Book of the month : ‘The Self Comes to Mind’ : Antonio Damasio

May 26th, 2011 | By | Category: Book Reviews
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Antonio Damasio, in the latest of his series of books on the mind-body relationships and the neurological process by which we possess a mind, focuses on the distinguishing features of the human experience of the ‘Self’. Well recognized for his use of comparative biology, Damasio explains that consciousness is a phenomenon that emerges in lower animals, and up the evolutionary ladder becomes a ‘proto-self’, finally emerging in humans as the core self and finally fully developed ‘autobiographical’ self. This in turn relates to the gradual development of the structures of the brain beginning with the brainstem, then the thalamus and finally the cerebral cortex.

The characteristics of the human ‘autobiographical’ self is distinguished by its ability to form mental links to the past and project ourselves into the future, forming a continuity. Damasio argues based on his studies with children born without a cerebral cortex that the sense of the self is not a purely cerebral cortex mediated phenomenon, and the so-called ‘lower’ brain structures too play an important role in its identity.

Antonio Damasio, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, has made several important contributions to the neurobiology of the mind. His most famous idea perhaps is demonstrating that emotions play an extremely important role in cognition. Damasio has stated on several occasions that his working hypothesis about consciousness – that consciousness is identical with brain function, may not be a generally popular view in many circles. He has been on record stating that: ” I have a difficult time seeing scientific results, especially in neurobiology, as anything but provisional approximations.”

Perhaps Damasio in recent years has produced one of the most complete accounts of how the brain gives rise to thoughts, feelings and an identity of the Self, based on neurological studies carried out by him. This new book perhaps covers quite some ground from his previous books, extending the model to a neurological view of the Self.

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