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

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

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 surviva...

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Title:The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures
Author:António R. Damásio
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The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures Reviews

  • Maria Ferreira

    António Damásio divide o livro em três partes:

    Consiste em olhar o individuo por dentro, desde as bactérias às enzimas e células nervosas, responde a questões puramente biológicas de como o individuo sente a dor física e como a mente perceciona essa dor.

    Fala-nos sobre a homeostasia, como seja um conjunto de operações que o nosso organismo executa para persistir e prevalecer.

    Os sentimentos e a homeostasia estão associados de modo próximo e consistent

    António Damásio divide o livro em três partes:

    Consiste em olhar o individuo por dentro, desde as bactérias às enzimas e células nervosas, responde a questões puramente biológicas de como o individuo sente a dor física e como a mente perceciona essa dor.

    Fala-nos sobre a homeostasia, como seja um conjunto de operações que o nosso organismo executa para persistir e prevalecer.

    Os sentimentos e a homeostasia estão associados de modo próximo e consistente. Os sentimentos são as experiências subjetivas do estado da vida, ou seja, da homeostasia, em todas as criaturas dotadas de mente e de um ponto de vista consciente.

    Nesta parte o autor revela como o homem observa, reflete e age. Nós, seres humanos importamos para a nossa mente as imagens percecionadas pelos nossos 5 sentidos: olfato, visão, tato, audição e paladar, e a partir dessas imagens que a nossa mente recebe do exterior, armazena na memória e dá-lhes um sentido, ou seja cria as suas próprias narrativas a partir destas imagens e da nossa experiência vivida, aguarda igualmente na memória permitindo-lhe mais tarde recordar e contar ao outro. Foi através deste processo que foi evoluindo progressivamente e lentamente a mente humana.

    O autor revela que subjacente a este processo está a emoção do medo, o facto do homem percecionar o perigo e de sentir dor é que nos motiva a agir em conformidade para terminar com esta sensação desagradável. Duas grandes ações extremamente importantes e eficazes para o homem foi o domínio do fogo e a invenção da alquimia, que deu origem à medicina.

    A descoberta da forma de controlar o fogo, foi das invenções mais importantes para a civilização, em imensos aspetos que não valerá a pena aqui falar sobre todos, mas um que o autor revela no livro achei muito curioso. Após o domínio do fogo o homem passou a dormir menos horas e permanecer mais tempo acordado ao final do dia, pelo que enquanto cozinhavam, comiam e se aqueciam em torno da fogueira passaram igualmente a conviver mais, a contar histórias das atividades diurnas, umas verdadeiras, outras fantasiadas, a criar utensílios de caça, a fabricar as roupas para satisfazer muitas das necessidades básicas, mas não só, também a partir destes momentos que se passou a dar mais importância aos afetos e às emoções, à construção dos sentimentos, a refletir sobre as experiências vivenciadas e sentidas na dualidade corpo-cérebro, resultando no aparecimento das artes e rituais, a musica, a dança, o teatro, as pinturas seriam uma manifestação artística para responder ao desejo de manifestar emoções positivas como a alegria, o prazer e a paixão.

    Após ficarmos a conhecer o nosso corpo biológico, o funcionamento do cérebro e as interligações corpo – cérebro reportando o nosso passado até 2017, justificando porque somos como somos. O autor faz uma breve analise sobre o homem cultural social, o mundo que nos rodeia.

    Embora faça a ponte entre o homem biológico e intelectual, o autor pretendeu deixar a sua opinião sobre a politica, as crenças religiosas, a medicina, a crise económica, a ausência de valores morais, a tecnologia e os conflitos mundiais. Uma das criticas que fez foi a Yuval Harari no seu livro Homo Deus em que este refere que os organismos vivos são algoritmos, logo programáveis, logo com capacidade de se auto desenvolver e controlar o mundo levando ao extermínio da humanidade, algo fatalista e irreal. Damásio responde assim a yuval:

  • Charlene

    This is a hugely important book and one worth reading. Why? Because Damasio has joined the ranks of scientists such as Nick Lane (mentioned in the book) and Jeremy England (not mentioned) who are giving the "modern" synthesis of evolution a much needed update. This update replaces the gene centered theory with a theory centered on thermodynamics. As Damasio outlined in this book, there are 2 approaches scientists are taking when trying to understand the origins of life:

    1. Genes first, champione

    This is a hugely important book and one worth reading. Why? Because Damasio has joined the ranks of scientists such as Nick Lane (mentioned in the book) and Jeremy England (not mentioned) who are giving the "modern" synthesis of evolution a much needed update. This update replaces the gene centered theory with a theory centered on thermodynamics. As Damasio outlined in this book, there are 2 approaches scientists are taking when trying to understand the origins of life:

    1. Genes first, championed by Dawkins and the like, which suggests genes came first and replicated.

    2. Metabolism first, which suggests metabolism predated genes and in fact gave rise to genes. This dethrones the selfish gene (finally!) and paints a more accurate picture of the evolution of every species as yet another way for an organism to capture and circulate energy. Unlike genes first, metabolism first can account for the energy needed to create the molecules of life. Deep hydrothermal vents, which of course do not have genes, provide an acidic environment in which all that H+ acted like a battery, allowing bonds to be broken and made, thus making the molecules of life. RNA world and other gene centered theories simply cannot account for the energy needed to put these molecules and cells together so that evolution of living organisms can get a foothold. Damasio thanks Martin and Lane (and Russell) for their work on this front, as do I because it was paradigm shifting.

    Damasio makes his arguments for metabolism first by focusing on the evolution of emotions. I cannot say I was a fan of the second half of the book, which offered a lot of philosophical musings I had heard many, many times before. But the first half of the book was truly exceptional. Damasio argued that feelings have shaped our culture and those feelings have arisen from homeostatic processes that can be traced back to single cells. If anyone can make this argument, it's Damasio's, whose research dominated my neuroscience textbooks. I cannot recall one professor at Penn who was not in awe of his excellent work over the many decades he has been studying the brain. Damasio argued that emotions themselves were a product of the very first hoeostatic processes at work *while* assembling genes at the hydrothermal vents, pre-dating genes. Thus, the evolution of emotions arises from those processes and not from genes. Genes themselves arise from homeostatic processes and not the other way around because homeostatic processes developed before the creation of genes. Homeostatic processes have been passed down through every generation. Genes were merely a way to help these processes occur inside organisms. At the end of the day, homeostatic processes arise because of the second law of thermodynamics. They are a thermodynamic process. Genes were created to aid this process. This process was not created to aid the passing down of genes. The passing down of genes certainly continues to help this process occur in each species, but the gene is a helper, not the star of the show.

    As organisms continued to gain complexity, their homeostatic processes in turn became more complex as well. For example, when organisms evolved nerves, their homeostatic processes were regulated via these nerves. As the nerves (brains) became more and more complex, so too did the homeostatic processes that govern those nerve networks. As a result, we all have internal drives. (I cannot think of another scientists who has done more to study internal drives. See Damasio's work on impulse, galvanic skin response, etc to learn more about internal drives and associated brain regions). The internal drives common to population of humans served as the drivers for the very development of civilization. Consider bacteria and criminal justice. Bacteria do not even have nerves; and yet, they engage in punishing non cooperators. It's easy to imagine how this developed into a criminal justice system (flawed or not) in organisms with more complex bodies (namely brains). Other examples are provided about the evolution of punishment, creation, and other aspects of human existence that have helped build all of the civilizations from the beginning of recorded history.

    Damasio suggested we take the "static" part out of homeostatic processes because they are anything but static. Rather, they are homeodynamic because these internal states are always active, striving to help the organism maintain the optimal state. Being in that state requires constant internal work that requires a lot of cooperation between cells, organs, hormones, etc -- a very dynamic process. His discussion on this type of cooperation inside organisms was very pointed at the Dawkins minded scientists who still subscribe to the conflict only, selfish gene paradigm. In the end, it is homeostasis and not genes that drive organisms to survive, thrive, and live on throughout the generations. It is this drive that has led to the cultural practices that appear to help global progress that has resulted in longer lives, on average, and will continue to focus on better sustaining the life process.

