Cogito, reasoning in pristine detachment from the physical world. Fading fast is the computational model,where the mind is a software program and the brain a hard drive. It seems immortality via download now requires the whole physical magilla.

Also of interest are Average Americans and The Criminal Justice System, Mining for the Self: Lobotomy and the Quest for the I-Function, the James-Lang Theory: Effect of Action on Emotion (During the 1880's, the American psychologist William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange independently reached another conclusion about emotions. According to their theory, the James-Lange theory of emotions, people feel emotions only if aware of their own internal physical reactions to events, such as increased heart rate or blood pressure.) and this review (user:mefi password:memefi) of Melvin Konner's The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit--a book on which I can not make enough laudatory comments. Get it and read it. And may I recommend also Serendip, a truly cool and cutting edge website.
posted by y2karl at 2:26 PM on April 19, 2003

There goes my weekend. This is an absolutely brilliant post, y2karl. I love this stuff. Thanks!

Of related interest, here's an earlier post on ethics and emotion in Classical thought.
posted by homunculus at 3:40 PM on April 19, 2003

Dear Descartes,
posted by homunculus at 3:43 PM on April 19, 2003

Imaging Emotion in the Brain

Brain Imaging Hints at Emotion's Role
in Moral Judgments

Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience

Neuroimaging Resources on the WWW

Welcome to Multiple Regression with Ren & Stimpy!

University of Wisconsin Science oF Emotion Lab : Photos, images and animations for media

Gee, I remember your post now, homunculus--but I didn't read through all the comments then or did I Google any of my post today. Sorry if it's repetitive. I'm just a monkey at a keyboard here--this is just something I whipped together after reading the New York Times article on Damasio today.
posted by y2karl at 4:11 PM on April 19, 2003

Sorry if it's repetitive.

No worries, it's not. My post was about ancient views of emotions. The two posts complement each other well though, I think. Past and present.
posted by homunculus at 4:45 PM on April 19, 2003


See you next week...
posted by dash_slot- at 5:02 PM on April 19, 2003

y2karl, I don't mean any offense by this, but you do know what TMI means don't you? I spent five years getting a philosophy degree and wasn't usually assigned this much reading in a week (okay, so I was, but you get the point of the exaggeration).

I must admit, though, I'm constantly surprised at the volume of this kind of information on the web.
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:58 PM on April 19, 2003

Humdinger post, y2karl. António Damásio's work is very interesting - and a lot more controversial than might seem.

Listen to the NPR interview if you want to see what a Portuguese accent (from Portugal) sounds like.

Thanks Karl!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:11 PM on April 19, 2003

Still my favorite treatment of the issue:

Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Achtung! this is the entire on-line book)

Also Discover magazine has a current series, The Brain and Emotions:

Part 1: Fear
Part 2: Laughter
Part 3: Love

Wulfgar!, all of this will be on the quiz which is worth 30% of your final grade.
posted by dgaicun at 6:15 PM on April 19, 2003

Damn you, y2karl!

I now have $100 in books winging their way to me because of you and Amazon's "OTHER CUSTOMERS BOUGHT THIS" crap (a never-ending stream of 'hey I've been meaning to pick that up' ensued).

I'm in for a great week of reading. Bah! All your fault!
posted by Ryvar at 7:38 PM on April 19, 2003

Thanks for the links, dgaicun, especially the Darwin--I saw that title mentioned while looking this stuff up this morning and meant to check it out. I always like links to entire books, too. And what does TMI mean, wulfgar?

I'm in way over my head here on this one, by the way--I am always humbled by the erudition here. I only wish I was as well read. I just picked what I thought looked like the most interesting links to support the article. I mean to read them all myself.
posted by y2karl at 8:00 PM on April 19, 2003

Miguel, your mention of Damasio's Portuguese accent--which is hard for me to detect--reminds me that I forgot to link the program's source: Philosophy Radio. That is the coolest link I found today.
It's a treasure trove, I tells ya!
posted by y2karl at 8:31 PM on April 19, 2003

Coolest today? Are you bonkers? It's the coolest this year! Hilary Putnam and Alvin Platinga on God? John Searle on himself? Richard Rorty and Daniel Dennett on Science? Stanley Fish on deconstruction? And. And. And! Many thanks, kind sir. You are a gentleman and a scholar!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:29 PM on April 19, 2003

...not to mention the Philosopher's Drinking Song, of course.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:18 PM on April 19, 2003

Bloody brilliant post y2karl...and I *so* planned to go finish the Eostre baskets before I went to bed...but oh, no...well, it's all your fault. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)
posted by dejah420 at 12:36 AM on April 20, 2003


My brain is full.

Excellent y2karl! Thanks for providing me a start to the schooling I didn't get.

Now to digest some of it before round two.
posted by alicesshoe at 1:23 AM on April 20, 2003

Actually, in all seriousness, that Philosophy Radio page is the best thing I've ever been shown through Metafilter. Nothing like playing Grand Theft Auto 3 while listening to George Lakoff talk about metaphor as the central mechanism of cognition. Post-modern, baby!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:56 AM on April 20, 2003

I will join the chorus of approval.
For y2karl.
What a great post.
posted by mokey at 5:29 AM on April 20, 2003

We all agree! Thanks, y2karl!
posted by letterneversent at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2003

karl, I'm sorry. TMI means "too much information". Usually used when one person presents something others just don't want to know. This time it means you've put me in a position of 1) pissing off my wife because I've been online too much, 2) caused me to avoid my regular Metafilter perusal, 3) taken me away from Warfilter for too many hours, 4) there is no 4, and 5) made me deeply regret my decision to not attend graduate school in philosophy. (yes, I make more money as an IT manager, but goddam I love this stuff.)

Stavros, the Philosophers Drinking Song is pure candy, or 24 year old Scotch, or ... something else really good.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:21 PM on April 20, 2003

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