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Summary of Descartes' Error 

Short summary

The mind, the machinery that drives us with emotive action and passionate conviction, is the topic of much debate both in the world of psychology and neurology. Some have argued it is the embodiment of the soul, our spiritual conduit to the universe. Others say it’s our copy from the immaterial plane, a way to interact with the intangible universe and can exist outside our very limited physical form. This is Descartes’ theory, a French philosopher who believed the mind and body were two distinct entities that operated independently of one another. Antonio Damasio, who is an American-Portuguese neuroscientist and astute author in several fields, owing to his vast wealth of knowledge on the topic and his extensive research and studies has been able to debunk the theory that the mind does not need the body to exist or function. His immense efforts in the field have shown that the brain and the consciousness are, in fact, more connected than we first thought, arguing that emotions play a central role in the decision-making process and social adaptation today. This book, with the masterfully guiding hands of Damasio, helps to expose several key insights about the mind, body, emotions and how they all come together to create sane and seemingly clear-headed decisions.

Key points

1

The human mind isn’t a separate entity from the body

French philosopher René Descartes proposed that the human mind was independent of the body and that it operated without any physical influence. This theory was carried on without any question as the “Cartesian Dualism”, terming the mind “immaterial” and the body “material”.
The body isn’t whole without the mind and neither is the mind without the body.
Research done by Antonio Damasio has although shown quite the opposite, that the mind is actually influenced greatly by the body, in fact. When humans experience great trauma to their frontal lobes, there is increased change in the person’s outward behavior.
Trauma to the frontal lobe of the brain has been discovered to be the cause of a number of behavioral oddities.
If they were once cool, calm and collected, there is a switch to the extremes. The condition is known as the Gage syndrome named after the famous railroad foreman, Phineas Gage who survived a grueling accident where an iron rod shot through his left eye and out the base of his skull, damaging much of his frontal lobe in the process.
The brain, the case for the mind, must not be allowed any exposure to damage or the mind and body will suffer.
Before the accident, Phineas Gage was quite sociable, composed and witty. Although he didn’t lose his motor functions, he became a totally new man, being prone to mood swings and fits of anger which made it difficult to keep a job, taking him from a life of wealth to one of abject poverty at the age of 25.
The self is a repeatedly reconstructed biological state. ~ Antonio Damasio
2

The brain contains a system of networks that aid its overall activities

Much of what we know of the brain is made possible thanks to neuroanatomy, the study of the structure and organization of the nervous system. We learn that the brain has independent, segregated and defined nervous systems. This means that we can understand the way a person behaves by studying their brain’s activity.
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3

Emotions aren’t the enemy of reason and can shape the decisions we make

4

Reason meets with emotions and feelings to bring us a better view of the world

5

We can map the emotional reactions we exhibit thanks to somatic markers

6

Descartes’ error helped us understand the union between the mind and body

7

Conclusion

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