    Damasio could not refrain from talking about the transhumanists who believe they can make an AI that preserves the brains of humans. He suggested they forgot about the fact that the brain had to work with the many microbes (and their homeostatic processes) and other cells inside the body. He, imo, is short sighted in this regard. I can imagine that eventually transhumanists will simply come to understand what role microbes and other cells, and their homeostatic processes, play in governing the brain and body and they will simply incorporate that into their AI. Seems shortsighted to be so confident in ruling that out. Instead, it would have been better to simply list the challenges to current models of AI. For example, being clear that they will need to take the role of microbes into account. That is something missing from Kurzweil's arguments. So it adds to the discussion. Ruling out the possibility that they can incorporate microbes seems far less helpful.

    If for no other reason, you should read this book to understand, in great and fantastic detail, the evolution of our senses. Just brilliant.

    One last note: Damasio mentioned the work of John Torday, whose work I love. He called him a kindred spirit but barely gave the reader an idea of what Torday's work entails. I highly recommend reading his academic articles on evolution and homeostasis.

  • Gary

    This book provides an incredibly good way to think about order, origins of life and life. Anytime one can look at a problem coherently from a different perspective one can develop a deeper insight and understand the nature of reality just a little bit better than they did before. For example, I love ‘information theory’ and how it can be used to explain the universe as a paradigm for fundamental understanding of the quantum nature of the universe even to the degree that one of the most famous ph

    This book provides an incredibly good way to think about order, origins of life and life. Anytime one can look at a problem coherently from a different perspective one can develop a deeper insight and understand the nature of reality just a little bit better than they did before. For example, I love ‘information theory’ and how it can be used to explain the universe as a paradigm for fundamental understanding of the quantum nature of the universe even to the degree that one of the most famous physicist in recent times, John Archibald Wheeler, would say that ‘it from bit’ explains our universe, that ‘existence comes from information’ (this is not germane to my point, but someday when you have time look up Rule 110 on wiki you’ll be able to understand how a universal computing machine that is Turing complete can come from an incredibly simple algorithm thus leading to a complex universe as ours appears to be) , and that Claude Shannon would show that the second law of thermodynamics (Entropy) can be restated inversely in terms of information theory. (Shannon actually seemed to be a hero of the author of this book).

    This book deals with biology more than physics but the author has an alternative way of thinking about biological life arising from chemical processes leading to humans rather than appealing to the standard paradigmatic archetype most of us are already familiar with. He’s going to show how order arises from chaos through homeostasis and metabolism (stealing useful energy from outside of oneself) explains the origin of life and intelligent life.

    Spinoza will say and the author will paraphrase him as such ‘everything (both mental and physical) strives (Latin: conatus) to preserve in its being’. In order to do that, the thing in question must steal useful energy (or order) from somewhere outside of itself and it must preserve its nature or it will lose its nature. This is the paradigm the author describes, the homeostasis, the striving (the clinging, the endeavor, the will (that’s what Schopenhauer speaks about, by all means read his Volume I of ‘Will and Representation’, the ‘will to power’ (Nietzsche takes Spinoza’s conatus and Schopenhauer’s’ ‘will’ to come up with this same idea that the author gives except they can’t use those words because they haven’t been codified in their time period)) and the stealing of useful energy from outside of itself thus leading to an increase of entropy in the system as a whole but a decrease in entropy in the thing (the entity).

    I’m easily irritated with willfully ignorant people. One of my pet peeves is someone who says that since we weren’t there we can’t possibly know what happened therefore ‘god did it’ (Rush Limbaugh did exactly that the day after Stephen Hawking died and dismissed the ‘big bang’ in his ravings). This book gives a beautiful retort to such stupidity in abiogenesis. Before there were bacteria there were chemical processes. The processes that stayed around and evolved are the ones that reached a steady state with a modicum of homeostasis and metabolic systems at play (and it probably happened in undersea vents. One of the few places on Earth where the energy doesn’t come from the sun. It comes from the radiation left over from the accretion of the earth during its formation).

