Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain
is a book by neurologist Antonio R. Damasio
Antonio Damasio is David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, where he heads USC's Brain and Creativity Institute and Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute. Prior to taking up his posts at USC, in 2005, Damasio was M.W...
presenting the author's "somatic marker hypothesis
The somatic-marker hypothesis proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide behavior, particularly decision-making. This hypothesis has been formulated by Antonio Damasio.-Hypothesis:...
", a proposed mechanism by which emotions guide (or bias) behavior and decision-making, and positing that rationality requires emotional input. In part a treatment of the mind/body dualism
In philosophy of mind, dualism is a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical....
question, the book argues that René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...
' "error" was the dualist separation of mind and body, rationality and emotion.
The embodied mind: somatic markers
'Damasio argues in his well-known book that it is wrong to think that only minds think. The body and our emotions have a key role in the way we think and in rational decision-making'. Since, in his words, 'the body...contributes a content
that is part and parcel of the workings of the normal mind', it follows that 'the mind is embodied, in the full sense of the term, not just embrained'.
Damasio's theory stresses 'the crucial role of feeling in navigating the endless stream of life's personal decisions....The intuitive signals that guide us in these moments come in the form of limbic-driven surges from the viscera that Damasio calls "somatic markers" - literally, gut feelings'. Listening to your gut reactions, 'the somatic marker
...may lead you to reject, immediately
, the negative course of action and thus...allows you to choose from among fewer alternatives
The concept of self
In Descartes' Error
, Damasio also explored the way 'the neural basis of the self' as I see it, resides with the continuous activation of at least two sets of representations. One set concerns representations of key events in an individual's autobiography....The second set of representations underlying the neural self consists of the primordial representations of the individual's body'.
From these two sets, Damasio would later develop his concept of the hierarchy of consciousness, including the protoself
In António Damásio's theory of consciousness, the protoself or proto-self describes a basic level of awareness biologically available to the nervous system of animals. In Damásio's theory, the protoself is the first of the three processes leading to human consciousness...
, core consciousness, and extended consciousness
In biological psychology, extended consciousness is an animal's autobiographical self-perception.Extended consciousness is said to arise in the brain of animals with substantial capacity for memory and reason. It does not necessarily require language...
Daniel N. Stern is a prominent psychiatrist and psychoanalytic theorist, specializing in infant development, on which he has written a number of books - most notably The Interpersonal World of the Infant ....
's verbal self.
Damasio's book is widely acknowledged to be a 'work with far-reaching implications for understanding mental life'. Partly in consequence, there is 'at present introduced by literature such as Damasio's Descartes' Error
...a trend to include (or rather rehabilitate) the body and its movement into the research of the social and behavioral sciences'.
In literature too 'it is Damasio who seems to be the key inspiration behind the dismantling of the emotion/reason dichotomy'.
Damasio uses Phineas Gage
Phineas P. Gage was an American railroad construction foreman now remembered for his improbablesurvival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and for that injury's reported effects on his personality and...
and other brain-damage cases to argue that rationality stems from emotion, and that emotion stems from bodily senses.
However, the book's presentation of Gage's history and symptoms has been criticized as fictionalized.
Others object that in using Descartes' name Damasio was knowingly or unknowingly employing a straw man
A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position, twisting his words or by means of [false] assumptions...
; and that in fact 'the post-Cartesian medical tradition was well aware of the role of emotions in thinking'.
- Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Putnam Publishing, 1994, hardcover: ISBN 0-399-13894-3
- Harper Perennial, 1995 paperback: ISBN 0-380-72647-5
- Penguin, 2005 paperback reprint: ISBN 0-14-303622-X
J. Birtchnell, The Two of Me: The Rational Outer Me and The Emotional Inner Me
J. Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience