Feeling and the Evolution of Consciousness

Siri Hustvedt | LA Review of Books

Antonio Damasio has been an influential and highly regarded neuroscientist for decades, not only in his field but beyond it. As a person who roams among disciplines, I have seen his and his frequent co-author Hanna Damasio’s work referenced by scholars from anthropology to psychology to literary studies. Damasio’s lucid and genial prose style as well as his willingness to push beyond the narrow strictures of neuroscience set his work apart from the countless other scientists who have published books on their research for the general public. Damasio has never been parochial, and he has never condescended to his audience. He writes that hard-to-write book directed at both his peers and uninitiated lay people.

In The Strange Order of Things, he sets out to do nothing less than tell the story of the evolution of mind and culture through his central, organizing theory of homeostasis. Damasio revises the classical conception of homeostasis as an organism’s internal striving for a “neutral” or “balanced” state, a kind of thermostat, for a more dynamic, optimal form of self-regulation that ensures survival.

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