Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Human Brain

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9780151005574: Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Human Brain

Damasio, an eminent neuroscientist explores the science of human emotion and what the great Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza can teach of how and why we feel. Damasio shows how joy and sorrow, those most defining of human feelings, are in fact the cornerstones of our survival and culture.

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Review:

Internationally renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says in Looking for Spinoza that "feelings of pain or pleasure or some quality in between are the bedrock of our minds." Feelings were considered to be beyond the competence of science, even by neuroscientists until very recently. Damasio has been in the vanguard of those who realised that the neurobiology of feelings was no less viable than that of vision or memory.

Damasio has found an historical figure he can identify with in the 17th-century philosopher Bento Spinoza--a Portuguese Jew living in Holland, who, without any of the benefits of neurobiological understanding, nevertheless did come to understand the unification of body and mind and the role of emotions in human survival and culture. As the title suggests, Looking for Spinoza, includes Damasio's personal exploration of what Spinoza achieved and his desire to bring this long forgotten hero of the mind back into view.

Damasio found himself coming face to face with patients with various kinds of localised brain damage. They could not feel particular emotions such as happiness or sadness in the way that they had been able to before the damage occurred. His was forced to conclude that different brain systems controlled different feelings. When patients lost the ability to express a certain emotion, they also lost the ability to experience the corresponding feeling. But the opposite was not true. Patients who had lost the ability to experience certain feelings could still express the corresponding emotion. Damasio had to ask himself whether emotion was born first and feeling second?

Looking for Spinoza is the third in Damasio's beautifully written trilogy (including Descartes' Error and The Feeling of What Happens) that combine accounts of his personal professional explorations of the mind and what it means to be human and how our ideas about humanity have evolved through the philosophical tradition. What always comes across is his compassion and humanity whilst still being a very practical medical scientist trying to do his best for real people with very real problems. Damsio's account of his researches that have built on Spinoza's ideas, using the hard data of modern science is never less than fascinating and thought provoking. It's the sort of book that frequently makes the reader pause and look into space as the implications of what Damasio has written slowly sink in. The "sciency" bits are perfectly managable (aided by appropriate diagrams) for the general reader and there plenty of backup notes for those who want to explore further. --Douglas Palmer

Review:

"Big claims, well made: it is a rare pleasure to pick up such a rigorous and readable book about scientific advance that is so firmly anchored in philosophical history" ( Time Out)

"Virtually all the interesting philosophy today is done, not by professional philosophers, but by scientists like Damasio... The map may be incomplete, but thanks to Damasio we do at least know the principal landmarks" ( New Humanist)

"Damasio's book interweaves lucid and fascinating explanations of neurological findings with historical and philosophical ruminations on Spinoza... Rich and informative" ( New Scientist)

"There is much in this book to please Damasio's fans. He is a lively and humane writer, and ranges easily across a wide variety of topics" ( Independent)

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