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The Strange Order of Things
Cover of The Strange Order of Things
The Strange Order of Things
Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures
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From one of our preeminent neuroscientists: a landmark reflection that spans the biological and social sciences, offering a new way of understanding the origins of life, feeling, and culture.

The Strange Order of Things is a pathbreaking investigation into homeostasis, the condition of that regulates human physiology within the range that makes possible not only the survival but also the flourishing of life. Antonio Damasio makes clear that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells; that our minds and cultures are linked by an invisible thread to the ways and means of ancient unicellular life and other primitive life-forms; and that inherent in our very chemistry is a powerful force, a striving toward life maintenance that governs life in all its guises, including the development of genes that help regulate and transmit life. In The Strange Order of Things, Damasio gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.
www.antoniodamasio.com
From one of our preeminent neuroscientists: a landmark reflection that spans the biological and social sciences, offering a new way of understanding the origins of life, feeling, and culture.

The Strange Order of Things is a pathbreaking investigation into homeostasis, the condition of that regulates human physiology within the range that makes possible not only the survival but also the flourishing of life. Antonio Damasio makes clear that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells; that our minds and cultures are linked by an invisible thread to the ways and means of ancient unicellular life and other primitive life-forms; and that inherent in our very chemistry is a powerful force, a striving toward life maintenance that governs life in all its guises, including the development of genes that help regulate and transmit life. In The Strange Order of Things, Damasio gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.
www.antoniodamasio.com
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  • From the book BEGINNINGS


    1

    This book is about one interest and one idea. I have long been intrigued in human affect—the world of emotions and feelings—and have spent many years investigating it: why and how we emote, feel, use feelings to construct our selves; how feelings assist or undermine our best intentions; why and how brains interact with the body to support such functions. I have new facts and interpretations to share on these matters.

    As for the idea, it is very simple: feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavors. Humans have distinguished themselves from all other beings by creating a spectacular collection of objects, practices, and ideas, collectively known as cultures. The collection includes the arts, philosophical inquiry, moral systems and religious beliefs, justice, governance, economic institutions, and technology and science. Why and how did this process begin? A frequent answer to this question invokes an important faculty of the human mindverbal language—along with distinctive features such as intense sociality and superior intellect. For those who are biologically inclined the answer also includes natural selection operating at the level of genes. I have no doubt that intellect, sociality, and language have played key roles in the process, and it goes without saying that the organisms capable of cultural invention, along with the specific faculties used in the invention, are present in humans by the grace of natural selection and genetic transmission. The idea is that something else was required to jump-start the saga of human cultures. That something else was a motive. I am referring specifically to feelings, from pain and suffering to well-being and pleasure.

    Consider medicine, one of our most significant cultural enterprises. Medicine's combination of technology and science began as a response to the pain and suffering caused by diseases of every sort, from physical trauma and infections to cancers, contrasted with the very opposite of pain and suffering: well-being, pleasures, the prospect of thriving. Medicine did not begin as an intellectual sport meant to exercise one's wits over a diagnostic puzzle or a physiological mystery. It began as a consequence of specific feelings of patients and specific feelings of early physicians, including but not limited to the compassion that may be born of empathy. Those motives remain today. No reader will have failed to notice how visits to the dentist and surgical procedures have changed for the better in our own lifetime. The primary motive behind improvements such as efficient anesthetics and precise instrumentation is the management of feelings of discomfort. The activity of engineers and scientists plays a commendable role in this endeavor, but it is a motivated role. The profit motive of the drug and instrumentation industries also plays a significant part because the public does need to reduce its suffering and industries respond to that need. The pursuit of profit is fueled by varied yearnings, a desire for advancement, prestige, even greed, which are none other than feelings. It is not possible to comprehend the intense effort to develop cures for cancers or Alzheimer's disease without considering feelings as motives, monitors, and negotiators of the process. Nor is it possible to comprehend, for example, the less intense effort with which Western cultures have pursued cures for malaria in Africa or the management of drug addictions most everywhere without considering the respective web of...
About the Author-
  • ANTONIO DAMASIO is University Professor; David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Philosophy; and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. Awards he has received include the Prince of Asturias Prize in Science and Technology, the Grawemeyer Award, the Honda Prize, and the Pessoa and Signoret prizes. In 2017 he received the Freud Medal from the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. Damasio is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. He is the author of Descartes' Error, The Feeling of What Happens, Looking for Spinoza and Self Comes to Mind, all of which have been published in translation and are taught in universities throughout the world.
    www.antoniodamasio.com
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2017

    Director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at UCLA and author of the multiple-best-booked The Feeling of What Happens, Damasio here explains homeostasis--how living things maintain the stable conditions needed for survival--as he traces human beings back biologically, psychologically, and socially to unicellular life.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 4, 2017
    Damasio (Self Comes to Mind), director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, continues his quest for a theory of human consciousness, here linking feelings and culture with homeostasis and evolution. His ideas are exciting, yet his explanations tend to be abstract, as when he writes that “the constructions that inhabit our minds can well be imagined as ephemeral musical performances, played by several hidden orchestras.” Attempting to explain “the biological underpinnings of the human cultural mind,” Damasio begins with the Cambrian unicellular organism and shows how the mapping of internal and external images led to the development of nervous systems, which in turn laid the groundwork for verbal language, consciousness, subjectivity, and feeling. Damasio posits that feelings in humans “arose from a series of gradual, body-related processes... accumulated and maintained over evolution.” He then explores the biological roots of culture, particularly the role homeostasis played in generating behavioral strategies. Damasio extends his thinking on homeostasis to the shaping of moral codes and the emergence of religious and political systems, and even to the internet and what he dubs “the current crisis of the human condition.” Wide in scope, though occasionally difficult to follow, Damasio’s book contains moments of genius but feels like a work in progress.

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2017
    A leading neuroscientist returns with a complex exploration of the life of the mind.Feelings play an unappreciated role in culture and consciousness but turn out to be a universal aspect of life, writes Damasio (Neuroscience, Psychology and Philosophy/Univ. of Southern California; Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, 2010), who directs the Brain and Creativity Institute. Neuroscience has become a popular genre, so there is a substantial audience for this expert, definitely not dumbed-down examination of the interplay between feelings and the human condition. The author emphasizes that culture is almost entirely a human phenomenon and consciousness entirely so, but these represent only the most advanced neurophysiologic manifestations of feeling that--as emotion--are present in many higher animals. These require a brain, but a nervous system (first evolved 500 million years ago) allows simpler animals to monitor their environments and react appropriately. Absence of feeling is incompatible with life, so even primitive bacteria sense their surroundings, cooperate, and defend themselves in sophisticated ways. Damasio emphasizes that all life aims to stabilize its internal environment (chemical concentration, pH levels, oxygen content, temperature, etc.) in the face of external changes. This is homeostasis, a theme the author returns to repeatedly as the engine of evolution. For nearly 4 billion years species have competed, struggled, and died out as evolution has produced other, often more complex species, including humans. Feelings contribute to homeostasis, but homeostasis applies only to individuals. In a long final section, Damasio wonders how its scientific application might diminish conflicts among movements, cultures, and nations in our increasingly dangerous world. His mildly optimistic conclusion is that there are reasons to hope.A dense, detailed mixture of hard science, philosophy, and speculation that will reward readers willing to work through the author's demanding book.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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The Strange Order of Things
Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures
Antonio Damasio
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