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Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Antonio Damasio

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5. Januar 2012

Winner of the CORINE International Book Award 2011

From one of the most important neuroscientists at work today, a path-breaking investigation of a question that has confounded neurologists, philosophers, cognitive scientists and psychologists for centuries: how is consciousness created?

Antonio Damasio has spent the past thirty years studying and writing about how the brain operates, and his work has garnered acclaim for its singular melding of the scientific and the humanistic. In Self Comes to Mind, he goes against the long-standing idea that consciousness is somehow separate from the body, presenting compelling new scientific evidence that consciousness - what we think of as a mind with a self - is in fact a biological process created by a living organism.

The result is a groundbreaking investigative journey into the neurobiological foundations of mind and self.

Wird oft zusammen gekauft

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain + Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness + Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain
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"Breathtakingly original" (Financial Times)

"Awareness may be mostly mystery, but Damasio shapes its hints and glimmerings into an imaginative, informed narrative" (Kirkus)

"The marvel of reading Damasio's book is to be convinced one can follow the brain at work as it makes the private reality that is the deepest self" (V. S. Naipaul)

"Damasio's most ambitious work yet. It is a lucid and important work" (Word)

"The epicenter of Self Comes to Mind concerns the neurological basis for cognition and the issue of the superposition of a "self' onto the construct which we address as reality. Damasio is both eloquent and scholarly. His command of the themes he approaches is impressive, as is the vigor with which he tackles such recondite issues as the elusive "self," inside the head. A wonderful read, and a recommended one!" (Rodolfo R. Llinás, New York University)


A profound and groundbreaking new book telling the story of consciousness and the human mind, from one of the world's leading neuroscientists.

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Buchdeckel | Copyright | Inhaltsverzeichnis | Auszug | Stichwortverzeichnis
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Good news and bad news 20. November 2010
Von Paul L. Nunez - Veröffentlicht auf
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The deep enigma of consciousness has been explored from many directions, including contributions by neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers and a few physicists (both quantum and complex systems scientists). An important study area consists of injuries or diseases that destroy specific brain structures; these clinical events are often closely correlated to nuanced effects on selective aspects of consciousness. Professor Damasio's book makes good use of these data to describe many known neural correlates of consciousness. For purposes of this book, he adopts the working hypothesis that mental states and brain states are essentially equivalent. While many (including this reviewer) find this idea questionable, such tentative hypothesis is quite appropriate for a book of this kind. In science we often adopt useful, if highly oversimplified, models in the early stages of our studies with no illusions that they are perfectly accurate. In this manner "Truth" is (hopefully) approached in a series of successive approximations. Thankfully, Damasio does not claim to "explain" consciousness.

The book's title is based on Damasio's suggestion that our evolutionary history reveals many simple creatures with active "minds" (defined broadly), but only much later did self (awareness) develop; in other words the human self is built in steps grounded in the so-called "protoself." An essential step is the development of homeostatis (life regulation needed to survive) in single cell creatures like bacteria, followed by progressively more complex "societies of cells" in more complex creatures like insects, reptiles, and mammals. Thus consciousness, rooted in our evolutionary past, helps to optimize our responses to the environment so that we may continue our existence. Damasio also describes the self in terms of stages: the protoself, core self and autobiographical self, along with specific brain structures that may support these distinct stages. He concludes that conscious minds emerge from the brain's nested hierarchy of neural networks operating at multiple spatial scales (levels); I will expand on this last point later.

Several chapters consider brain structures that are most essential to mind and consciousness, providing more status to the brain stem and its sub structures than is normally acknowledged by neuroscientists. Damasio's arguments here are based on observations of children born without a cerebral cortex and on several evolutionary considerations. The book cites quite a bit of detailed brain anatomy so non experts should probably read the excellent Appendix on brain structure before tackling any material beyond chapter 2. Normally this suggestion would be offered in a Preface, but this book has none.

I gave the book four stars based on my evaluation of both the good and not so good features: 1) the nice development of a number of important ideas on conscious correlates, 2) the fluff, e.g., some unnecessary technical jargon and the belaboring of obvious points, 3) important omissions. In an example of the latter, I found the memory chapter inadequate given its central role in consciousness. I would have liked to read more about how, where, and at what spatial scales are various kinds of memory stored, or at least given some sense of which parts of the memory puzzle have actually been solved. By loose analogy, if I ask how a TV works, I am unsatisfied by explanations of how to dial in specific channels. Rather, I want to hear about electromagnetic fields and electron guns.

