The Feeling of What Happens:  Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

Harcourt Brace & Company


Antonio Damasio


appendix notes on mind and brain


mental image

synonym for image is MENTAL PATTERN

“I do not use the word image to refer to the pattern of neural activities that can be found, with current neuroscience methods, in activated sensory cortices….When I refer to the neural aspect of the process I use terms such as neural pattern or map.  (Damasio/FWH/317)”

“Images can be conscious or nonconscious….Nonconscious images are never accessible directly.  Conscious images can be accessed only in a first-person perspective (my images, your images).  (Damasio/FWH/318)”

“Neural patterns, on the other hand, can be accessed only in a third-person perspective. If I had the chance of looking at my own neural patterns with the help of the most advanced technologies, I would still be looking at them from a third-person perspective.  (Damasio/FWH/318)”


“By the term images I mean mental patterns with a structure built with the tokens of each of the sensory modalities –





and somatosensory.  The somatosensory modality…includes varied forms of sense:  touch, muscular, temperature, pain, visceral, and vestibular.  (Damasio/FWH/318)”

“The word image does not refer to “visual” image alone, and there is nothing static about images either.  The word also refers to sound images such as those caused by music or the wind, and to the somatosensory images that Einstein used in his mental problem solving – in his insightful account, he called those patterns “muscular” images.  1  (Damasio/FWH/318)”

“Images in all modalities “depict” processes and entities of all kinds, concrete as well as abstract.  Images also “depict” the physical properties of entities and, sometimes sketchily, sometimes not, the spatial and temporal relationships among entities, as well as their actions.  (Damasio/FWH/318)”

“In short, the process we come4 to know as mind when mental images become ours as a result of consciousness is a continuous flow of images many of which turn out to be logically interrelated.  The flow moves forward in time, speedily or slowly, orderly or jumpily, and on occasion it moves along not just one sequence but several.  Sometimes the sequences are concurrent, sometimes convergent and divergent, sometimes they are superposed.  Thought is an acceptable word to denote such a flow of images.  (Damasio/FWH/318)”

“Images are constructed either when we engage objects, from persons and places to toothaches, from the outside of the brain toward its in- (Damasio/FWH/318) side; or when we reconstruct objects from memory, from the inside out, as it were.  The business of making images never stops while we are awake and it even continues during part of our sleep, when we dream.  One might argue that images are the currency of our minds.  (Damasio/FWH/319)”

“The words I am using to bring these ideas to you are first formed, however briefly and sketchily, as auditory, visual, or somatosensory images of phonemes and morphemes, before I implement them on the page in their written version.  Likewise, those written words now printed before your eyes are first processed by you as verbal images before they promote the activation of yet other images, this time nonverbal, with which the “concepts” that correspond to my words can be displayed mentally.  (Damasio/FWH/319)”

“In this perspective, any symbol you can think of is an image, and there may be little leftover mental residue that is not made of images.  Even the feelings that make up the backdrop of each mental instant are images, in the sense articulated above, somatosensory images, that is, which mostly signal aspects of the body state.  The obsessively repeated feelings that constitute the self in the act of knowing are no exception.  (Damasio/FWH/319)”

“Images may be conscious or unconscious.  It should be noted, however, that not all the images the brain constructs are made conscious.  There are simply too many images being generated and too much competition for the relatively small window of mind in which images can be made conscious – the window, that is, in which images are accompanied by a sense that we are apprehending them and that, as a consequence, are properly attended.  [sounds like Tomkins]  (Damasio/FWH/319)”


“…metaphorically speaking, there is indeed a subterranean underneath the conscious mind and there are many levels to that subterranean.  One level is made of images not attended, the phenomenon to which I have just alluded.  Another level is made of the neural patterns and of the relationships among neural patterns which subtend all images, whether they eventually become conscious or not.  Yet another level has to do with the neural machinery required to hold records of neural patterns in memory, the kind of neural machinery which embodies innate and acquired implicit dispositions.  (Damasio/FWH/319)”



“I use representation either as a synonym of mental image or as a synonym of neural pattern.  My mental image of a particular face is a representation, and so are the neural patterns that arise during the perceptual-motor processing of that face, in a variety of visual, somatosensory, and motor regions of the brain…..It simply means “pattern that is consistently related to something,” whether with respect to a mental image or to a coherent set of neural activities within a specific brain region.  (Damasio/FWH/320)”

