Where Damasio gets it right
Antonio Damasio is right to point out that it is only by understanding the workings of the human brain that we will ever get close to understanding the mind. He is also right - in my view - to support Steven Pinker's rejection of the blank slate and to recognise that human behaviour has to have come about due to the action of evolutionary forces.
His attempt to deal with feelings and emotion is to be applauded (although I disagree with his interpretation - see my "where Damasio gets it wrong" post). Many scientists shy away from discussing this topic and it is a shame that they do.
His seating of the human mind as being in the viscera as well as the brain is an interesting insight. Whether this as important a point as he seems to think it is, is a matter, which we might want to discuss, but I do keep getting the feeling that he is constantly leading us towards his spiritualistic viewpoint.
His descriptions of brain disorders, which lead on to specific pathologies of the mind were the most entertaining part of the book although I have to say that I thought that Vilayanur Ramachandran's discussion of these phenomena in the Reith Lectures
was deeper and more insightful. (The Reith lectures are out in paperback now but I don't know the full title of the book.)
I also enjoyed his discussion of Spinoza's philosophy. It is famous for being difficult to understand; I feel that I have a much better understanding of it after reading this book. But I do I agree with the points Chris makes about how limiting it must be for any followers of that kind of religion to come to terms with a god who you can't pray to and is unable to help them in their lives. That might be a good reason why it has never replaced Christianity. Also I disagree with Spinoza in his argument - if Damasio interprets him properly (page 216) - that there is no afterlife; but the essence of the human spirit continues. What is "the human spirit"? If Descartes was wrong about the separate existence of the mind and the human soul outside of material reality how can Spinoza be right about the essence of the human spirit? Edited by: PeterDF at: 3/27/04 8:17 pm