Many readers avoid Endnotes; this may be a mistake. Here is one shining gem involving an interchange between Damasio and Francis Crick, who pointed to several provocative definitions in the International Dictionary of Psychology (1996), providing both these guys quite a laugh. I will not spoil the story by relating the dictionary's definition of "consciousness," but here is this dictionary's definition of "love," "A form of mental illness not yet recognized by any of the standard diagnostic manuals." (Note to my wife, I do not endorse this definition.)

The apparent critical importance of the brain's nested hierarchy to consciousness seemed to me to be substantially understated in Damisio's book. I say this because nested hierarchy is a hallmark of many if not most complex systems, and brains are considered by most to be the pre-eminent complex systems. Think of social systems, for example. They typically consist of persons, neighborhoods, cities, states and nations; their observed dynamic behaviors are fractal-like (scale dependent) and the essence of their behaviors is rooted in the nested hierarchy of interactions at multiple scales, both top-down and bottom-up, the so-called "circular causality" of Synergetics, the science of cooperation and self organization (see books by Hermann Haken). The brain's nested hierarchy and its apparent critical importance to consciousness are discussed in Todd Feinberg's From Axons to Identity: Neurological Explorations of the Nature of the Self (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) and my new book (2010), which also explores the possible fundamental role of information in both the physical and mental realms. This latter topic is also covered in a series of essays edited by Paul Davies and Neils Gregersen Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics, 2010.

An alternate view of Damasio's book by Steven Rose was posted February 16, 2011 on this site (an excellent read for those interested in the hard problem).
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Piecing It All Together. 23. November 2010
Von Amazon Customer - Veröffentlicht auf
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Dr. Damasio says that, "This book is dedicated to addressing two questions. First: how does the brain construct a mind? Second: how does the brain make that mind conscious?" Do I think he does an exceptional job of tackling these two questions? Yes, I do.

I believe the greatest strength of this book lies in Dr. Damasio's capacity to take account of vast amounts of information and viewpoints related to mind and consciousness. He has included large swaths of issues that are usually books in and of themselves (Body Maps - The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better, Extended/Embodied Cognition - The Extended Mind (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology), Efficient Computational Theory of Mind - Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions, Selfhood - The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self, Free Will - Distributed Cognition and the Will: Individual Volition and Social Context (Bradford Books), Neuroeconomics - Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty (Evolution and Cognition Series) and Neuroanatomy - Mapping the Mind: Revised and Updated Edition). Furthermore, Dr. Damasio is very forthcoming in demarcating the known from the unknown and the probable from the possible in regards to neuroscience. The only downside I experienced while reading this book is that I felt a little lost, or perhaps impatient, while waiting for Damasio to tie everything together. It was only towards the last half of the book that the big picture began to emerge.

That being said, I believe that this book is a significant advancement in neuroscientific research. Most importantly, I actually understand what Damasio means when he speaks of the proto self, core self, and autobiographical self. His explanation of Convergence-Divergence Zones (CDZ's), as well as anatomical structures, is very effective and his manner of description is so unsophisticated that even a layman like me can understand exactly what he is illustrating. Also, there are many pictures, diagrams, and charts to help too.

In conclusion, I very much enjoyed the substance of this book (the style is somewhat lacking, but hey, it's not supposed to be Shakespeare!). I also took pleasure in the way in which Damasio took a back-handed approach to dismissing a certain philosophers (Daniel Dennett, ahem) approach towards consciousness; I liked it because when it comes to Mind/Brain/Consciousness issues, I think philosophers must necessarily take a supporting role to the neuroscientists. "I see the neurology of consciousness as organized around the brain structures involved in generating the lead triad of wakefulness, mind, and self. Three major anatomical divisions - the brain stem, the thalamus, and cerebral cortex - are principally involved, but one must caution that there are no direct alignments between each anatomical division and each component of the triad. All three divisions contribute to some aspect of wakefulness, mind, and self." A great book, I highly recommend it. (Also, if you liked this book, or think you would like this book, I would also recommend reading V.S. Ramachandran's new book: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human.)
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5.0 von 5 Sternen The Guardian review of Self Comes to Mind 16. Februar 2011
Von Rose - Veröffentlicht auf
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Just came across an excellent review of Self Comes to Mind by Steven Rose for The Guardian.

Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio - review
Steven Rose examines a neurologist's attempt to explain why we have conscious selves
Steven Rose

The Guardian, Sat 12 Feb 2011 00.05 GMT

Consciousness has become a hot topic for brain scientists. Once, we were content to leave the interminable mind/brain problem to philosophers and theologians. Speculation remained a CLM - a career-limiting move -- for ambitious young researchers. No longer. Armed with novel tools, from genetic manipulation to brain imaging, flush with funding, and convinced that neuroscience has the key to the human condition, the hunt is on. Experiments, conferences and books proliferate, and philosophers of mind can no longer be taken seriously until they have done an internship in a neurophysiology lab.

Neuroscientists, especially those of us trained in the Anglo-American tradition, tend to be as mechanically materialist as was "Darwin's bulldog", Thomas Huxley, in the 19th century, when he remarked that mind is to brain as the whistle is to the steam train - a mere epiphenomenon. Thoughts, feelings, intentions, reasons - all are causally generated by brain processes, and it is these latter that do the real business. Hence for Francis Crick, "you are nothing but a pack of neurons", free will is located in the cingulate gyrus, and consciousness in the claustrum - two small regions of the human brain's massive cerebral cortex. Self-styled "neurophilosophers" such as Patricia Churchland follow in their footsteps, proposing that mental language is mere "folk psychology", destined to be reduced and replaced by a biologically precise language of neural connections and brain activity.

Consciousness is a term with multiple meanings. David Lodge has argued that the richness of individual conscious experience, that essential subjectivity, is better explored in novels and poetry than by neuroscientists. Most consciousness researchers ignore this rich heritage; for them the word signifies simply the obverse of being unconscious or asleep - that is to be awake, aware, attending and alert to one's immediate surroundings. Consciousness studies typically involve experimental subjects fitted with brain readout devices such as an electroencephalogram. They are asked to make a decision - for instance when to press a button -- and to state the time at which they became aware that they had made the decision. It turns out that the EEG indicates that the brain has made the decision some few thousandths of a second before subjects "know" they have decided. So why bother with consciousness at all? Couldn't that fantasy creature, a mindless zombie, do the job just as well?

For biologists though, consciousness, if not an accidental epiphenomenon, must be an evolved property with a function of some benefit to its possessor. As of course it is: being conscious gives us humans the capacity to learn from the past, to anticipate and plan for the future, to establish and maintain social relations, to imagine and create societies, technologies, art and literature. This has - so far - proved a successful evolutionary strategy. Yet human consciousness appears to be not merely quantitatively but qualitatively distinct from that of even our closest evolutionary neighbours, chimps and bonobos. And as one needs a brain to be conscious in any of the word's multiple meanings, there must be something about the human brain that differentiates us from the bonobos and enables consciousness.

It is these issues that Antonio Damasio, a neurologist now based in California, has wrestled with in a series of books over the past two decades. He has several advantages over his American neuroscientific peers. His continental European training sensitises him to the reductionist traps that ensnare so many of his colleagues. The book is dedicated to his neurologist wife Hanna, whose work with brain- and consciousness-damaged patients, brings her closer to real life than the remote context and artificial experimental set-ups of the neuropsychology lab. Inclined though he is to define consciousness narrowly ("a state of mind in which there is knowledge of one's own existence and of the existence of surroundings") and to put to one side its content - what we actually think about - his is the only one of the many consciousness books weighing down my shelves that feels it necessary to mention Freud's, as opposed to an anaesthetist's, use of the term unconscious.

Anyone who has read any of Damasio's previous three books will find Self Comes to Mind retreading some familiar territory, though here set in a firmly evolutionary context. In Damasio's terminology, even single-celled organisms such as bacteria or amoebae have a minimal sense of self, working to preserve their internal integrity against foreign incursion. They also show primitive emotions, the earliest forerunners to our own experiences of pain and pleasure, moving away from noxious stimuli and towards food sources. In accord with standard physiology Damasio calls the processes by which an organism stabilises its body state homeostatic. (I prefer the term homodynamic; stasis, after all, is death). In multicellular organisms, which appear later in evolutionary history, the cells that recognise the presence of such stimuli are separated from those that must co-ordinate the organism's responses to them. Before nervous systems evolved, the sense-receptor cells signalled to those co-ordinating the response through chemicals (hormones) that diffuse through the body. Later in evolution, dedicated signalling lines (nerves) appear, connecting the receptor cells with a central group of nerve cells - neurons - that are the forerunners to our own brains.

