There is something compelling about the constancy of Antonio Damasio’s focus on the nature of consciousness. With each new publication, there’s a sense that he’s not only understanding his life’s work more clearly, but is getting better at communicating it to the public. He says as much in his latest book Feeling and Knowing: Making Minds Conscious:
What I could not have anticipated is that the effort of reconsidering and paring down so much material, would help me confront facts that I had overlooked and develop new insights about not just consciousness but related processes. The road to discovery is twisted, to say the least.1
I don’t find reading Damasio’s work easy, mostly I suspect because it’s so far out from my expertise. Nevertheless, there’s something so remarkable about how he forces me to see thinking human beings differently. Here’s one brief quote:
Only the coordinated operation of the three kinds of processing—the kinds that have to do with being, feeling, and knowing—allows the images to be connected to our organism, literally referred to it and placed within it. Only then can experience emerge.2
Damasio refers here to images, but he doesn’t mean only in the visual sense; rather “any patterns produced by the dominant sensory channels: visual, of course; auditory; tactile; visceral.”3 After all, he reminds us, our imaginations are not confined to images.
I like so much these three words together — being, feeling and knowing — and how their coordination enables us to have them within us. I’m not deep enough into the book yet to know how (or even whether) he takes into account theories to do with the extended mind4 or embodied cognition in which self is a complex interplay of brain, body and environment.
That will be for another post.