Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review of Antonio Damasio's "Descartes' Error"

What one thinks of Damasio's lovely work, Descartes' Error, will largely depend on how interested one is in matters pertaining to the human brain, consciousness and the self. Additionally, one who does not have much of an appetite for technical language will probably not get very fair in this work. Much of Damasio's study is also hypothetical in nature. Therefore, I would not recommend this work to those who have little or no tolerance for abstracta/theoria. But if you are intensely intrigued by the inner workings of the human brain, this book is for you. Damasio initiates his discussion with a fascinating story about Phineas Gage, a man who had a 3 1/2 foot iron rod pass through his head and lived to tell about it. Damasio moves from Gage to other patients who have experienced damage to their frontal lobes and he reviews the effect it had on their lives.

Damasio argues that reason and emotions are both needed in order for sound judgment (prudence) to obtain. Finally, he challenges Cartesian dualism, which posits the anthropological notion of a RES EXTENSA and RES COGITANS. Damasio winds up contending that the "self" which has received so much theoretical attention throughout human history is probably neural in nature (somehow), unlike Descrates envisioned it. In short, it's possible that there is no human self without a functioning brain in a body; at least, not on this earth. The one drawback that I find with this book is that Damasio does not spend enough time critiquing Cartesian dualism. Nevertheless, the journey that terminates in an analysis of Cartesianism is well worth the ride. Moreover, the author offers an alternative to Descartes' theory that is both compelling and thought-provoking.


No comments: