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

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003 - Philosophy - 355 pages
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With scientific expertise and literary facility, bestselling author and world famous neuroscientist Damasio concludes his groundbreaking trilogy in "Looking for Spinoza," exploring the cerebral processes that keep people alive and make life worth living.
 

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Looking for Spinoza: joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain

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In different ways, these two books are concerned with understanding human consciousness and consider the theory of evolution as key to explaining it. Both are written in engaging, largely jargon ... Read full review

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As I began reading Damasio's Looking for Spinoza, I found myself entranced by his eloquent narrative. He presents complex biological and philosophical material in a manner that is accessible and applicable to everyday life and to clinical practice. Damasio had two purposes in writing this book; 1) to present progress on the nature and human significance of feelings and related phenomena and 2) to connect Spinoza to corresponding neurobiology of today. Damasio provides a wealth of empirical evidence in the form of biological and psychological research for Spinoza's early contributions regarding the mind-body problem. Due to the nature of both emotions (publicly observable body states) and feelings (mental events observable only to the person having them) as Damasio defines them it is surprising that we have not done more to study their neurobiological basis.
As a therapist, I have found that negative feelings are 99% of what brings a client into therapy and Damasio's manuscript is highly relevant in demonstrating a need to identify where certain feelings are located so that they can be treated effectively. He articulates this need as he describes how feelings are manipulated to great efforts with substances, sexual activity, and other hedonistic practices. We want to increase pleasure and decrease pain and Damasio advocates for Spinoza's view that the best way to combat a negative feeling is to overpower it with a positive feeling based in reason. I see the relationship of this philosophy in clinical practice with cognitive behavioral techniques and the power of changing your thoughts.
Since we go to such great lengths to escape our emotions, I find this material highly relevant to clinical practice because if we can alter our emotions through neuromapping breakthroughs, then maybe those with long-term depression or anxiety or psychosis for that matter, do not have to endure the pain and stigma of psychopharmacological treatments where the side-effects can be life altering. Most people spend most of their life ignoring their feelings when we need to realize that in accordance with Damasio's view that they can be seen as "revelations of the state of life within the person" which is direct line with Rogerian and client-centered therapy.
Damasio did an excellent job exploring the biological basis of feelings and conveyed the material in a thought provoking and comprehensive manner. He uses case studies, experimental results, and his own experiences in bring Spinoza's work to life. Well done.
 

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About the author (2003)

Antonio Damasio is the Van Allen Professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Center and is an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute in San Diego. Descartes' Error was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and has been translated into twenty-three languages. He lives in Iowa City and Chicago.

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