Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 27, 1999
In this eagerly awaited book, the admired neuroscientist and humanist Antonio R. Damasio brings a lifetime of research and a literary gift to the last frontier of brain research – the mystery of consciousness. How is it that we know that we know? How is it that our conscious and private minds have a sense of self? These are the questions he considers in The Feeling of What Happens.
In a radical departure from current views on consciousness, Damasio contends that explaining how we make mental images or attend to those images will not suffice to elucidate the mystery. A satisfactory hypothesis for the making of consciousness must attempt to explain how the sense of self comes to the mind.
Damasio suggests that the sense of self does not depend on memory or on reasoning and even less on language. The sense of self depends, he argues, on the brain’s ability to portray the living organism in the act of relating to an object. That ability, in turn, is a consequence of the brain’s involvement in the process of regulating life. The sense of self began as yet another device aimed at ensuring survival.
After reading Descartes’ Error, Damasio’s landmark book, Jonas Salk wrote “You will never again look at yourself or at another without wondering what goes on behind the eyes that so meet.”
The Feeling of What Happens takes you further along the same path of discovery and shows how “consciousness is the key to a life examined, our beginner’s permit to the experiences that make us human.”
Antonio R. Damasio is the M. W. Van Allen Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa city. He is also Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. Damasio, internationally recognized for his research on the neuroscience of the mind, is a member both of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Among his many awards are the Pessoa Prize, which he shared with his wife, and, most recently the Ipsen Prize. His previous book, Descartes’ Error, has been translated into seventeen languages and is taught in universities worldwide.