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Descartes' Error - Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

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Descartes' Error--Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

In Descartes' Error, Antonio Damasio provides and introduction to the relationship between emotion, reason, and the human brain by approaching his work quite rationally and casually--through conversation with the reader. Through his exploration of the connection between the body, brain, and mind, he explains things that are fact, things that could become fact, or things that he plainly doesn't know will come into effect whatsoever. He is very rationally throwing many ideas and hypotheses out there, and exploring their possibilities with past and future scientific evidence.

Damasio begins his exploration with the story of Phineas Gage. This gives insight on an extreme example of what the author thinks about the reasoning of the person and society. It is absolutely fascinating that it seemed that Gage was normal in every way; being able to speak, function, walk, and retain intellectual value in his life. And yet, he was not Gage. He was a changed man. This change caused by his frontal lobe trauma brought Damasio to many questions about the mind and brain. Cushioned by his discovery of the same symptoms in Elliot, Damasio explores the possibility that personality and rational reasoning and decision making are controlled by the brain, specifically the frontal lobe. The personality seems something separate from the brain, something "mushy" and something "solid". One could make an analogy to emotion and personality as a subject in the humanities, that it does not have any definitive answers, as the brain is more like science or math, and is capable of proving something objective. Damasio recognizes this as a misconceived thought of many people, and creatively, through examples such as Gage's and Elliot's, sets out to persuade the opposite;

It is important to realize that defining emotion and feeling as concrete, cognitively and neurally, does no diminish their loveliness or horror, or their status in poetry or music. Understanding how we see or speak does no debase what is seen or spoken, what is painted or woven into a theatrical line. Understanding the biological mechanisms behind emotions and feelings is perfectly compatible with a romantic view of their value to human beings (164).

Damasio's question, "does the fact that Gage (or Elliot, or others) lost his ability to decide and reason effectively take away a persons free will?" How can one decide whether free will is something engraved in the brain, especially if one believes that reason is as well? Does every person who seems to have a damaged decision making process in the eyes of society prey of brain damage or insanity? Damasio introduces interesting argument, or rather seemingly the fact, that the "difference between sicknesses of



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