    The author in the first two thirds of the book never just states things. He builds his argument across time and across space. The body develops before the central nervous system in its evolutionary development. Our emotive, temperament and mood happened before our feelings. Our feelings come before our reason both evolutionary and developmentally. A really smart biologist can prove evolution by analyzing the taxonomy of the current living organisms of the now. The fossil record is not necessary for them to prove evolution and its development over time, but the biologist also has the fossil record to make their story even more complete. A neuroscientist, as the author is, also has brain development and processes to add to the equation. This author uses every fact at his disposal in his telling for the development of the self awareness that humans possess.

    Logic only preserves truth. It cannot create truth. The feelings we have from our emotive, temperament and mood give us the narrative and the intuition that we need in giving us our self awareness (consciousness) and the story that we end up telling ourselves. Our subjective selves come from our feelings not from our logic based rational selves. (I think all of this is in his book in one way another). He believes our mental states come from our experiences. He even ended one chapter by saying something along the lines that ‘Proust explains it in ‘Swann’s Way’’). It’s too bad he ended that chapter like that because I think Proust had it better than this book does, and also I think ‘How Emotions are Made’ by Lisa Barrett follows Proust more closely and they both wisely stay away from absolute mental states.

    I thought the last third of this book never should have been written. He was really out of his depth. He speaks about AI, trans-humanism, camp fires, religion, Adorno, Pinker, Freud and his death wish as expressed in ‘Civilizations and its Discontents’ and many other topics. Matter of fact, I’m currently reading ‘Feminine Law’ and the name and idea dropping between the that book and the last third of this book surprised me in their overlap, but for ‘Feminine Law’ she’s a specialist in the field of psychoanalysis and this author does not seem to be. I can say two nice things about the end of the book, he’s trying to connect his thesis with reality, and secondly he actually predicts the ‘Cambridge Analytics’ and Facebook scandal with incredible prescience.

    In spite of the train wreck of the last third of the book, the first two thirds make this book a special find and I would definitely recommend it.

  • João Carlos

    (n. 1944)

    O português

    (n. 1944) – médico, neurologista e neurocientista, é professor da cátedra

    de “Neurociência, Psicologia e Filosofia", e director do

    na

    , em Los Angeles, Estados Unidos da América.

    Com o seu primeiro livro –

    -

    pretende

    (n. 1944)

    O português

    (n. 1944) – médico, neurologista e neurocientista, é professor da cátedra

    de “Neurociência, Psicologia e Filosofia", e director do

    na

    , em Los Angeles, Estados Unidos da América.

    Com o seu primeiro livro –

    -

    pretende

    No início de

    ,

    refere:

    Em

    surgem inúmeros conceitos e ideias numa busca incessante por nova(s) teoria(s) que interligam os

    e a

    com a(s) cultura(s). Como é que se iniciaram determinados processos – ou como é que evoluíram? A questão da linguagem verbal surge a par de outras características notáveis, como a sociabilidade intensa e um intelecto superior. Há, no entanto, um motivo poderoso que é inquestionável – os

    .

    (Pág. 15)

    (Pág. 17)

    Quase no final do primeiro capítulo

    refere:

    (Pág. 19)

    Ao ler

    apreendemos que mais que a excepcional inteligência humana e a linguagem são os sentimentos as forças primordiais que amplificam a saga das culturas humanas. A ausência de sentimento(s) é incompatível com a vida humana – existindo em qualquer ser o objectivo de estabilizar o seu ambiente interno – a

    .

    Nem sempre de leitura fácil -

    é uma excelente “mistura” entre detalhes científicos e filosóficos, numa reflexão assente nos detalhes biológicos e sociais, sobre os caminhos percorridos desde a origem da vida até aos nossos dias.

