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Publisher's Summary

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 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.

©2018 Antonio Damasio (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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.... 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.... This is the beginning of a new scientific revolution."(Manuel Castells, emeritus professor of sociology, University of California, Berkeley)

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 03-22-18

Homeostasis and Metabolism give self awareness

This book provides an incredibly good way to think about order, origins of life and life. Anytime one can look at a problem coherently from a different perspective one can develop a deeper insight and understand the nature of reality just a little bit better than they did before. For example, I love ‘information theory’ and how it can be used to explain the universe as a paradigm for fundamental understanding of the quantum nature of the universe even to the degree that one of the most famous physicist in recent times, John Archibald Wheeler, would say that ‘it from bit’ explains our universe, that ‘existence comes from information’ (this is not germane to my point, but someday when you have time look up Rule 110 on wiki you’ll be able to understand how a universal computing machine that is Turing complete can come from an incredibly simple algorithm thus leading to a complex universe as ours appears to be) , and that Claude Shannon would show that the second law of thermodynamics (Entropy) can be restated inversely in terms of information theory. (Shannon actually seemed to be a hero of the author of this book).

This book deals with biology more than physics but the author has an alternative way of thinking about biological life arising from chemical processes leading to humans rather than appealing to the standard paradigmatic archetype most of us are already familiar with. He’s going to show how order arises from chaos through homeostasis and metabolism (stealing useful energy from outside of oneself) explains the origin of life and intelligent life.

Spinoza will say and the author will paraphrase him as such ‘everything (both mental and physical) strives (Latin: conatus) to preserve in its being’. In order to do that, the thing in question must steal useful energy (or order) from somewhere outside of itself and it must preserve its nature or it will lose its nature. This is the paradigm the author describes, the homeostasis, the striving (the clinging, the endeavor, the will (that’s what Schopenhauer speaks about, by all means read his Volume I of ‘Will and Representation’, the ‘will to power’ (Nietzsche takes Spinoza’s conatus and Schopenhauer’s’ ‘will’ to come up with this same idea that the author gives except they can’t use those words because they haven’t been codified in their time period)) and the stealing of useful energy from outside of itself thus leading to an increase of entropy in the system as a whole but a decrease in entropy in the thing (the entity).

I’m easily irritated with willfully ignorant people. One of my pet peeves is someone who says that since we weren’t there we can’t possibly know what happened therefore ‘god did it’ (Rush Limbaugh did exactly that the day after Stephen Hawking died and dismissed the ‘big bang’ in his ravings). This book gives a beautiful retort to such stupidity in abiogenesis. Before there were bacteria there were chemical processes. The processes that stayed around and evolved are the ones that reached a steady state with a modicum of homeostasis and metabolic systems at play (and it probably happened in undersea vents. One of the few places on Earth where the energy doesn’t come from the sun. It comes from the radiation left over from the accretion of the earth during its formation).

The author in the first two thirds of the book never just states things. He builds his argument across time and across space. The body develops before the central nervous system in its evolutionary development. Our emotive, temperament and mood happened before our feelings. Our feelings come before our reason both evolutionary and developmentally. A really smart biologist can prove evolution by analyzing the taxonomy of the current living organisms of the now. The fossil record is not necessary for them to prove evolution and its development over time, but the biologist also has the fossil record to make their story even more complete. A neuroscientist, as the author is, also has brain development and processes to add to the equation. This author uses every fact at his disposal in his telling for the development of the self awareness that humans possess.

Logic only preserves truth. It cannot create truth. The feelings we have from our emotive, temperament and mood give us the narrative and the intuition that we need in giving us our self awareness (consciousness) and the story that we end up telling ourselves. Our subjective selves come from our feelings not from our logic based rational selves. (I think all of this is in his book in one way another). He believes our mental states come from our experiences. He even ended one chapter by saying something along the lines that ‘Proust explains it in ‘Swann’s Way’’). It’s too bad he ended that chapter like that because I think Proust had it better than this book does, and also I think ‘How Emotions are Made’ by Lisa Barrett follows Proust more closely and they both wisely stay away from absolute mental states.

I thought the last third of this book never should have been written. He was really out of his depth. He speaks about AI, trans-humanism, camp fires, religion, Adorno, Pinker, Freud and his death wish as expressed in ‘Civilizations and its Discontents’ and many other topics. Matter of fact, I’m currently reading ‘Feminine Law’ and the name and idea dropping between the that book and the last third of this book surprised me in their overlap, but for ‘Feminine Law’ she’s a specialist in the field of psychoanalysis and this author does not seem to be. I can say two nice things about the end of the book, he’s trying to connect his thesis with reality, and secondly he actually predicts the ‘Cambridge Analytics’ and Facebook scandal with incredible prescience.

