Quotes from Looking for Spinoza

The following are quotes from Antonio Damasio’s book Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.


“On a practical note, understanding the biology of emotions and the fact that the value of each emotion differs so much in our current human environment, offers considerable opportunities for understand human behavior. We can learn, for example, that some emotions are terrible advisors and consider how we can either suppress them or reduce the consequences of their advice. I am thinking, for example, that reactions that lead to racial and and cultural prejudices are based in part on the automatic deployment of social emotions evolutionary meant to detect difference in others because difference may signal risk or danger, and promote withdrawal or aggression. That sort of reaction probably achieved useful goals in a tribal society but is no longer useful, let alone appropriate, to ours. We can be wise to the fact that our brain still carries the machinery to react in the way it did in a very different context ages ago. And we can learn to disregard such reactions and persuade others to do the same.” (40)

“First, in comparable circumstances, these automated reactions certainly create conditions in the human organism that, once mapped in the nervous system, can be represented as pleasurable or painful and eventually known as feelings. Let us say that this is the real source of human glory and human tragedy.” (51-52)

“By controlling our interaction with objects that cause emotions we are in effect exerting some control over the life process and leading the organism into greater or lesser harmony, as Spinoza would wish. We are in effect overriding the tyrannical automaticity and mindlessness of the emotional machinery.” (52)

“This may sound a bit too obvious, however I must recall that until quite recently science studiously avoided the assignment of feelings to any brain system; feelings were just out there, vaporously hanging in or around the brain.” (111)

“Nonhumans can certainly cooperate or fail to do so, within their group. This may displease those who believe just behavior is an exclusively human trait. As if it were not enough to be told by Copernicus that we are not in the center of the universe, by Charles Darwin that we have humble origins, and by Sigmund Freud that we are not full masters of our behavior, we have to concede that even in the realm of ethics there are forerunners and descent.” (161)

“The history of our civilization is, to some extent, the history of a persuasive effort to extend the best of ‘moral sentiments’ to wider and wider circles of humanity, beyond the restrictions of the inner groups, eventually encompassing the whole of humanity. That we are far from finishing the job is easy to grasp just by reading the headlines.” (163)

“In addition to urging the establishment of a social contract, Spinoza is telling us that happiness is the power to be free of the tyranny of negative emotions. Happiness is not a reward for virtue: it is virtue itself.” (175)

“There is no doubt that the human mind is special—special in its immense capacity to feel pleasure and pain and to be aware of the pan and pleasure of others; in its ability to love and to pardon; in its prodigious memory; in its ability to symbolize and narrate; in its gift of language with syntax; in its power to understand the universe and create new universes; in the speed and ease with which it processes and integrates disparate information so that problems can be solved.” (189)

“If you ask of Spinoza’s perspective, Hamlet’s disquieting, inaugural question, ‘who’s there?’—meaning who is out there to let us persist as our endeavor of self-preservation mandates—the answer is unequivocal. No one. Aloneness is our stark reality, or Christ on the cross and Spinoza in the crushed pillows of his deathbed.” (279)


About evinhughes

I am a graduate of Georgia Southern University. I have a bachelors degree in Information Technology and a bachelors in Writing and Linguistics.
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