Review of Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Motion, Reason, and the Human Brain, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994.
Science has devalued emotion because scientists believed emotion clouded reason or played no part in reasoning and was a function of the “lower brain.” Damasio is correcting this view by showing that feelings allow minding of the body and thus feelings form a frame of reference for images and thought interpretations.
Chemical substances affect emotions, but they do not always act in the same way. Emotion cannot be reduced to brain chemistry. One can study the ways that chemicals influence neural systems, but there still remains the personal issue of what images the individual uses to cause body changes. Cultural linkage of objects (black cat) with emotions (fear) produces superstitions and phobias. This linkage of image and feeling goes on all the time, and these connections are stored in memory, but subsequent experience can break these links. Damasio calls these “wrong connections.”
But we need to be very careful about attempting to change wrong cultural connections. The new substitute connections may not be better. This overconfidence in change characterizes the harmful reformer, the change-agent.
Reasoning and deciding are about future planning, and we plan our futures more or less constantly. The process of deciding may appear to be independent of emotion, but that is definitely not true. The process is as follows: the mind constructs multiple imaginary scenarios in quick jumps. The images in these scenarios create emotions. One generally acts toward the most positive emotions and away from the most negative emotions. Reasoning means submitting each scenario to a cost/benefit analysis, but the purpose of the exercise is always a subjectively desired or more desirable outcome. It is difficult to hold in memory the outcomes of multiple scenarios in terms of losses and gains. One may resort to paper and pencil instead of memory, but most decision making occurs apart from this strategy. Also, one tends to lose the intermediate steps as one considers multiple strategies.
Rational thinking takes too long and is too complicated. Instead, usually one substitutes somatic markers for extended reasoning. That is, one holds particular value outcomes associated with emotions. In the imaginary future scenario, if an image related to a negative emotion comes up, that particular scenario may quickly be omitted from future thinking. Damasio calls this the influence of somatic markers because body states (soma) mark images. The markers act to speed up decision making. Without them as value guides, decision making may be impossible. Somatic markers derive from secondary emotions and refer to the connections one has already made between images and feelings. They are an inherent value-map that is always available to speed up decision making as processing a wealth of detail is inefficient.
(Note how advertisers and political campaigners play on existing image/emotion markers to manipulate you quickly toward their desired outcomes. If you are not aware of being manipulated, you are being manipulated.)
Somatic markers are linked with deferred gratification as the mind imagines a future that is better, even though present suffering is required to achieve it. Will power is linked to this image of the better future after enduring difficulties. Will power is nothing more than the ability to choose a long-term outcome over a short-term outcome.
All somatic markers involve secondary emotions rather than primary emotions. They are usually embedded in memory as the result of socialization and education. The case of Gage shows that these somatic markers can be damaged in adulthood from brain traumas. Pathological behavior results when the somatic markers are disrupted or when they fail to link image with emotion properly during childhood.
Sick societies: Germany under Nazism, the Soviet Union, the various forms of Communism.
These images are dispositional because they are tied to life experiences that produced emotions. Individuals vary in the stimuli they respond to because of past associations of images with emotions. Somatic markers may operate both consciously and unconsciously.
Objective reasoning usually does not operate in daily life, partially due to its complexity but also due to emotions and feelings that involve safety, conformity, self-esteem, comfort, etc.
Three factors affect decision making, automated somatic states with their built-in biases, working memory, and attention. To be effective, images must be structured in coherent phrases, then structured in time. Ranking of priority cannot happen without value, and value cannot happen without previous somatic marking. A collection of markers act as a bias. Since the bias is individual, you have to know how the individual is bringing the value images to bear.
The old medical system of personalities depending on a dominant organ wasn’t that far off as the nervous system does report on the state of the various organs and these reports become our background attitude.
People under the influence of alcohol and drugs and those suffering prefrontal lobe damage cannot plan for the future, they are entirely present-centered.
The self is not a central knower. Knowledge of self depends on brain-body communication. You cannot separate the brain from the body and retain a sense of self. The self is a sense of being alive that depends on constant communication from the body.
Attention to one of the senses usually masks this attention to the body.
The self image has consistency, but sometimes also inconsistency, and this can be an irritant as one attempts to rebuild a better image of self.
Representations of key events plus representations of body states = self representation.
What is happening now is happening to a concept of self that was constructed in the past.
Damasio believes the Faustian bargain brought progress to humanity, but this is merely a defense of science without consideration of its horrible destructive outcome. And, it is not a sophisticated analysis of the Faust myth. As a scientist, Damasio can try to correct Descartes without wanting to reject science.
Medicine developed by focusing on the body and leaving out the mind. Psychology was supposed to make up for this omission of the mind. For this historical reason, science and medicine appear inhuman.
Individual life is not determined because brain circuits are unique and develop apart from a determining signal.
(Thanks for overthrowing scientific determinism, and its associated pseudo-sciences and social sciences.)
Pain and pleasure are fundamental drives that influence decision-making strategies. Pain and pleasure divide into two parts, the image and the affected organ or body region. Pleasure is strongly associated with endorphins (morphine) binding to opioid receptors in the brain.
Pain is biologically valuable because it steers us away from danger and harm, but pleasure-seeking does not have survival value and in fact destroys societies and individual lives when pleasure becomes the focus.
(In other words, the society that pursues happiness is programmed to self-destruct through degeneracy.)
Paul Foster Case expressed a similar idea in The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order (York Beach, Samuel Weiser, 1985): “The definition of good as the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is purely satanic. Good and evil must be measured against harmony and discord, not against pleasure and pain.”
That is why all Enlightenment thinking is infantile and misleading, the will of the majority is a meaningless fiction, and why all liberals appear to be trapped in permanent adolescence.
Many others besides Damasio have rebutted Descartes’ formula of scientific objectivity, without referring to brain science. We wanted to review Damasio to give you a little introduction to brain science’s insights into mental processes. You can follow our project “What Is Thinking” better if you understand that Descartes’ assumptions about mental processing were wrong and scientific objectivity is a false myth.
Scientists work against human social values because they don’t live in a society, they are elevated to an elite and funded by socialism. The power of technological innovation to destroy cultures and communities is the problem. How to regulate science is the problem. At the level of the village, the solution is easy, don’t let scientists in and very carefully test and monitor the introduction of technologies.
Finally, let’s have a look at Damasio’s presentation of results from the Standard Issue Moral Judgment Interview tests, which measures five stages of moral reasoning:
1. obedience and punishment orientation
2. purpose and exchange
3. interpersonal accord and conformity
4. social accord and system maintenance
5. social contract, individual rights
By age 36, 90 percent of Americans have developed to stage 3 and eleven percent to stage 5. Democracy and citizenship are too difficult for the majority to grasp. Notice the apathy of the masses — voter turnout in many elections is below 50 percent. Over 90 percent of the people you meet are emotionally at the level of children seeking conformity. This makes it very difficult to break the brainwashing of popular culture and politically correct slogans, but it also means most people actually would like to live in a community rather than a mass pseudo-society.
Psychologists are developing techniques to treat dissociation and addiction, but psychologists do not address those who are trapped in stimulus-response imagery loops, media trances, and propaganda trances. We don’t know how to do fast therapy and recovery, and 99 percent are emotionally invested in false beliefs. Let’s admit the odds are so heavily against us that the project of recovering mental health seems hopeless.
But people wake up to the lies and reject old image/emotion associations all the time. Learning about the con job methods they use to fool you can accelerate your learning curve. We escaped from the forced mass brainwashing program, and so others should be able to escape as well.