In spite of the train wreck of the last third of the book, the first two thirds make this book a special find and I would definitely recommend it.

22 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Rambling speculation & pontification

This book pretends to be a work of science, but its only concrete scientific content is a few notes on the human nervous system. The vast majority of the book consists of vague claims about homeostasis comparing human cultures with insect and bacterial communities (with no detailed description of underlying mechanisms) and flights of baseless speculation, opinion, and moralizing on all manner of loosely connected topics including religion, news media, international institutions, the daily routines and cares of ancient hunter gatherers, and transhumanism. Basically, the book doesn't deliver what it promises, and teaches little of substance.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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What a sad, sad, man

While this book begins with an often very technical analysis of the biology of feelings and emotions - and the most frequent use of the word "homeostasis" I've ever seen in one book - it quickly devolves into what I can only see as an exercise in modern Luddite thought.

The author frequently misrepresents technological advancement, confusing terms and falling back on a near-religious circular reasoning. Humans are better than artificial intelligence because to be human is good and humans are the most human things around.

I also find the logic behind several parts of the book poorly structured - such as the entire reasoning that one needs a physical body in order to come up with morals and ethics and that this is why artificial intelligence will never have morals and ethics beyond what we hard code into them. It's an argument that breaks apart under even gentle probing but, like much of the book, is just taken as fact and never challenged.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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THIS IS A MUST READ!

This is a hugely important book and one worth reading. Why? Because Damasio has joined the ranks of scientists such as Nick Lane (mentioned in the book) and Jeremy England (not mentioned) who are giving the "modern" synthesis of evolution a much needed update. This update replaces the gene centered theory with a theory centered on thermodynamics. As Damasio outlined in this book, there are 2 approaches scientists are taking when trying to understand the origins of life:

1. Genes first, championed by Dawkins and the like, which suggests genes came first and replicated.

2. Metabolism first, which suggests metabolism predated genes and in fact gave rise to genes. This dethrones the selfish gene (finally!) and paints a more accurate picture of the evolution of every species as yet another way for an organism to capture and circulate energy. Unlike genes first, metabolism first can account for the energy needed to create the molecules of life. Deep hydrothermal vents, which of course do not have genes, provide an acidic environment in which all that H+ acted like a battery, allowing bonds to be broken and made, thus making the molecules of life. RNA world and other gene centered theories simply cannot account for the energy needed to put these molecules and cells together so that evolution of living organisms can get a foothold. Damasio thanks Martin and Lane (and Russell) for their work on this front, as do I because it was paradigm shifting.

Damasio makes his arguments for metabolism first by focusing on the evolution of emotions. I cannot say I was a fan of the second half of the book, which offered a lot of philosophical musings I had heard many, many times before. But the first half of the book was truly exceptional. Damasio argued that feelings have shaped our culture and those feelings have arisen from homeostatic processes that can be traced back to single cells. If anyone can make this argument, it's Damasio's, whose research dominated my neuroscience textbooks. I cannot recall one professor at Penn who was not in awe of his excellent work over the many decades he has been studying the brain. Damasio argued that emotions themselves were a product of the very first hoeostatic processes at work *while* assembling genes at the hydrothermal vents, pre-dating genes. Thus, the evolution of emotions arises from those processes and not from genes. Genes themselves arise from homeostatic processes and not the other way around because homeostatic processes developed before the creation of genes. Homeostatic processes have been passed down through every generation. Genes were merely a way to help these processes occur inside organisms. At the end of the day, homeostatic processes arise because of the second law of thermodynamics. They are a thermodynamic process. Genes were created to aid this process. This process was not created to aid the passing down of genes. The passing down of genes certainly continues to help this process occur in each species, but the gene is a helper, not the star of the show.