  • Mehrsa

    Such a cool and thought-provoking book, but a bit sloppy and unclear. The book explores the role of feelings guiding us through evolution and what the implications are for cultural evolution. I have read a lot of books in this genre so I had to do a ton of gap filling in several sections of the book, but I am not a scientist so I could have used some more guidance when he made some of the leaps he did. The payoff for me was in the end when he challenges Harari and a few other transhumanist ideas

    Such a cool and thought-provoking book, but a bit sloppy and unclear. The book explores the role of feelings guiding us through evolution and what the implications are for cultural evolution. I have read a lot of books in this genre so I had to do a ton of gap filling in several sections of the book, but I am not a scientist so I could have used some more guidance when he made some of the leaps he did. The payoff for me was in the end when he challenges Harari and a few other transhumanist ideas about the end of humanity and the inevitability of algorithms taking over. He disagrees, which was comforting.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    A grand narrative but with little meat. It reads like someone's philosophical musings on the grand arc of earth history but with little in the way of substantially new insights just another recapitulation of the history of life and humans and society that one has seen in a lot of other places. If this were the first time I encountered these ideas I might have enjoyed it more but it is the same old same old and doesn't seem to break new ground. I wish I could be nicer about this book but the stan

    A grand narrative but with little meat. It reads like someone's philosophical musings on the grand arc of earth history but with little in the way of substantially new insights just another recapitulation of the history of life and humans and society that one has seen in a lot of other places. If this were the first time I encountered these ideas I might have enjoyed it more but it is the same old same old and doesn't seem to break new ground. I wish I could be nicer about this book but the standard story dressed up in a grand narrative gets little dull.

  • Miles

    Antonio Damasio’s impact on my intellectual development would be difficult to overstate. I first encountered his work when I was assigned

    for a philosophy of mind course in college. That book fundamentally transformed how I understood myself as a thinking, feeling being, and when I read

    a few years later, my perspective was embellished further by Damasio’s complex yet accessible presentation of his groundbreaking research on how the body-mind co

    Antonio Damasio’s impact on my intellectual development would be difficult to overstate. I first encountered his work when I was assigned

    for a philosophy of mind course in college. That book fundamentally transformed how I understood myself as a thinking, feeling being, and when I read

    a few years later, my perspective was embellished further by Damasio’s complex yet accessible presentation of his groundbreaking research on how the body-mind constructs consciousness and identity.

    , Damasio’s newest offering, strikes me as less impressive but also more ambitious than those that came before. It feels like a rehashing of Damasio’s older work applied to a new subject, human culture, with varying degrees of success. But it’s still an engaging read full of intriguing ideas, useful information, and fun speculation.

    The central tenets of Damsio’s

    are thus: (1) biological homeostasis is the foundation for human flourishing, (2) feelings, when combined with homeostatic imperatives and imbued with valence, provide the basis for the development of human cultures, and (3) cooperation between organisms, which is intrinsic to flourishing and cultural expression, is rooted in nonconscious and ancient biological phenomena. I’ll explain these in turn.

    Anyone who has read Damasio previously or is familiar with his research will note his preoccupation with the concept of homeostasis. I’m in no position to judge whether the scientific community has failed to grant homeostasis the attention it deserves (Damasio’s contention), or whether Damasio is merely puffing up his academic hobby horse to make it seem all-encompassing, but either way his ideas on the matter appear valuable. Here’s how he defines the term:

    "Homeostasis refers to the fundamental set of operations at the core of life, from the earliest and long-vanished point of its beginning in early biochemistry to the present. Homeostasis is the powerful, unthought, unspoken imperative, whose discharge implies, for every living organism, small or large, nothing less than enduring and prevailing. The part of the homeostatic imperative that concerns 'enduring' is transparent: it produces survival and is taken for granted without any specific reference or reverence whenever the evolution of any organism or species is considered. The part of homeostasis that concerns 'prevailing' is more subtle and rarely acknowledged. It ensures that

    " (25, emphasis his)

    Damasio later expands on this definition by adding: “One might say that organisms want their health and then some” (45). It is this “then some” that creates Damasio’s

    . Without homeostatic flourishing, the argument goes, the biological sensing and mapping functions that undergird future projection and complex memory might never have come into existence, thereby obviating the development of consciousness, identity, sociality, and the plethora of cultural practices that derive from those qualities.

