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

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9780156028714: Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain

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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As he seeks to unlock the secrets of such things as joy and sorrow, Antonio Damasio pursues a unifying theory in Looking for Spinoza. Why Spinoza? The philosopher, whom Damasio calls a "protobiologist," firmly linked mind and body, paving the way for modern ideas of neurophysiology. Damasio examines this linkage, which ran counter to all scientific and religious thinking of Spinoza's day, and lays out the reasoning and evidence behind its truth. As he has in his previous books on the subject (Descartes' Error and The Feeling of What Happens), Damasio is careful to use clear examples from life to explain the often dry and difficult science of the brain. When he wants readers to understand, for instance, brain stem control of emotions, he offers an Oliver Sacks-style case study of a man whose stroke left him unable to keep from bursting into tears or laughter at inappropriate times.

Damasio also defines his terms, which is crucial, as he means something very specific when he says feeling ("always hidden, like all mental images") instead of emotion ("actions or movements... visible to others as they occur in the face, in the voice, in specific behaviors"). Using an impressive array of biological and psychological research, Damasio makes a compelling case for his idea of the feeling brain as crucial for survival and sense of self. But this isn't just a book about brain science. It's a record of an intellectual journey, a diary of Damasio's musings about history, philosophy, and Spinoza's life, all wrapped up in a simply astonishing explanation of a subject most of us don't give a thought to--the feelings that we live by. --Therese Littleton

From the Back Cover:

"In clear, accessible and at times eloquent prose, Damasio is outlining nothing less than a new vision of the human soul, integrating body and mind, thought and feeling, individual survival and altruism, humanity and nature, ethics and evolution." -SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

JOY, SORROW, JEALOUSY, AND AWE-these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. Thought to be too private for science to explain and not essential for understanding cognition, they have largely been ignored. But not by Spinoza, and not by Antonio Damasio. In Looking for Spinoza, Damasio, one of the world's leading neuroscientists, draws on his innovative research and on his experience with neurological patients to examine how feelings and the emotions that underlie them support human survival and enable the spirit's greatest creations. Looking for Spinoza rediscovers a thinker whose work prefigures modern neuroscience, not only in his emphasis on emotions and feelings, but in his refusal to separate mind and body. Together, the scientist and the philosopher help us understand what we're made of, and what we're here for.

"Exceptionally engaging and profoundly gratifying . . . Achieves a unique combination of scientific exposition, historical discovery and deep personal statement regarding the human condition." -NATURE

Antonio Damasio is the Van Allen Distinguished Professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center and is an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. The recipient of numerous awards, he is a member
of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Damasio's books are read and taught in universities worldwide.

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