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Pollack, A. Watt, D. Panksepp, J. (2000). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness: Antonio R. Damasio. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1999, 367 pp., $28.00.. Neuropsychoanalysis, 2(1):81-88.

(2000). Neuropsychoanalysis, 2(1):81-88

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness: Antonio R. Damasio. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1999, 367 pp., $28.00.

Review by:
Alan Pollack

Douglas Watt and Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.

This is a courageous and timely book, one that recognizes the need to appreciate our deep animate nature from multiple interpenetrating perspectives: from brain, behavioral, and psychological sciences. In his search for the roots of consciousness, Damasio takes a stand that is based solidly on the foundational role of emotions and affective feelings of both brain and peripheral bodily origins. Regrettably, in the current corticocentric era of psychoneurological theorizing, his unabashedly subcortical perspective remains a minority view. The conceptualization of a primordial “self” at the core of brainstem organization, centered around the parabrachial nuclei and the periaqueductal gray, which provide essential substrates for the mystery we call consciousness, is a view of which I am also fond (Panksepp, 1998a, b). Damasio's inclusion of various higher brain areas such as primary somatosensory cortex under this same rubric is less attractive for me, but who would disagree with a call to situate psychological complexities in the interactions of many brain areas rather than restricted brain zones? That is, of course, a safe and reasonable overall strategy, but in the present offering, Damasio is clearly more attracted to the essential role of subcortical structures in the generation of emotional feelings than he was in Descartes' Error (1994).

The brainstem foundations for the evolution of extended forms of consciousness are not simple “light-switches” that control forebrain arousal.

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