    In order to complete (or at least extend) this picture, we need to also consider the role of feelings and valence in the production of cultures. For Damasio, feelings provide the foundation for mental experience and subjectivity, and, “

    ” (26, emphasis his). These homeostatic “deputies” are charged with three main duties: the generation of motives for intellectual creation, the monitoring of cultural practices and instruments for success or failure, and the negotiation of cultural adaptation over time (15). One of the great strengths of Damasio’s outlook is his insistence that

    because they represent the deep evolutionary wisdom that resides within and emanates from human bodies. This doesn’t mean feelings should always have the final say or that they shouldn’t be subject to critique or revision, but it does encourage readers to realize that our feelings always have something valuable to tell us, even when we choose to ignore or override them. It is the ongoing dance between unbidden feelings that arise in the body and other, more intellectual modes of cognition that produces cultures in all their glory and horror.

    Also important is the assertion that feelings are never neutral, but rather imbued with an intrinsic, value-laden property that Damasio calls “valence”:

    "Valence translates the condition of life directly in mental terms, moment to moment. It inevitably reveals the condition as good, bad, or somewhere in between. When we experience a condition that is conducive to the continuation of life, we describe it in positive terms and call it pleasant, for example; when the condition is not conducive, we describe the experience in negative terms and talk of unpleasantness. Valence is the defining element of feeling and, by extension, of affect." (102)

    The undeniable presence of valence in our palette of feelings reveals that the human mind occupies a “weighted” space––a complex web of value judgments that is essential to and inseparable from our every interaction with objects, ideas, and other organisms. Valence, therefore, is a not only a critical source of cultural expression but also a mediator for cultural critique and augmentation.

    Cooperation is another critical component in the creation of cultures. Evolutionary biology has traditionally focused on competition as the primary driver of natural selection, and it has been challenging for cooperation to gain legitimacy as an equally important player in the evolutionary epic. But, in concert with other thinkers in recent years who’ve sought to understand the profound impact of cooperative evolutionary strategies, Damasio puts the lie to the idea that evolutionary success is all about competition:

    "The principle is always the same: organisms give up something in exchange for something that other organisms can offer them; in the long run, this will make their lives more efficient and survival more likely. What bacteria, or nucleated cells, or tissues, or organs give up, in general, is independence; what they get in return is access to the 'commons,' the goods that come from a cooperative arrangement in terms of indispensable nutrients or favorable general conditions, such as access to oxygen or advantages of climate…The homeostatic imperative stands behind the processes of cooperation and also looms large behind the emergence of 'general' systems, ubiquitously present throughout multicellular organisms. Without such 'whole-body systems,' the complex structures and functions of multicellular organisms would not be viable." (55)

    According to this view, the evolutionary dynamics of cooperation are the groundwork for the complex biological systems responsible for all multicellular activity, including human life and cultures; without the substantial benefits conferred by successful cooperation, the biological complexity necessary for cultural development would be an evolutionary dead end. Further, Damasio claims convincingly that “the emergence of subjective mental states” is a “prime example of cooperation” sprung from the collaborative interactions between different types of cells, tissues and organs (67).

    Damasio is careful to avoid anthropocentrism by emphasizing that cooperation took place in evolution long before “minded” creatures were around to conceptualize what was going on. The best example of this is his description of “the convenient treaty celebrated between two bacteria: a pushy, upstart bacterium that wanted to take over a bigger and more established one”:

    "The pushy bacterium operates

    concluding that 'when we cannot win over them, we might as well join them.' The established bacterium, on the other side, operates as if thinking, 'I may as well accept this invader provided it offers something to me.' But neither bacterium thought anything, of course. No mental reflection was involved, no overt consideration of prior knowledge, no cunning, guile, kindness, fair play, or diplomatic conciliation. The equation of the problem was resolved blindly and from

    the process, bottom up, as an option that, in retrospect, worked for both sides. The successful option was shaped by the imperative requirements of homeostasis, and that was not magic, except in a poetic sense. It consisted of concrete physical and chemical constraints applied to the life process, within the cells, in the context of their physiochemical relations with the environment…The genetic machinery of the successful organisms made sure the strategy would remain in the repertoire of future generations." (235, emphasis his).

    This empirically-supportable tale drives home the important lesson that cooperation is just as native to all organisms as competition. Once internalized, this lesson shows us that, at least at the intersubjective level of human consciousness and sociality, we can prioritize cooperative, positive-sum strategies over competitive, zero-sum strategies without feeling that we are somehow balking our evolutionary heritage by positing “unnatural” or “unrealistic” solutions to serious problems.

