cover image Descartes Error

Descartes Error

Antonio R. Damasio, Damasio. Putnam Adult, $24.95 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13894-2

In an important, gracefully written exploration of the neurochemical basis of mind, neurologist Damasio rejects the Cartesian notion of the human mind as a thinking organ more or less separate from bodily processes. Emotions and feelings, he argues, are essential to reasoning and decision-making. The human brain, he further contends, has a specialized region in the frontal lobes for making personal and social decisions, and this region works in concert with deeper brain centers that store emotional memories. To support this controversial claim, Damasio draws on his work with brain-injured patients at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and also cites the case of Phineas Gage, a Vermont railway foreman who lost his ethical faculties after an explosion in 1848 drove a metal rod through his skull. Damasio's exciting investigation challenges the fashionable metaphor of the mind as a software program. Interested readers are also referred to Richard Restak's The Modular Brain (Nonfiction Forecasts, June 13). Illustrations. 50,000 first printing; QPB alternate; Library of Science selection. (Sept.)