Looking for Spinoza by Antonio Damasio

“Looking for Spinoza” is a puzzling title for a book discussing how the brain functions but that is exactly what makes this book unique – it is not simply straightforward science. The author Antonio Damasio, a prominent neurologist, relates his recent research into the biological understanding of feelings to the work of the 17th century Dutch philosopher Benedictus Spinoza. Using a wide range of examples from his innovative experiments on a variety of patients, he clarifies the difference between emotions and feelings, and attempts to explain the neurological basis for feelings – something which it is often assumed cannot be explained by science, but which Spinoza hinted at over 300 years ago.

A historical context is given to the development of this dillemma of the mind and body through Damasio’s wide knowledge of literature and other philosophers such as Descartes. He is clearly passionate about both his work and his reflections on Spinoza, making the book both insightful and thought provoking. Detailed scientific facts are kept to a minimum and instead anecdotes and analogies explain difficult concepts. By making the prose accessible and often humorous, Damasio has succeeded in writing a book about science that can appeal to anyone.

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