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Antonio Damasio, Part II

Image result for brain hemispheres

Yesterday I discussed Damasio's book Descartes' Error, and the use it made of the James-Lange theory of emotion. As I promised, I move now to Damasio's 1999 book, The Feeling of What Happens, which moves on from matters of emotion and rationality to the related but distinct issue of consciousness.

Consciousness, he says, is a chain rather than a single link. It is the collective noun for a number of closely related facts, each more rare in the natural world than the one before. The following are the links in the chain:

1) non-conscious neural signalling gives rise to
2) a proto-self, which permits the development of
3) a core self, which is only here-and-now, but which when added to memory becomes
4) an autobiographical self, which finally permits something that may be distinctively human ...
5) extended consciousness, (which he also calls "consciousness post-language") and finally,
6) conscience.

Damasio devotes a good deal of effort to giving separate meaning to each of the links of the chain, and I won't try to replicate it all here. The following bit may convey some of his thinking:

"When Julian Jaynes presents his engaging thesis about the  evolution of consciousness, he is referring to consciousness post-language, not to core consciousness as I described it. WHen thinkers as diverse as Daniel Dennett, Humberto Maturana, and Francisco Varela speak about consciousness, they usually refer to consciousness as a post language phenomenon. They are speaking, as I see it, about the higher reaches of extended consciousness as it occurs now, at this stage in biological evolution. I have no problem with their proposals -- but I wish to make clear that in my proposal extended consciousness rides on to of the foundational core consciousness which and and other species have long had and continue to have." 

In his view, the autobiographical self derives from the instinct to tell stories. This "is probably a brain obsession and probably begins relatively early both in terms of evolution and in terms of the complexity of the neural structures required to create narratives. Telling stories precedes language since it is, in fact, a condition for language...."

With, perhaps, a second nod to Jaynes, he then says that the story-telling instinct is found "not just in the cerebral cortex but in the right hemisphere as well as the left."

Thus, I've included our friend the brain as an image above.


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