Somatic Markers

I’ve been thinking of something positive to say about Antonio Damasio’s Somatic Marker Theory since finishing “Descartes’ Error”.

For anyone who believes …

  • the common-sense view of decison-making is a logical sequence of weighing up all available options objectively.
  • the common-sense view of mind and body involves understanding the “brain” distinct from the “body proper”.
  • the common-sense view of mind is as a software program running on that brain hardware.

… the somatic marker idea will add something – the idea that memory of good and bad as immediate inputs to any decision-making thought process reside as markers – persisted patterns – in the body (soma) as a whole.

To me the common-sense IS this visceral gut-feel. Mind, thought and consciousness (prejudiced as well as rational) are well to think of as software running on hardware. BUT clearly the “brain” hardware is more than the spongy bits in the skull – it’s the whole neuro-chemical network of high-brain, low-brain, stem, cord, nervous system, AND the the chemical signalling and response systems. This is one complex system. The common sense distinction is still there beteween the bio-physio-chemical hardware and the dynamic patterns – many levels of patterns upon and within patterns, feed-back as well as feed-forward – as the software; software that is much more than “a program” of course. And hardly surprising since mind, brain and body can only have co-evolved. No-one came along to install the software after the hardware had been assembled.

A chapter at the end of Damasio – somewhat apologetically pointing out which particular aspects of Descartes actually led him to use the name in his title – to blame Descartes. However it is clear that Damasio sees his audience starting with a very firmly divided duality view of the word as a whole. In that sense I was clearly never his audience.

As I said already for anyone wanting “scientific” physio-neuro-psycho “evidence” of neural-correlates and the like, that demonstrate the systematic inter-connectivity of the whole, then Damasio adds to the pile available, and is as good a starting point as any of those I’ve listed before; Austin, Sacks, Zeman, Edelman, … apologies for any I’ve missed.

Where would popular science publishing be without Phineas Gage ?
Now that IS a meme.

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