For part of his studies, he researched behavioral neurology under the supervision of Norman Geschwind of the Aphasia Research Center in Boston. Damasio might believe that emotions play a critical role in high-level cognition—an idea counter to dominant 20th-century views in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis , [5] a theory about how emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making both positively and negatively, and often non-consciously. Emotions provide the scaffolding for the construction of social cognition and are required for the self processes which undergird consciousness. Diener et al.

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Quoted from the review, by philosopher of mind, Colin McGinn: "I have two things to say about this theory: it is unoriginal, and it is false. He generally writes as if he were advancing a startling discovery, mere hints of which, with the benefit of hindsight, can be extracted from Spinoza and James. In fact, the theory is a standard chestnut of psychology textbooks, a staple of old-style behaviorist psychology, with its emphasis on outer behavior at the expense of inner feeling.

The errors of the theory are chiefly those of exaggeration. While it is a truism that whistling a happy tune can improve your mood so that external actions can initiate a change of emotional state, it by no means follows that feelings play no causal role in the production of behavior. We do often cry because we are sad -- even though the crying can work to augment the feeling.

There is causal interplay between feelings and their bodily expression, rather than a one-way dependence. The fact, cited by Damasio, that a bodily fear response can precede a conscious feeling of fear does not show that once the feeling is present it has no causal control over behavior -- and it clearly does, as with fleeing and hiding.

What about the idea that an emotion is a bodily perception? Suppose I am delighted that my son has become a doctor. I may have various sensations in my body that express this emotion -- say, lightness in my limbs and a warm feeling in my viscera. My bodily sensations are directed to my body and my emotion is directed to my son. Therefore my emotion cannot be identical to my bodily sensations -- for the two have different objects.

This refutes the James-Lange theory. As Wittgenstein remarks in his classic discussion of this theory, the horribleness of my grief when someone I love dies cannot be explained as the horribleness of the sensations I feel in my body. It results, rather, from the horribleness of what my grief is about; my bodily sensations may not be particularly horrible in themselves.

The James-Lange theory fails because it ignores what philosophers call the intentionality of emotion -- that is, what emotions are about, their representational content, which are generally things outside the body. The theory tries to reduce an emotion to its sensory bodily symptoms, but these symptoms have the wrong kind of intentionality: the state of the body, not the state of the external world.


Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain

A low-intensity electrical current then charges the motor nuclei, enabling the patient to move their hands without a tremor and to walk normally. Then she began to cry and to speak of her hopelessness, her sense of worthlessness, of disappearing down a dark hole. The doctors realised something was wrong and switched off the current. In less than two minutes her behaviour returned to normal.


Antonio Damasio



I feel therefore I am


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