Brains are by no means the only game in town; bacteria and plants of course flourish quite well without, and will probably outlive humans. But our ancestors took a different route, building bigger and more complex brains. Within such brains neurons communicate with each other by myriad connections. These fluctuating patterns can form representations of both the external world and the body state of the organism that owns them. Such brains enable their possessors to learn and remember, to recognise the present in the context of the immediate past and the imminent future. To Damasio this means that they are, or possess, selves. In animals with big brains, emotions - mere bodily responses - become translated into feelings, and with feelings, a mind - "a subtle flowing combination of actual images and recalled images in ever-changing proportions" - emerges from the brain. Many large-brained creatures thus have minds, however alien they may be to our own. But consciousness emerges only when - to quote the book's title - self comes to mind, so that in key brain regions, the representational maps of sensory experience intersect with the encoded experiences of past that self provides. This, enabled by the evolution of language, makes possible autobiographical memory - the narrative of our lives that we humans all possess and which is the basis for consciousness.

This, briefly summarised, is the latest version of Damasio's theory. The story is told in prose of intermittently easygoing lucidity, but his primary training as a neurologist compels him into passages of detailed neuro-anatomy, locating brain regions functionally responsible for enabling particular aspects of consciousness. But which bits of the brain might be involved, though of passionate concern to neuroscientists, isn't the crucial issue - which is whether Damasio has thereby solved what has been called the "hard problem" of consciousness studies by relating third-person "objective" accounts to first-person subjectivity. I fear that however convincing his evolutionary story may be, simply to state that these brain processes translate into mental experience leaves us, despite some very elegant hand-waving, exactly where we were before. And herein lies the paradox of the book's subtitle. Brains are not conscious; people are. Our brains enable our consciousness, just as our legs enable our walking, as the anthropologist Tim Ingold has pointed out. But to attribute the property of a whole to that of a part is to commit what philosophers refer to as the mereological fallacy (one that I confess I have not been entirely innocent of in my own writings).

In everyday thought and speech we have reasons, intentions, feelings. In brainspeak we have synapses, firing patterns, neurotransmitters. For the mechanical materialist, the latter causes the former - and in his routine use of causal language Damasio reveals himself as just that. This is why the weakest part of the book is the concluding chapters, where he extends his central principle of homeostasis to embrace human history, society and culture. But it is possible to be a non-reductionist materialist. The language of mind and consciousness relates to the language of brains and synapses as English does to Italian; one may translate into the other, though always with some loss of cultural resonance. But we do not have to assign primacy to either. Long may pluralism reign, and we conscious beings continue to employ our minds and brains to enhance our understanding of both.
Steven Rose's The 21st-Century Brain is published by Vintage.
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2.0 von 5 Sternen convoluted writing style 11. Juli 2011
Von E. M. - Veröffentlicht auf
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I had very high hopes for this book. I had just read Koch's brilliant "The Quest for Consciousness", which focuses on visual awareness and its neurobiological correlates. What was lacking from that work was the concept of the self, which I hoped Damasio would elucidate. I read about two thirds of the book and gave up. To say that the writing style is convoluted is an understatement. One gets the sense that Damasio is bored with his own ideas and tries to entertain himself with odd turns of phrase, or by going off on tangents. If and when you finally figure out what one of his denser paragraphs is about, you will think: "Is this what he means? Well why doesn't he just say that?". Scientific background was not the issue for me as this is my field; he just doesn't know how to, or chooses not to explain. He is writing for his own pleasure when he needs to be writing for his reader. Damasio badly needs to hire someone from the outside to help him write in a clear manner and give him critical feedback.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen For bumblebee scholars, too. 25. November 2010
Von Gordon Hill - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
As I write this I am trying to assess the three previous reviews which were written by those more scholarly than I. That said, I encourage "bumblebee scholars" such as I to dig in to this seminal work. It can't hurt and might be good for you.

Cautionary Note: If you read the Endnotes you may construct a reading list that will prompt you to delay your demise for at least twenty years beyond your current biological expectancy.
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