Looking for Spinoza by neuroscientist Antonio R. Damasio, about his theory of emotions and how it relates to the philosophy of Spinoza.
I've heard about his earlier books, but not read them. He's previously popularised the idea that emotions are an essential part of our rationality. Without emotions, you can't make rational decisions. There's quite a lot of evidence for that, and I find the idea pretty convincing.
This book goes beyond that however. In this book he considers feelings, which he regards as different to emotions.
Emotions are actions or movements, many of them public, visible to others as they occur in the face, in the voice, in specific behaviours. To be sure, some components of the emotion process are not visible to the naked eye but can be made "visible" with current scientific probes such as hormonal assays and electrophysiological wave patterns. Feelings, on the other hand, are always hidden, like all mental images necessarily are, unseen to anyone other than their rightful owner, the most private property of the organism in whose brain they occur.His theory here is that humans have a kind of mental image/map of the body. It's this that constitutes consciousness. The implication is that awareness of the body is an integral part of the mind. Our minds only exist to further the needs of the body. Our feelings only exist as part of this body-image.
The evidence he presents for this is a bit scanty. It's true that reports of feelings are usually expressed as bodily sensations, say warmth. But it doesn't seem certain to me that that means the feeling itself is only associated with the body, or if it's a mental state that can only be expressed in metaphors of the body.
However, I have no particular reason to doubt this theory either. So on this part of the theory I'm going with status: undetermined.
Damasio is a fan of the philosopher Spinoza, and tries to link his theory with Spinoza's philosophy. Spinoza was a fairly extreme monist, unusual in Western philosophy of the period; and certainly had no truck with Cartesian-style mind-body dualism. Like the stoics and like Bertrand Russell, he also saw two-way feedback between conscious thoughts and emotions: you can influence your emotions by thinking rationally about them; though your emotions also influence your thoughts. However, those somewhat loose correspondences seem to be about as far as it goes.
One problem with the book is Damasio's writing style. He may not be a native English speaker, but he's desperately in need of an editor to remove redundancies, and repunctuate or break down his sentences. For instance Sentences like this one seem to scream out in agony for the blessed relief of a comma. When you assembled into paragraphs and chapters, it makes the book unnecessarily hard to follow.
The neural patterns and the corresponding mental images of the objects outside the brain are creations of the brain related to the reality that prompts their creation rather than passive mirror images reflecting that reality.Overall, somewhat interesting, but not essential reading unless you're particularly into the neuroscience of emotions.
Went to see 1984 at the Battersea Arts Centre, by the Blind Summit troupe. They're mostly known for doing puppets, but in this case it was mostly live action with only a few puppet sequences, though they were very well done.
It's done on a minimal set with only a few props. They adopted an interesting framing device, where the troupe were zealous members of Airstrip One's society, putting on an instructive play about the comeuppance of the dastardly Thought Criminal Winston Smith and the Whore Julia.
That level of irony allowed the play to be hilariously funny at times, as with lightning precision the actors form themselves into scenery, boasting of their skill as they do so.
The highlight was a superb adaptation of Goldstein's Book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism where with puppets and placards they show how this society works and evolved.
There were a couple of minor downsides. The horror of the situation doesn't come through very strongly with the ironic framing and the comic interludes. And the puppet-like strides of the actor who played O'Brian may have gone a little too far.
Overall though, entertaining and impressive take on the story. Doubleplusgood.
Went to see Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts. Big exhibition with a diverse array of items belonging to Indian rulers, ranging from watercolour miniatures to jewellery to procession pics to a life-sized elephant model in durbar regalia to a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Lots of good stuff to see there, including some impressive bling like an entire belt made of emeralds.
Doesn't have a particularly strong theme though, other than rich-people-owned-these, and covers a broad range of cultures and times. So, it's good, but seems a bit pricey at £11.
Also had a quick look through the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries: didn't stay long. It's all shiny and new and well-presented. I really miss the decorous old V&A before all the refits though, where you could just go upstairs and wander in perfect peace through nearly deserted room after room full of case after case of Grecian urns and old china.
Tried going to the J.G. Ballard thing but I was in a hurry, and I either I missed most of it or it was too avant-garde to recognize. Basically there were white-painted laths and broken glass on the floor. Downstairs there were a few photos. Not sure what was going on: it was either a surreal practical joke, a crappy exhibition, or I missed the door to the good stuff.
This one was pretty calm though. The Harrow Times reckons there were 800 police, 200 UAF counter-demonstrators and only 19 SIOE. The UAF only counted 12 of them, the BBC is in the judicious middle with 15.
Should have gone a bit later instead of standing around in the cold. I think it's important to stand up to them though: growing up a mixed-race child the last time the far right were powerful, they definitely managed to create a climate of intimidation back then. Since I don't appear to be getting any taller, it's probably about time to offer some resistance. As long as they're the smaller side in the demonstrations, they can't menace anyone with boots and fists: and at least in London that still seems to be the case.
Got a few pics. Since I got criticized last time, here's this demo's police photographer:
If I don't post again, it's because the Thought Police have got me.
Video. Hitchhikers guide to the Daleks. Bollywood horse stunt. Student types in class. Tories do badly in council by-elections. The minor right-wing parties seem to be eating into their vote at that level, but not sure that can happen at Parliamentary level when people vote more seriously.
Nice Face Steve Jobs rant.
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