Book Review: Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

The featured book is ‘Descartes’ Error’ by Antonio Damasio.

I thought the book could be divided neatly into two parts.

In the first part Damasio builds up to his Somatic Marker Hypothesis. This is a particularly bold, brilliant and elegant hypothesis which is slowly but surely building up a strong evidence base to support it. Damasio begins with a number of case studies including the classic case of Phineas Gage. Through these cases, Damasio builds an argument for what needs to be explained. In particular he wants to explain how emotions are integral to our ability to make good decisions and cites a relevant case which necessitates Damasio to go beyond the conventional neuropsychological tests in order to confirm practical observations. This in itself shows a great scientific mind in action – wanting to answer a question which is leaping out from observations.

In the second part which is much briefer ‘The Body Minded Brain’, Damasio considers the Mind-Brain issue and I think particularly is included to justify the provocative title of the book and to show how his hypothesis can be used in an age old debate. This debate is also considered by McLaren in his biocognitive model covered in an earlier review.

This was described by the Times Literary Supplement as ‘A Tour De Force of Sheer Reflective Imagination’ which appears on the cover of the book. This is interesting as there may be parallels with the term ‘regulative fiction’ which was used to describe some of the groundbreaking work of Donald Winnicott (discussed further here). This is a really nice book which shows the ways in which bold advances in science can be made with a combination of imagination, reflection, observation, testing and communication.


Antonio Damasio. Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. Vintage Books. 2006. (First Published 1994).


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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