Antonio Damasio’s Self Comes to Mind
What I found so fascinating about this book was Damasio’s idea that our self evolved first of all as a clever way to organise information from the body and respond to it effectively.
A self begins to consciously experience the inside world of its body, through symbols and images. Self is fundamentally an organic experience of the body from the inside. A sense of self evolved as a way to consciously evaluate how we feel – what is happening to our organism as a result of everything that is going on around us, affecting us, changing us.
Humans are first of all sensing, feeling creatures. This is the priority of life. Cells are sensing feeling organisms. If these functions are diminished in any way the cell will die or at least start to function inappropriately.
I love the way Damasio roots the development of self right back into the core functions of the cell. The conceptual thinking that humans enjoy is the icing on the cake of a more fundamental necessity. Some of us have become so addicted to the icing, we have forgotten the nourishment of the cake.
Damasio suggests that the striking development of the cortex in humans – which has enabled us to be extra-ordinarily adaptive because of our ability to form pictures, stories, think and plan – may in the end be our downfall. Because the cortex is so noisy and insistent, the messages from the body aren’t getting through, and we are no longer evaluating ideas, foods and activities through the direct intelligence of the body – which after all has has been millions of years in the making, and knows immediately the import of the idea as far as the body in concerned. A lot of us can’t tell whether we are being poisoned by an idea of food, or nourished. We have lost the ability to feel.
Yoga, somatic exercises, massage and meditation are all ways to quieten the busy mind. Then we can start to listen to what is going on in our bodies, so we can get back in touch with the core process of health, which is to sense and feel what is actually going on, and how we are being affected by our choices and decisions and actions. These practices may be essential to bring the mind and body back into balance and health. They may be essential to the very survival of the human species.
This is how to understand Damasio’s message.
Antonio Damasio at the time of writing this review was the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Southern California and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. Damasio also heads the Brain and Creativity Institute. Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (2010) explores the relationship between the brain and consciousness. Damasio’s research in neuroscience has shown that emotions play a central role in social cognition and decision-making. Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis, a theory about how emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making (both positively and negatively, and often non-consciously).