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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Strange Order of Things: why feelings are the unstoppable force

John Banville
The Guardian
Originally posted February 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

“Feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavours.” In claiming simplicity, it is possible the author is being a mite disingenuous. The tone in which he sets out his argument is so carefully judged, so stylistically calm and scientifically collected, that most readers will be lulled into nodding agreement. Yet a moment’s thought will tell us that we conduct our lives largely in contradiction of his premise, and for the most part deal with each other, and even with ourselves, as if we were pure spirit accidentally and inconveniently shackled to half a hundredweight or so of forked flesh.

“Feelings, and more generally affect of any sort and strength,” Damasio writes, “are the unrecognised presences at the cultural conference table.” According to him, the conference began among the bacteria, which – who? – even in their “unminded existence … assume what can only be called a sort of ‘moral attitude’”. In support of his claim, he adduces the various ways in which bacteria behave that bear a striking resemblance to human social organisation. The implication is, then, that “the human unconscious literally goes back to early life-forms, deeper and further than Freud or Jung ever dreamed of”. Damasio’s argument is that we are directly descended not only from the apes, but from the earliest wrigglers at the bottom of the primordial rock pool.

The keyword throughout the book is homeostasis, of which he offers a number of definitions, the clearest of which is the earliest, and which he favours enough to set it in italics: homeostasis is the force – the word seems justified – that ensures that “life is regulated within a range that is not just compatible with survival but also conducive to flourishing, to a projection of life into the future of an organism or a species”.

The article is here.
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