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Damasio, Professor Antonio

Category: Scientist

Antonio Damasio (Portuguese: António Rosa Damásio; born February 25, 1944) is a Portuguese-American neuroscientist/neurobiologist.  He is a University Professor and David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California (where he also heads the Brain and Creativity Institute), an Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute, and the author of several books.  Prior to joining USC in 2005, Damasio was M.W. Van Allen Professor and Head of Neurology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.  Damasio is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Damasio's main field is neurobiology, especially the mapping of which neural systems support functions such as emotion, decision-making, memory, language, learning and consciousness. As this site is about these functions, his work is obviously very relevant.   Damasio has devoted a considerable amount of his research effort into trying to find which parts of the [hardware] brain support the [software] functions.  As a clinician, he and his collaborators have studied and treated disorders of behaviour and cognition, and movement disorders.

 Damasio believes that emotions play a critical role in high-level cognition.  His ‘somatic marker hypothesis’ is a theory about how emotions are involved in decision-making (both positively and negatively, and often unconsciously) and learning. I have provided a section on Character and how decisions are made depending on the priority placed on the functions of the mind and Professor Damasio’s books helped me in coming up with these ideas.  All the sections on learning on the site – how perceptions are used to form memory etc are in line with Damasio’s theories, although they were formed independently by observation of actual learning processes.

Damasio has also suggested that emotions are part of homeostatic regulation and are rooted in reward/punishment mechanisms. This finding would be taken as a given by most spiritually minded people and particularly healers, but for a scientist, it is quite a breakthrough in thinking.

The main book of his that I have used, both as observations, but also to help with the site, is The Feeling of What Happens, however, Damasio's books all deal with the relationship between emotions and feelings, and the brain.  His first [1994] book was Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain.  His second [1999] book was The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness.  Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, was published in 2003. His latest book published in 2010 is Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain.

He is married to Hanna Damasio, a collaborator and frequent co-author.

Observations

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