The Strange Order of Things | António R. Damásio

Summary of: The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures
By: António R. Damásio


Embark on a captivating journey through human culture and development with ‘The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures’ by António R. Damásio. This insightful book challenges the traditional narrative that often sidelines the role of feelings in human development. Instead, Damásio emphasizes the crucial role that emotions play in driving innovation, social behaviors, and more. By examining the origins of feelings as an evolutionary tool, readers will gain an understanding of our deep connection to emotions and the ways they continue to shape our lives today.

The Underrated Role of Emotions in Human Development

Human development is often portrayed as an intellectual pursuit, but this overlooks the crucial role of emotions. Emotions such as hunger, pain, and curiosity have influenced our evolution by prompting us to innovate and better understand the world. They have also facilitated our ability to provide ourselves with necessities such as food, shelter, and medical care. Furthermore, emotions serve as a feedback mechanism that helps us monitor our progress and determine if improvements are necessary. Social behavior is another domain where emotions play a significant role. Despite being frequently associated with higher brain function, social behavior can be observed even in bacteria, demonstrating that feelings are a fundamental part of our social interactions.

The Vital Force of Homeostasis

Homeostasis is an innate drive for balance or equilibrium, present in all living organisms and fundamental for survival and thriving. Our personal feelings represent agents of homeostasis, satisfying basic needs such as hunger and fear. Over time, these feelings evolved into self-consciousness, enabling us to reflect on homeostasis and the meaning of life. This drive has led to inspired techniques for meeting our health and safety needs, as well as art and philosophy to explore our emotions. Politics, technology, and science also respond to our pursuit of homeostasis. The nervous system, which allows messages to be communicated from the body to the brain, evolved 600 million years ago. Only with the development of the mental processes to transform mechanical responses into conscious experiences did feelings as we know them emerge. The drive for homeostasis is so vital that it has been present since the dawn of life, and it took billions of years for the right ingredients to come together, allowing the emergence of our complex emotions.

Evolutionary Advantage

Our evolutionary story began with single-celled organisms that could only sense physical or chemical events. Later, organisms developed a nervous system, mental processes, and the ability to map their environment. Mapping allowed organisms to generate images of both external and internal worlds, leading to the development of “feelings.” Reflection on these feelings gave organisms an evolutionary advantage as those who were better at sensing and responding to feelings lived healthier and safer lives, passing down this trait to their offspring. As organisms’ brains continued to grow and develop new abilities, such as memory and the ability to play back entire events, human creative intelligence began to emerge.

The Mind and Body Connection

The mind and body are not two separate entities but are interconnected in ways we cannot ignore. Emotions play a significant role in bridging the gap between the two. Positive or negative feelings attached to an experience define its quality, and enrich life in ways we may not realize. Although emotions can get messy, they provide the necessary richness that makes up the human experience. The brain is part of the nervous system, which is connected to the body, and they are crucially intertwined. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize that your feelings are important in bringing together your body and mind and play a co-equal role in shaping your well-being.

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