Self Comes to Mind

Constructing the Conscious Brain


Antonio Damasio


Pantheon Books, first edition, 2010


ISBN: 978-0-307-37875

Although I find Antonio Damasio dense to read I do acknowledge that he is one of the most influential neuroscientists of the last century. His groundbreaking thesis that the mind and the body are inexorably intertwined and cannot be functionally separated is truly revolutionary. I don’t know if it is his style of prose or the fact that his subject matter is somewhat abstract, but reading him can be tough (he often reads more like a philosopher than a neuroscientist) for the novice. This book is no exception. The first chapter, which is meant to serve as a guide of what to expect in the book is rather abstruse (to be fair the author does acknowledge this fact) and ultimately unhelpful for most students who might want to read this book. Bypassing this chapter altogether would be my recommendation. The rest of the book devotes itself to trying to understand how the “mind” (the self-aware, personal interpretation of the world) is generated by the brain. Fascinating topic, no question about it, but unfortunately, unless the reader has a thorough understanding of neuroanatomy, he or she will feel lost in the discussion. The book lists a series of important brain regions with minimal use of diagrams and figures, making it unintelligible to anyone who is not well versed with brain structure. But alas, there is hope for the novice as the appendix contains a summary of how the brain works and what it looks like, so reading this section first will definitely help. Last, for those with less time on their hands, skipping to chapter 10 will give you a nice overview of what the book is trying to expound, while reading chapter 11 will  put “mind” and “consciousness” in a very thought provoking socio-evolutionary context which I very much enjoyed.