Quotes from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

António R. Damásio ·  336 pages

Rating: (6.2K votes)


“The distinction between diseases of "brain" and "mind," between "neurological" problems and "psychological" or "psychiatric" ones, is an unfortunate cultural inheritance that permeates society and medicine. It reflects a basic ignorance of the relation between brain and mind. Diseases of the brain are seen as tragedies visited on people who cannot be blamed for their condition, while diseases of the mind, especially those that affect conduct and emotion, are seen as social inconveniences for which sufferers have much to answer. Individuals are to be blamed for their character flaws, defective emotional modulation, and so on; lack of willpower is supposed to be the primary problem.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“The neural basis for the self, as I see it, resides with the continuous reactivation of at least two sets of representations. One set concerns representations of key events in an individual's autobiography, on the basis of which a notion of identity can be reconstructed repeatedly, by partial activation in topologically organized sensory maps. ...
In brief, the endless reactivation of updated images about our identity (a combination of memories of the past and of the planned future) constitutes a sizable part of the state of self as I understand it.
The second set of representations underlying the neural self consists of the primordial representations of an individual's body ... Of necessity, this encompasses background body states and emotional states. The collective representation of the body constitute the basis for a "concept" of self, much as a collection of representations of shape, size, color, texture, and taste can constitute the basis for the concept of orange.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“The self is a repeatedly reconstructed biological state.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“feel an emotion it is necessary but not sufficient that neural signals from viscera, from muscles and joints, and from neurotransmitter nuclei—all of which are activated during the process of emotion—reach certain subcortical nuclei and the cerebral cortex. Endocrine and other chemical signals also reach the central nervous system via the bloodstream among other routes.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“I do not see emotions and feelings as the intangible and vaporous qualities that many presume them to be. Their subject matter is concrete, and they can be related to specific systems in body and brain, no less so than vision or speech.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain



“Emotions and the feelings are not a luxury, they are a means of communicating our states of mind to others. But they are also a way of guiding our own judgments and decisions. Emotions bring the body into the loop of reason.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“most of our decision making was shaped by somatic states related to punishment and reward. But”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“WE ALMOST NEVER think of the present, and when we do, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future.1 These are Pascal’s words, and it is easy to see how perceptive he was about the virtual nonexistence of the present, consumed as we are by using the past to plan what-comes-next, a moment away or in the distant future. That”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“somatic markers depend on learning within a system that can connect certain categories of entity or event with the enactment of a body state, pleasant or unpleasant. Incidentally,”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“Because the brain is the body’s captive audience, feelings are winners among equals. And”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain



“Willpower is just another name for the idea of choosing long-term outcomes rather than short-term ones.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“The popular antidepressant Prozac, which acts by blocking the reuptake of serotonin and probably increasing its availability, has received wide attention; the notion that low serotonin levels might be correlated with a tendency towards violence has surfaced in the popular press. The problem is that it is not the absence or low amount of serotonin per se that "causes" a certain manifestation. Serotonin is part of an exceedingly complicated mechanism which operates at the level of molecules, synapses, local circuits and systems, and in which sociocultural factors, past and present, also intervene powerfully. A satisfactory explanation can arise only from a more comprehensive view of the entire process, in which the relevant variables of a specific problem, such as depression or social adaptability, are analyzed in detail.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“common sense observations of human behavior support a similar dissociation in reasoning abilities which cuts in both directions. We all know persons who are exceedingly clever in their social navigation, who have an unerring sense of how to seek advantage for themselves and for their group, but who can be remarkably inept when trusted with a nonpersonal, nonsocial problem. The reverse condition is just as dramatic: We all know creative scientists and artists whose social sense is a disgrace, and who regularly harm themselves and others with their behavior. The absent-minded professor is the benign variety of the latter type. At work, in these different personality styles, are the presence or absence of what Howard Gardner has called “social intelligence,” or the presence or absence of one or the other of his multiple intelligences such as the “mathematical.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“If ensuring the survival of the body proper is what the brain first evolved for, then, when minded brains first appeared, they began by minding the body. And to ensure body survival as effectively as possible, nature, I suggest, stumbled on a highly effective solution: representing the outside world in terms of the modifications it causes in the body proper, that is, representing the environment by modifying the primordial representations of the body proper whenever an interaction between organism and environment takes place.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“In using the notion of self, I am in no way suggesting that all the contents of our minds are inspected by a single central knower and owner, and even less that such an entity would reside in a single brain place. I am saying, though, that our experiences tend to have a consistent perspective, as if there were indeed an owner and knower for most, though not all, contents. I imagine this perspective to be rooted in a relatively stable, endlessly repeated biological state. The source of the stability is the predominantly invariant structure and operation of the organism, and the slowly evolving elements of autobiographical data.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain



“Present continuously becomes past, and by the time we take stock of it we are in another present, consumed with planning the future, which we do on the stepping-stones of the past. The present is never here. We are hopelessly late for consciousness.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“What worries me is the acceptance of the importance of feelings without any effort to understand their complex biological and sociocultural machinery. The best example of this attitude can be found in the attempt to explain bruised feelings or irrational behavior by appealing to surface social causes or the action of neurotransmitters, two explanations that pervade the social discourse as presented in the visual and printed media; and in the attempt to correct personal and social problems with medical and nonmedical drugs. It is precisely this lack of understanding of the nature of feelings and reason (one of the hallmarks of the "culture of complaint") that is cause for alarm.”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


“Othello goes through in his mind before he develops jealousy and anger,”
― António R. Damásio, quote from Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain


About the author

António R. Damásio
Born place: in Lisbon, Portugal
Born date February 25, 1944
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