As organisms continued to gain complexity, their homeostatic processes in turn became more complex as well. For example, when organisms evolved nerves, their homeostatic processes were regulated via these nerves. As the nerves (brains) became more and more complex, so too did the homeostatic processes that govern those nerve networks. As a result, we all have internal drives. (I cannot think of another scientists who has done more to study internal drives. See Damasio's work on impulse, galvanic skin response, etc to learn more about internal drives and associated brain regions). The internal drives common to population of humans served as the drivers for the very development of civilization. Consider bacteria and criminal justice. Bacteria do not even have nerves; and yet, they engage in punishing non cooperators. It's easy to imagine how this developed into a criminal justice system (flawed or not) in organisms with more complex bodies (namely brains). Other examples are provided about the evolution of punishment, creation, and other aspects of human existence that have helped build all of the civilizations from the beginning of recorded history.

Damasio suggested we take the "static" part out of homeostatic processes because they are anything but static. Rather, they are homeodynamic because these internal states are always active, striving to help the organism maintain the optimal state. Being in that state requires constant internal work that requires a lot of cooperation between cells, organs, hormones, etc -- a very dynamic process. His discussion on this type of cooperation inside organisms was very pointed at the Dawkins minded scientists who still subscribe to the conflict only, selfish gene paradigm. In the end, it is homeostasis and not genes that drive organisms to survive, thrive, and live on throughout the generations. It is this drive that has led to the cultural practices that appear to help global progress that has resulted in longer lives, on average, and will continue to focus on better sustaining the life process.

Damasio could not refrain from talking about the transhumanists who believe they can make an AI that preserves the brains of humans. He suggested they forgot about the fact that the brain had to work with the many microbes (and their homeostatic processes) and other cells inside the body. He, imo, is short sighted in this regard. I can imagine that eventually transhumanists will simply come to understand what role microbes and other cells, and their homeostatic processes, play in governing the brain and body and they will simply incorporate that into their AI. Seems shortsighted to be so confident in ruling that out. Instead, it would have been better to simply list the challenges to current models of AI. For example, being clear that they will need to take the role of microbes into account. That is something missing from Kurzweil's arguments. So it adds to the discussion. Ruling out the possibility that they can incorporate microbes seems far less helpful.

If for no other reason, you should read this book to understand, in great and fantastic detail, the evolution of our senses. Just brilliant.

One last note: Damasio mentioned the work of John Torday, whose work I love. He called him a kindred spirit but barely gave the reader an idea of what Torday's work entails. I highly recommend reading his academic articles on evolution and homeostasis.
#tagsgiving #sweepstakes #evolution

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Fascinating look at humans and their behavior

Antonio Damasio is an excellent, working neuroscientist sharing the cutting edge of research into human nature, neurobiology and evolutionary biology. What he tells is a fascinating and mind-blowing story about the ancient predecessors of what we often think of as our most advanced human characteristics. Along the way he upends centuries of debate about human nature, the prized place of rationality and dualism of mind and body. Accessible yet not dumbed down or oversimplified, I highly recommend Damasio's book to anyone interested in the philosophy, biology or evolution of human nature.

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love it

I enjoyed this book as someone who has not studied the mind or interests of neuroscience. The 1st couple chapters I struggled with and I did have to look up some terminology to begin with. You will hear the word "homeostasis" 1000x. you could make a drinking game out of it (haha) But it's really refreshing to listen to a biological perspective of emotion--- if that's the best way to describe it. i never find books that go through a scientific breakdown of something that ive battled with all my life: emotions!
i really enjoyed the later chapters as well. i hope to find more books by damasio.
please excuse any misspellings

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Evolucion

Amplia y profunda recorrida evolutiva. 4500 millones de años expuestos de forma simple y comprensible

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The Strange Order of Things

It was a fascinating reading, that is, hearing.

The contents made a interesting connection with other studies and books, like Sapiens and Homo Deus, from Yuval Harari.

I strongly recommend that.

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A mind waking explanation

. . . for what has felt to me as as intuitive. I thoroughly enjoyed his writing style and the narration performance.

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Nope.

I’m interested in the topic, I liked the ideas presented, but this book was not enjoyable and not enough ideas were presented for the time spent. I listened while doing some boring manual labor which usually makes anything seem pretty good, but I was so bored. Very very dry. The author seemed to be a somewhat defensive about the ideas he presented and parts felt very repetitive. Circumlocution. I just wanted him to get on with it. I only made it halfway before giving up. This author definitely isn’t for me. For a similar topic that is, in my opinion, better presented, try Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I was so into that I listened to the whole thing in one day during a long drive.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • jazzygy
  • 08-05-18

Great listen

loved it, especially the first half. As with all science books feel a need to go over the material again.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-25-18

heavy but brilliant

Is a fascinating and thoughtful work. Is not for beginners and requires a clear mind to digest