Cover image for The feeling of what happens : body and emotion in the making of consciousness
The feeling of what happens : body and emotion in the making of consciousness
Damasio, Antonio R.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 386 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
BF311 .D33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The publication of this book is an event in the making. All over the world scientists, psychologists, and philosophers are waiting to read Antonio Damasio's new theory of the nature of consciousness and the construction of the self. A renowned and revered scientist and clinician, Damasio has spent decades following amnesiacs down hospital corridors, waiting for comatose patients to awaken, and devising ingenious research using PET scans to piece together the great puzzle of consciousness.In his bestselling Descartes' Error, Damasio revealed the critical importance of emotion in the making of reason. Building on this foundation, he now shows how consciousness is created. Consciousness is the feeling of what happens-our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience. Without our bodies there can be no consciousness, which is at heart a mechanism for survival that engages body, emotion, and mind in the glorious spiral of human life. A hymn to thepossibilities of human existence, a magnificent work of ingenious science, a gorgeously written book, The Feeling of What Happens is already being hailed as a classic.

Author Notes

Antonio Damasio was born in Lisbon, Portugal and studied medicine at the University of Lisbon Medical School, where he also did his neurological residency and completed his doctorate. Eventually, he moved to the United States as a research fellow at the Aphasia Research Center in Boston. From 1976 to 2005, he was M.W. Van Allen Professor and Head of Neurology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He is currently the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Neurology, and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California.

He has written several books on his research including Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, which won the Science et Vie prize; The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness; and Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. He has also received the Prince of Asturias Award in Science and Technology, the Kappers Neuroscience Medal, the Beaumont Medal from the American Medical Association, the Nonino Prize, the Reenpaa Prize in Neuroscience, and the Honda Prize.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Neurologist Damasio explained why emotions are essential to our survival in Descartes's Error (1994). Now, in another paradigm-shifting performance, he seeks to delineate the nature of consciousness and the biological source of our sense of self. Damasio approaches these elusive and tantalizing subjects with assurance and palpable excitement, aligning theory with life, as Oliver Saks does, by chronicling the poignant yet instructive experiences of people suffering neurological disorders. His goal is to understand how we cross the "threshold that separates being from knowing"; that is, how we not only know things about the world, via our senses, but how we are aware simultaneously of a self that is experiencing this "feeling of what happens." Drawing on his fluent understanding of the workings of the brain and of evolution, Damasio conjectures the existence of two levels of consciousness: a core consciousness and self, and an extended consciousness and an autobiographical self. He then postulates the crucial roles emotion, memory, and "wordless storytelling" play in our existence. At its base, Damasio concludes, consciousness means that we feel both pain and pleasure; in its higher manifestations, it enables us to transcend and articulate these feelings through language, creativity, and conscience. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Tackling a great complex of questions that poets, artists and philosophers have contemplated for generations, Damasio (Descartes' Error) examines current neurological knowledge of human consciousness. Significantly, in key passages he evokes T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare and William James. In Eliot's words, consciousness is "music heard so deeply/ That it is not heard at all." It, like Hamlet, begins with the question "Who's there?" And Damasio holds that there is, as James thought, a "stream of" consciousness that utilizes every part of the brain. Consciousness, argues Damasio, is linked to emotion, to our feelings for the images we perceive. There are in fact several kinds of consciousness, he says: the proto-self, which exists in the mind's constant monitoring of the body's state, of which we are unaware; a core consciousness that perceives the world 500 milliseconds after the fact; and the extended consciousness of memory, reason and language. Different from wakefulness and attention, consciousness can exist without language, reason or memory: for example, an amnesiac has consciousness. But when core consciousness fails, all else fails with it. More important for Damasio's argument, emotion and consciousness tend to be present or absent together. At the height of consciousness, above reason and creativity, Damasio places conscience, a word that preceded conciousness by many centuries. The author's plain language and careful redefinition of key points make this difficult subject accessible for the general reader. In a book that cuts through the old nature vs. nurture argument as well as conventional ideas of identity and possibly even of soul, it's clear, though he may not say so, that Damasio is still on the side of the angels. Agent, Michael Carlisle; 9-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his widely acclaimed Descartes's Error, Damasio (neurology, Univ. of Iowa Medical Ctr.) argued that emotion and feelings are integral to human rationality. Here he explores the relationship between these two states and consciousness. Consciousness allows feelings to be known and emotion to "permeate the thought process." Indeed, "consciousness begins as the feeling of what happens when we see or hear or touch." Vital to this process is the construction of a sense of self. "How," he asks, "is the sense of self in the act of knowing implanted in the mind?" Damasio proposes that consciousness, like emotion, is a device to promote the stability and survival of an organism. Basing his hypotheses on observations of neurological patients and on normal processes of consciousness, the author speculates on the biological underpinnings of consciousness. This is not a book to be read quickly; the biological mechanisms described are often complicated and complex. But Damasio's spirited writing style and scientific rigor will make a conscientious reading well worthwhile. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.ÄLaurie Bartolini, MacMurray Coll. Lib., Springfield, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Damasio's book occupies the intersection of philosophy, cognitive psychology, and clinical neurology. This is an intriguing space in modern thought, as brain imaging techniques and rapid advances in cognitive psychology have allowed for much greater possibilities in the understanding of the human mind than even the most optimistic theorists imagined 25 years ago. Author of the well-received Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (1994), Damasio has taken on the most formidable problem still vexing both philosophers and psychologists, the question "What is consciousness"? Weaving together ideas culled from his clinical practice of neurology, particularly with patients with quite localized brain damage, from current concepts in cognitive psychology, and from more traditional philosophy, he analyzes what many observers would agree makes humans most distinct in the animal kingdom--i.e., our sense of not only knowing, but knowing that we know. The theory presented is rich and complex, and likely to be widely discussed. Most useful for graduate students and professionals. D. P. Kimble; University of Oregon

