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

by Antonio Damasio

Hardcover, 2003




Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2003)


"Here, in a humane work of science, Damasio draws on his innovative research and on his experience with neurological patients to examine how feelings and the emotions that underlie them support the human spirit's greatest creations." "Damasio's new book focuses on what feelings are and reveals the biology of our survival mechanisms. It rediscovers a thinker whose work prefigures modern neuroscience, not only in his emphasis on emotions and feelings, but also in his refusal to separate mind and body. Together, the scientist and the philosopher help us understand what we are made of and what we are here for. Based on laboratory investigations but mindful of society and culture, Looking for Spinoza offers unexpected grounds for optimism about the human condition and is a masterwork of science and writing."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member pansociety
George Santayana described Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), the renowned Dutch philosopher and proponent of Pantheism, as "one of those great men whose eminence grows more obvious with the lapse of years. Like a mountain obscured at first by it foothills, he rises as he recedes."

So it is that Spinoza’s ideas, largely suppressed as heresy in his own time, have received appreciative treatment in several recent works, notably in Looking for Spinoza. Author Antonio Damasio, head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center, links cutting edge neurobiological research with the Spinoza’s philosophy. As it turns out, they dovetail beautifully. Damasio relates how Spinoza anticipated modern findings about the biological basis of feelings and consciousness.

Although Damasio plumbs the biological underpinnings of spirituality, he strives to avoid reductionism: “By connecting spiritual experiences to the neurobiology of feelings, my purpose is not to reduce the sublime to the mechanic and by so doing reduce its dignity. The purpose is to suggest that the sublimity of the spiritual is embodied in the sublimity of biology and that we can begin to understand the process in biological terms. As for the results of the process, there is no need and no value to explaining them: The experience of the spiritual amply suffices."

"Accounting for the physiological process behind the spiritual does not explain the mystery of the life process to which that particular feeling is connected. It reveals the connection to the mystery but not the mystery itself. Spinoza and those thinkers whose ideas have Spinozian elements make feelings come full circle, from life in progress, which is where they originate, to the sources of life, toward which they point.”
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LibraryThing member MarkBeronte
Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life's work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biological roots of what we feel remain a mystery. Leading neuroscientist Antonio Damasio—whose earlier books explore rational behavior and the notion of the self—rediscovers a man whose work ran counter to all the thinking of his day, pairing Spinoza's insights with his own innovative scientific research to help us understand what we're made of, and what we're here for.… (more)
LibraryThing member basile14
I find it a bit confusing if you don't have already good understanding how the brain works.
The introduction of Spinoza thesis is not necessary and a kind of a secondary story.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
Supposedly about the biological basis of feelings & emotions - but lost me. Dreadful.
Read Aug 2006
LibraryThing member Alex1952
This is a well written book and at times almost lyrical (especially the first chapters on Spinoza). Damasio not only explains well the neuroscience of the brain but also the philosophy of Spinoza. The part about neuroscience comes from Damasio's own work and it has to do with how feelings and emotions, that underlie feelings, regulate our bodies to achieve survival and well-being. He also explains how Spinoza had said as much in the Ethics and how he stood alone against Descartes' mind-body duality.

The book was written in 2003. As such, I am not sure if there have been any further developments on this topic that either enhance or diminish Damasio's theory of feelings. But the part about Spinoza is worth reading given the fact that Spinoza is a very well-know, but little-read, philosopher, mainly because of his difficult-to-read writing style.
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LibraryThing member grid
Well written, really insightful.


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