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From one of our preeminent neuroscientists: a landmark reflection that spans the biological and social sciences, offering a new way of understanding the origins of life, feeling, and culture.
The Strange Order of Things is a pathbreaking investigation into homeostasis, the condition of that regulates human physiology within the range that makes possible not only the survival but also the flourishing of life. Antonio Damasio makes clear that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells; that our minds and cultures are linked by an invisible thread to the ways and means of ancient unicellular life and other primitive life-forms; and that inherent in our very chemistry is a powerful force, a striving toward life maintenance that governs life in all its guises, including the development of genes that help regulate and transmit life. In The Strange Order of Things, Damasio gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.
Antonio Damasio is University Professor; David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Philosophy; and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. Awards he has received include the Prince of Asturias Prize in Science and Technology, the Grawemeyer Award, the Honda Prize, and the Pessoa and Signoret prizes. In 2017 he received the Freud Medal from the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. Damasio is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. He is the author of Descartes’ Error, The Feeling of What Happens, Looking for Spinoza and Self Comes to Mind, all of which have been published in translation and are taught in universities throughout the world.
"Almost a quarter century after Descartes' Error, Antonio Damasio has done it again – created a grand exploration of the inextricable relationship between mind, body, and the source of human feelings. Along the way, Damasio takes the reader on an adventure that starts with the single-celled organisms that existed billions of years ago, proceeds through the development of nervous systems and brains, and culminates with the origin of consciousness and human cultures. Thought-provoking and highly original, this book can change the way you look at yourself, and your species."
– Leonard Mlodinow, author of Subliminal
"The Strange Order of Things is a foundational book. It provides the concepts, the language, and the knowledge to explain in an integrated framework the interplay between Nature and Culture at the heart of the human condition. Damasio unveils the codes and protocols that make humans human. After a long period of fragmentation of science, he ushers in a paradigm that reunites scientific knowledge, beyond the diversity of its fields of inquiry, around the study of the networks of the mind in communication with the networks of its biological and social existence. This is the beginning of a new scientific revolution."
– Manuel Castells, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
"In The Strange Order of Things, Antonio Damasio presents a new vision of what it means to be human. For too long we have thought of ourselves as rational minds inhabiting insentient mechanical bodies. Breaking with this philosophy, Damasio shows how our minds are rooted in feeling, a creation of our nervous system with an evolutionary history going back to ancient unicellular life that enables us to shape distinctively human cultures. Working out what this implies for the arts, the sciences and the human future, Damasio has given us that rarest of things, a book that can transform how we think – and feel – about ourselves."
– John Gray, author of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
"Bold and important [...] Damasio, by unseating the mind from its elevated throne within the brain, delivers an onslaught on one of the core dogmas of conventional neuroscience. In his view, mind is distributed – for instance, to distant anatomical regions such as the peripheral neural networks that control organ function. Thus, different tissues in the body contribute incrementally to the mind's function. Damasio's vision offers a new and specific incarnation of the thesis of unified body and mind [...] Compelling and refreshingly original."
"Damasio analyzes the continuities and the differences between natural life and human cultures, considered in their artistic, political, ethical and medical dimensions. In this effort the borders of the human do not disappear but are instead shifted, made movable. As a result, his exploration of life"s surprises becomes a stimulating and exhilarating exercise in redefining humanity itself [...] Damasio's books are marvels of scientific effervescence, of conceptual invention, and, in the end, of modesty, of that sense of the limits of knowledge that only knowledge is capable of imposing [...] In Damasio's thinking, to live consists of projecting yourself into life, shunning vulnerability and death, powered by a foundational force that he names homeostasis, a concept that The Strange Order of Things perfects and amplifies."
– Le Monde
"The originality of the unity proposed by Damasio is that it is rooted on the mechanisms of life itself and in particular on the conditions of its regulation, an ensemble of phenomena generally designated by a single word: homeostasis. This daring approach allows us to tease apart the links between cultures and nature and to deepen as never before the question of how the cultural process can be humanized [...] The Strange Order of Things bridges two contradictory readings of the elaboration of culture and human behaviors: autonomous cultural phenomena versus the consequences of natural selection conveyed by genes. For Damasio there is no need to choose between them. Damasio also refuses to reduce cultural phenomena to their biological origin, or to explain the ensemble of cultural phenomena in pure scientific terms [...] Intriguingly, this novel Copernican revolution in no way reduces the specificity of the human, on the contrary [...] Here is a new, strange and unassailable definition of life."
– Slate (France)
"For this world renowned scientist brain and body are indissociable and produce the mind jointly [...] Ever since his first book, Damasio has not wavered in his efforts to rehabilitate emotions and feelings within cognitive processes. In The Strange Order of Things he nails down the effort and goes well beyond [...] Feelings are agents of homeostasis, the powerful principle behind the regulation of life. The human saga, in the strict sense, owes a lot to a highly developed cerebral cortex, but the essentials of that saga had been germinating long before."
– Les Echos
"[Damasio] exerts a considerable influence on the fashioning of contemporary thought and on all debates concerning neurology. Damasio is one of the great thinkers of our time. A pioneer in his field."
"[Damasio] has introduced something baroque in a science that has been centered in one single organ, the brain. The Strange Order of Things vibrates with a baroque sensibility. The word baroque has a Portuguese origin and signifies 'irregular pearl'. Human intelligence and its products are irregular pearls and not perfect algorithms [...] The Strange Order of Things is a biological interpretation of human phenomena, complex human societies included. The book expands on a proposal Damasio made following his first discoveries in the eighties: the brain is only a part of a whole and that whole is the body. Together body and brain engender feelings [...] Feelings are sentinels for life's fragility, for the body's mortality. This is how Damasio installs homeostasis at the origin of all human endeavors. We can not attain any goal without the desire to attain it, in short, without desire itself."
– Le Figaro
"This disturbing book shakes our conceptions of the mechanisms behind life, mind and culture. The author brings them together in a single perspective centered on homeostasis [...] It is incredibly, formidably, refreshing [...] This is a memorable book. A strange and ambitious book, which draws on multiple disciplines and moves across time and space to give us, very simply, a new definition of life."
– Revue Medicale Suisse