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Descartes' Error
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'Crucial reading' - New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Antonio Damasio is Van Allen Professor of Neurology and head of the department of neurology at The University of Iowa College of Medicine. 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.

Reviews

The idea that the mind exists as a distinct entity from the body has profoundly influenced Western culture since Descartes proclaimed, "I think, therefore I am." Damasio, head of neurology at the University of Iowa and a prominent researcher on human brain function, challenges this premise in a fascinating and well-reasoned argument on the central role that emotion and feelings play in human rationality. According to Damasio, the same brain structures regulate both human biology and behavior and are indispensable to normal cognitive processes. Damasio demonstrates how patients (his own as well as the 19th-century railroad worker Nicholas Gage) with prefrontal cortical damage can no longer generate the emotions necessary for effective decision-making. A gifted scientist and writer, Damasio combines an Oliver Sack-like reportage with the presentation of complex, theoretical issues in neurobiology. Recommended for wide purchase.-Laurie Bartolini, Legislative Research, Springfield, Ill.

In an important, gracefully written exploration of the neurochemical basis of mind, neurologist Damasio rejects the Cartesian notion of the human mind as a thinking organ more or less separate from bodily processes. Emotions and feelings, he argues, are essential to reasoning and decision-making. The human brain, he further contends, has a specialized region in the frontal lobes for making personal and social decisions, and this region works in concert with deeper brain centers that store emotional memories. To support this controversial claim, Damasio draws on his work with brain-injured patients at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and also cites the case of Phineas Gage, a Vermont railway foreman who lost his ethical faculties after an explosion in 1848 drove a metal rod through his skull. Damasio's exciting investigation challenges the fashionable metaphor of the mind as a software program. Interested readers are also referred to Richard Restak's The Modular Brain (Nonfiction Forecasts, June 13). Illustrations. 50,000 first printing; QPB alternate; Library of Science selection. (Sept.)

"A thought-provoking account" * New Scientist *
"Rich in provocative concepts about intelligence, memory, creativity and passion" * Los Angeles Times *
"idiosyncratic and engaging" * The Times *
"Damasio is a profound thinker and an elegant writer...Descartes' Error is a fascinating exploration of the biology of reason and its inseparable dependence on emotion" -- Oliver Sacks
"Crucial reading" * New York Times Book Review *

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