Antonio Damasio is the head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City. The Feeling of What Happens attempts to explain the mystery of consciousness. In a departure from most of the strictly biologically oriented studies on this issue, Damasio asserts that we must look deeper than merely picking apart the elements of neurotransmission or mapping regional activity in the brain.
What is closer to the heart of the matter, according to Damasio, is the brain’s activity in communicating the individual’s act of relating to an object. In this respect, human beings have consciousness as a result of connection to the world around them. This seems closer to psychological and existential ideas of defining self in relation to the other, and the assertion that meaning cannot exist in a universe focused on self alone. I had mixed feelings in reading this book.
On the one hand, I agree that we are more than just synapses and chemical impulses. However, I believe consciousness is a divine mystery we cannot possibly fathom, and Damasio spends the majority of the book attempting to fit his theory into an existing landscape of biology. He believes that while we can still take a reductionist point of view, this view must include a global, connected biology.
I fall into the camp of those who believe all existence is a unified organism. The Feeling of What Happens doesn't acknowledge the role of Spirit and divine creation. That is its major shortcoming. Even with our growing ability to map the brain, its electrical impulses, we are still left with that unmeasurable, numinous spark that animates us, that makes us both truly human and part of the divine.
A caveat to the reader: this book is not easily accessible, with so much of its language technical and medically based. But having soldiered through it, I found myself challenged to re-examine why I believe what I believe. I would recommend this book to both right and left brain readers, regardless of occupation or spiritual inclination.