    I doubt that many scientists or science-savvy readers would reject Damasio’s general outline of the biological basis for culture, but what of his comments on culture itself? The third and final part of

    analyzes “The Cultural Mind at Work,” and is simultaneously the most entertaining and disappointing portion of the book. Damasio rushes through a robust list of cultural topics, spending mere paragraphs on subjects that demand their own book-length treatments. Here’s a in-exhaustive list from my notes:

    ––Creativity

    ––Religion

    ––The universal appeal of music and dance

    ––The algorithmic account of humanity

    ––The future and limitations of artificial intelligence

    ––Drug addiction and pain management

    ––The psychological effects of widespread rapid communication technology

    ––The dangers and benefits of population diversity

    ––Education

    ––Questioning the assertion that we are living through “the best time” in human history

    ––Ancient Greek Tragedies and Shakespeare

    ––Altruism

    ––Profit and greed

    ––Neuroscience’s tendency to over-favor the cerebral cortex

    ––The suggestion that modern computational sciences are enacting an odd reincarnation of Cartesian dualism

    ––Biological systems and neural networks as the original gatherers of “Big Data”

    ––The next steps for the humanist project

    Damasio addresses all these topics and more in less than one hundred pages of text. It’s a pleasurable ride and written with a lot of artistry and passion, but my reaction was mixed due to the lack of detail devoted to each individual topic. I’m not convinced that other readers will necessary have the same problem, and will also admit that I’ve enjoyed this style more in other books (most notably the works of

    ). Though I disagreed with some of Damasio’s speculations, I never felt like he stumbled into intellectually insupportable territory.

    Overall, Damasio manages to put forth a level-headed picture, proving himself neither an optimist nor pessimist about the current state of human civilization. He ends on a responsible and honest note, pointing out that his ideas will need to be revised as new evidence comes to light, and also marveling at how little we truly understand about ourselves and the vast universe in which we are embedded.

    demonstrates the clear value of combining a scientific mindset with cultural analysis, but also demonstrates the inherent weaknesses of that approach, reminding us of the need for additional perspectives.

    This review was originally published on my blog,

    .

  • Erik

    The Strange Order of Things is my first book by Damásio, but it was a bit of a disappointment. It tries to synthesize the entire evolutionary history from RNA-based precursors of modern life over bacterial cultures through human cultures and into the prospects of artificial intelligence through the prism of homeostasis. The word homeostasis appears 200 times in the book, and in the end it seems like a crutch, a sort of modern "soul" that is supposed to explain everything about any living substan

    The Strange Order of Things is my first book by Damásio, but it was a bit of a disappointment. It tries to synthesize the entire evolutionary history from RNA-based precursors of modern life over bacterial cultures through human cultures and into the prospects of artificial intelligence through the prism of homeostasis. The word homeostasis appears 200 times in the book, and in the end it seems like a crutch, a sort of modern "soul" that is supposed to explain everything about any living substance. In the end, Damásio argues that artificial intelligence isn't possible because a digital consciousness doesn't have a homeostatic imperative. But what is the fundamental function of homeostasic feelings then? Basically to tell us whether the body is doing well or not:

    "Valence translates the condition of life directly in mental terms, moment to moment. It inevitably reveals the condition as good, bad, or somewhere in between. When we experience a condition that is conducive to the continuation of life, we describe it in positive terms and call it pleasant, for example; when the condition is not conducive, we describe the experience in negative terms and talk of unpleasantness. Valence is the defining element of feeling and, by extension, of affect."

    Is a binary characteristic that tells the consciousness whether the body is doing good or bad really impossible to emulate in an artificial consciousness?

    Over all, then, the argument of the book didn't really convince me. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of factual information that's valuable, and one thing I especially appreciated was that Damásio has a lot of non-English language sources, which is a breath of fresh air when most of the anglophone world is so insular.

    I'd prefer to give 2½ stars, but I lean more towards "It was okay" than "I liked it".

  • Owlseyes

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