“The problem with the term representation is not its ambiguity…but the implication that, somehow, the mental image or the neural pattern represents, in mind and in brain, with some degree of fidelity, the object to which the representation refers, as if the structure of the object were replicated in the representation.  When I use the word representation, I make no such suggestion.  I do not have any idea about how faithful neural patterns and mental images are, relative to the objects to which they refer.  Moreover, whatever the fidelity may be, neural patterns and the corresponding mental images are as much creations of the brain as they are products of the external reality that prompts their creation….The image we see is based n changes which occurred in our organisms – including the part of the organism called brain – when the physical structure of the object interacts with the body.  The signaling devices located throughout our body structure – in the skin, in the muscles, in the retina, and so on – help construct neural patterns which map the organism’s interaction with the object.  The neural patterns are constructed according to the brain’s own conventions, (Damasio/FWH/320) and are achieved transiently in the multiple sensory and motor regions of the brain that are suitable to process signals coming from particular body sites, say, the skin, or the muscles, or the retina.  The building of those neural patterns or maps is based on the momentary selection of neurons and circuits engaged by the interaction.  In other words, the building blocks exist within the brain, available to be picked up and assembled.  The part of the pattern that remains in memory is built according to the same principles.  (Damasio/FWH/321)”

Don’t these building blocks increase over time from birth onward?

“Thus the images you and I see in our minds are not facsimiles of the particular object, but rather images of the interactions between each of us and an object which engaged our organisms, constructed in neural pattern form according to the organism’s design.  The object is real, the interactions are real, and the images are as real as anything can be.  And yet, the structure and properties in the image we end up seeing are brain constructions prompted by an object.  There is no picture of the object being transferred from the object to the retina and from the retina to the brainThere is, rather, a set of correspondences between physical characteristics of the object and modes of reaction of the organism according to which an internally generated image is constructed.    And since you and I are similar enough biologically to construct a similar enough image of the same thing, we can accept without protest the conventional idea that we have formed the picture of some particular thing.  But we did not.  (Damasio/FWH/321)”


“To be sure, just as with the word representation, there is a legitimate notion of pattern, and of correspondence between what is mapped and the map.  But the correspondence is not point-to-point, and thus the map need not be faithful.  The brain is a creative system.  Rather than mirroring the environment around it, as an engineered information-processing device would, each brain constructs maps of that environment using its own parameters and internal design, and thus creates a world unique to the class of brains comparably designed.  (Damasio/FWH/322)”

The brain is an artist that is crafting us as individual people.  How much control do we really consciously have over this process?


“…images arise from neural patterns, or neural maps, formed in populations of nerve cells, or neurons, that constitute circuits, or networks.  There is a mystery, however, regarding how images emerge from neural patternsHow a neural pattern becomes an image is a problem that neurobiology has not yet resolved.  (Damasio/FWH/322)”

“Many of us in neuroscience are guided by one goal and one hope:  to provide, eventually, a comprehensive explanation for how the sort of neural pattern that we can currently describe with the tools of neurobiology, from molecules to systems, ever becomes the multidimensional, space-and-time-integrated image we are experiencing this very moment.  The day may come when we can explain satisfactorily all the steps that intervene from neural pattern to image but that day is not here yet.  (Damasio/FWH/322)”

“When I say that images depend on and arise from neural patterns or neural maps, rather than saying they are neural patterns or maps, I am not slipping into inadvertent dualism, i.e., neural pattern, on one side, and nonmaterial cogitum, on the other.  I am simply (Damasio/FWH/322) saying that we cannot characterize yet all the biological phenomena that take place between (a) our current description of a neural pattern, at varied neural levels, and (b) our experience of that image that originated in the activity within the neural map.  There is a gap between our knowledge of neural events, at molecular, cellular, and systems levels, on the one hand, and the mental image whose mechanisms of appearance we wish to understand.  There is a gap to be filled by not yet identified but presumably identifiable physical phenomena…..I wish to make clear that I regard neural patterns as forerunners of the biological entities I call images.  (Damasio/FWH/323)”

“The gap I have just described is one reason why, throughout this book, I maintain two levels of description, one for the mind and one for the brain.  This separation is a simple matter of intellectual hygiene….By keeping separate levels of description I am not suggesting that there are separate substances, one mental and the other biological.  I am simply recognizing the mind as a high level of biological process, which requires and deserves its own description because of the private nature of its appearance and because that appearance is the fundamental reality we wish to explain.  On the other hand, describing neural events with their proper vocabulary is part of the effort to understand how those events contribute to the creation of the mind.  (Damasio/FWH/323)”


object:  “…used in a broad and abstract sense – a person, a place, and a tool are objects, but so are a specific pain or an emotion.  (Damasio/FWH/323)”

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