Damasio: Prophetic Tones in Descartes’ Error

The postcriptum of Descartes’ Error contained an idea which pointed to the future of neurobiological research: the mechanisms of basic homeostasis constitute a blueprint for the cultural development of the human values which permit us to judge actions as good or evil, and classify objects as beautiful or ugly. At the time, writing about this idea gave me hope that a two-way bridge could be established between neurobiology and the humanities, thus providing the way for a better understanding of human conflict and for a more comprehensive account of creativity. I am pleased to report that some progress has been made toward building that sort of bridge. For example, some of us are actively investigating the brain states associated with moral reasoning while others are trying to discover what the brain does during aesthetic experiences. The intent is not ethics or aesthetics to brain circuitry but rather explore the threads that interconnect neurobiology to culture. I am even more hopeful today that such a seemingly utopian bridge can become reality and optimistic that we will enjoy its benefits without having to wait another century.

-Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error (preface, 2005)

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