Review of Damasio, Descartes’ Error
in the Times Literary Supplement, August 25, 1995, pp. 3-4.
Daniel C. Dennett
The legacy of René Descartes’ notorious dualism of mind and body extends far beyond academia into everyday thinking: ‘These athletes are prepared both mentally and physically,’ and ‘There’s nothing wrong with your body–it’s all in your mind.’ Even among those of us who have battled Descartes’ vision, there has been a powerful tendency to treat the mind (that is to say, the brain) as the body’s boss, the pilot of the ship. Falling in with this standard way of thinking, we ignore an important alternative: viewing the brain (and hence the mind) as one organ among many, a relatively recent usurper of control, whose functions cannot properly be understood until we see it not as the boss, but as just one more somewhat fractious servant, working to further the interests of the body that shelters and fuels it, and gives its activities meaning. This historical or evolutionary perspective reminds me of the change that has come over Oxford in the thirty years since I was a student there. It used to be that the dons were in charge, while the bursars and other bureaucrats, right up to the Vice Chancellor, acted under their guidance and at their behest. Nowadays the dons, like their counterparts on American university faculties, are more clearly in the role of employees hired by a central Administration, but from where, finally, does the University get its meaning? In evolutionary history, a similar change has crept over the administration of our bodies. Where resides the ‘I’ who is in charge of my body? In his wonderfully written book, Antonio Damasio seeks to …”
This is a fine review of a fine book! Thanks for reminding me of Damasio’s book, alexandra.