Monday, June 18, 2012

On Mind and Body Networks: Antonio Damasio

Railroad worker Phineas Gage took one for the neuroscience team when his metal tamping rod was launched through his skull and brain by an accidental spark that exploded a gunpowder charge intended to level a rock outcropping.

I'm still on a brain science reading jag. I keep finding new books to add to my ever expanding must-read list. Normally, I like to vary my reading selections with a few crime novels or general science books here and there, but I'm very deep into the neuroscience books at present. Apparently, this brain science stuff is very complicated (but not as complicated as tring to grow money with investments).

I'm also in "work crunch" mode, racking up a ton of OT hours at work, day after day, week after week. I've said it before,, and I'll say it again, in this crazy modern culture, you either work all the time or hardly at all. so, I tend to go on buying sprees via the internet to reward myself for the hours I'm putting in, spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave. It's Amazon, eBay, Half Price Books, and, here I come.

I'm halfway through Antonio Damasio's 1994 book, Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain . This is a smartly written primer about brain anatomy and emotional processing. It's a bit more literate, and more enjoyable to read than Joseph Ledoux's still excellent book, The Emotional Brain (which delved more into the nuts and bolts of the brain lab experiments and research techniques).

Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio

From Amazon: "Pioneering scientist Damasio's international reputation is based on his explorations into the neurology of vision, memory, and language. His influence will extend far beyond the parameters of the scientific community with this marvelously lucid and engaging presentation of his innovative ideas about the interconnectedness of mind and body. Damasio begins with some dramatic case histories of people who have survived brain damage without severe physical impairment only to experience bizarre degradations of personality and thought processes. He explains these puzzling maladies by analyzing the various systems at work in the brain, from those associated with life support to the highest echelon of cognition. After discussing how emotions and feelings are expressed by the bodypounding heart, trembling hands, and blushing, Damasio launches into one of his main themes: how essential emotions are to our ability to reason and make decisions. As he illuminates numerous ways the body and the mind work together to process stimuli, draw upon memory, and fuel thought and judgment, Damasio convinces us that the self is a perpetually recreated neurobiological state. Descartes' error, then, was his belief that the mind and body are separate entities. On the contrary, Damasio tells us, their continual collaboration is the key to consciousness and individuality." --  review by Donna Seaman.

From Kirkus Reviews

"Few neuroscientists today would defend Cartesian dualism -- the idea that mind and body are separate -- but Damasio takes one more leap: Not only are philosophers wrong to separate brain and body, but psychology's separation of reason from emotion is also wrong. Most neuroscientists agree that what we call the mind reflects the functions of the nervous system -- in short, crudely speaking, the body. Modern science, however, has transferred the old mind- body split into a brain-body dichotomy in which the brain occupies a hierarchically privileged place. But Damasio (Neurology/Univ. of Iowa College of Medicine) democratizes the relationship between brain and body; he posits a powerful interdependence in which our physical experience of the world around us is central to the creation of our sense of self, and colors our behavior. His persuasive argument begins with Phineas Gage, a 19th-century railway worker who suffered brain damage when an iron rod shot through his head like a missile, destroying his left eye and parts of his frontal lobes. The result was not a loss of speech or memory but profound personality and emotional changes and an inability to make rational judgments about the present and future. Damasio and his wife, Hanna, have studied patients with similar frontal-lobe damage and similar effects: IQ, memory, and language are intact, but there is a lack of feeling and an inability to put current events in context and make future judgments. These points are eloquently expressed, along with the anatomical/physiological evidence linking the frontal cortices with sensory-motor areas and emotional networks that feed forward and backward from the body surface and internal organs. Damasio is the first to admit that he cannot prove all he says. In the meantime, one can read with pleasure and share the excitement of a neuroscientist who sees that in the union of the many parts of the human brain lies its strength."

To quote Tex Avery's Droopy, "Gruesome, isn't it?"

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