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The Strange Order of Things

Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures

By Antonio Damasio
13-minute read
Audio available
The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures by Antonio Damasio

The Strange Order of Things (2018) takes us through the history of human cultural development while focusing on a motivating factor that often gets overlooked: our feelings. When accounting for the major innovations and developments of the past, we often credit human intelligence more than emotions and feelings. But as author Antonio Damasio argues, it’s our feelings that push us forward, inspire our creative accomplishments and define who we are.

  • Neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists, physicians and psychologists
  • Curious minds interested in the emergence of human culture
  • Anyone interested in the power of emotions

Antonio Damasio is the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He is also director of the school’s Brain and Creativity Institute, where he specializes in researching the processes that govern emotions, feelings and consciousness. His previous books include Descartes’ Error, The Feeling of What Happens, Looking for Spinoza and Self Comes to Mind.

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The Strange Order of Things

Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures

By Antonio Damasio
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures by Antonio Damasio
Synopsis

The Strange Order of Things (2018) takes us through the history of human cultural development while focusing on a motivating factor that often gets overlooked: our feelings. When accounting for the major innovations and developments of the past, we often credit human intelligence more than emotions and feelings. But as author Antonio Damasio argues, it’s our feelings that push us forward, inspire our creative accomplishments and define who we are.

Key idea 1 of 8

We underestimate the role of feelings in human development.

When you first heard the story of how human civilization developed, you might have regarded it as a neat and tidy narrative. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that this narrative promotes a strange order of things – a story that puts human feelings as secondary to human intellect, when it should really be the other way around.

This story is misleading. Feelings have, in fact, played a vital role in our development, especially as a feedback mechanism.

Consider one of the essential functions your body performs: eating. Feelings of hunger and satisfaction provide important information about how the body is doing and they can spur the mind into action if food is needed.

Other feelings, like pain and curiosity, are what lead the mind to concoct remedies for ailments and solutions for problems. Therefore, it’s feelings that have prompted us to question and better understand the world, as well as come up with innovations to overcome the problems we encounter.

Thanks to the information and inspiration provided by our feelings, we’ve also excelled in providing ourselves with nourishment, clothing, shelter and medical attention – things that make us healthier, warmer and more secure.

Feelings don’t just trigger developments, however. The feedback mechanism continues over time and serves as a monitor to judge how well something is working and if it needs improvement.

Another human advancement that often gets put in the wrong order is our social behavior. We tend to link our cooperative abilities to higher brain function, but, in fact, these instinctual behaviors go back to well before human beings had any bright ideas.

Scientists have found that social behavior can be seen in bacteria, one of the simplest organisms in our evolutionary history. While these microscopic organisms are emotionless, they do process sensory information about their environment, which is what our own feelings evolved from. And it turns out that this sensory perception is enough to exhibit social behavior.

In particular, bacteria will join forces and group together in order to build up a defense against threats or to gain access to resources. And if certain members of the group are recognized as freeloaders or simply fail to pull their weight, other bacteria will give them the proverbial cold shoulder and refuse to cooperate with them.

So feelings are at the heart of today’s social interactions. In the next blink, we’ll take a look at just how those feelings came to be.

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