Table of Contents

Part I Introductionp. I
Chapter 1 Stepping into the Lightp. 3
Stepping into the Light
Absent without Leave
The Problem of Consciousness
Approaching Consciousness
Mind, Behavior, and Brain
Reflecting on the Neurological and Neuropsychological Evidence
A Search for Self
Why We Need Consciousness
The Beginning of Consciousness
Coping with Mystery
Hide and Seek
Part II Feeling and Knowingp. 33
Chapter 2 Emotion and Feelingp. 35
Once More with Emotion
A Historical Aside
The Brain Knows More than the Conscious Mind Reveals
An Aside on Controlling the Uncontrollable
What Are Emotions?
The Biological Function of Emotions
Inducing Emotions
The Mechanics of Emotion
Have No Fear
How It All Works
Sharpening the Definition of Emotion: An Aside
The Substrate for the Representation of Emotions and Feelings
Chapter 3 Core Consciousnessp. 82
Studying Consciousness
The Music of Behavior and the External Manifestations of Consciousness
Attention and Purposeful Behavior
Studying Consciousness from Its Absence
Chapter 4 The Hint Half Hintedp. 107
Language and Consciousness
If You Had That Much Money: A Comment on Language and Consciousness
Memory and Consciousness
Nothing Comes to Mind
David's Consciousness
Rounding Up Some Facts
The Hint Half Hinted
Part III A Biology for Knowingp. 131
Chapter 5 The Organism and the Objectp. 133
The Body behind the Self
The Need for Stability
The Internal Milieu as a Precursor to the Self
More on the Internal Milieu
Under the Microscope
Managing Life
Why Are Body Representations Well Suited to Signify Stability?
One Body One Person: The Roots of the Singularity of Self
The Organism's Invariance and the Impermanence of Permanence
The Roots of Individual Perspective, Ownership, and Agency
The Mapping of Body Signals
The Neural Self
Brain Structures Required to Implement the Proto-Self
Brain Structures Which Are Not Required to Implement the Proto-Self
A Note on the Disorders of the Something-to-Be-Known
It Must Be Me because I'm Here
Chapter 6 The Making of Core Consciousnessp. 168
The Birth of Consciousness
You Are the Music while the Music Lasts: The Transient Core Self
Beyond the Transient Core Self: The Autobiographical Self
Assembling Core Consciousness
The Need for a Second-Order Neural Pattern
Where Is the Second-Order Neural Pattern?
The Images of Knowing
Consciousness from Perceived Objects and Recalled Past Perceptions
The Nonverbal Nature of Core Consciousness
The Naturalness of Wordless Storytelling
One Last Word on the Homunculus
Taking Stock
Chapter 7 Extended Consciousnessp. 195
Extended Consciousness
Assessing Extended Consciousness
Disorders of Extended Consciousness
Transient Global Amnesia
The Transient and the Permanent
The Neuroanatomical Basis for the Autobiographical Self
The Autobiographical Self, Identity, and Personhood
The Autobiographical Self and the Unconscious
Nature's Self and Culture's Self
Beyond Extended Consciousness
Chapter 8 The Neurology of Consciousnessp. 234
Assessing Statement Number One: Evidence for a Role of Proto-Self Structures in Consciousness
It Looks like Sleep
It May Look like Coma
Reflecting on the Neural Correlates of Coma and Persistent Vegetative State
The Reticular Formation Then and Now
A Quiet Mystery
The Anatomy of the Proto-Self in the Perspective of Classical Experiments
Reconciling Facts and Interpretations
Assessing Statement Number Two: Evidence for a Role of Second-Order Structures in Consciousness
Assessing the Other Statements
A Remarkable Overlap of Functions
A New Context for Reticular Formation and Thalamus
A Counterintuitive Fact?
Part IV Bound to Knowp. 277
Chapter 9 Feeling Feelingsp. 279
Feeling Feelings
The Substrate for Feelings of Emotion
From Emotion to Conscious Feeling
What Are Feelings For?
A Note on Background Feelings
The Obligate Body-Relatedness of Feeling
Emotion and Feeling after Spinal Cord Transection
Evidence from the Section of Vagus Nerve and Spinal Cord
Lessons from Locked-In Syndrome
Learning from Emotion with the Help of the Body
Chapter 10 Using Consciousnessp. 296
Unconsciousness and Its Limits
The Merits of Consciousness
Will We Ever Experience the Consciousness of Another?
Where Does Consciousness Rank in the Grand Scheme?
Chapter 11 Under the Lightp. 312
By Feeling and by Light
Under the Light
Appendix Notes on Mind and Brainp. 317
A Glossary of Sorts
What Is an Image and What Is a Neural Pattern?
Images Are Not Just Visual
Constructing Images
Mysteries and Gaps of Knowledge in the Making of Images
New Terms
Some Pointers on the Anatomy of the Nervous System
The Brain Systems behind the Mind
Endnotesp. 336
Acknowledgmentsp. 366
Indexp. 369
About the Authorp. 386