5 Antonio Damasio Quotes for Understanding Emotions

April 6, 2020

Antonio Damasio quotes always communicate the importance of emotions for human development. Few neurologists have contributed so much to the field of human emotion and motivation as Damasio. People don’t call him “the brain wizard” for nothing.

Vilayanur Ramachandran is another prestigious and well-known neurologist from the University of California. He once said that homo sapiens are those fascinating creatures that were capable of seeing the cosmos reflected in their own minds. This poetic comparison is revealing and true. The moment we started to reflect on ourselves, we took a big step forward as a species. 

“The conscious mind is the result of the well-articulated workings of several, and often many, parts of the brain.” 

-Antonio Damasio-

On the other hand, we can’t deny that the human brain has almost as many mysteries as the universe itself. Looking at the unfathomable darkness dotted with stars that surrounds us every night produces almost the same vertigo as looking inside ourselves. According to Antonio Damasio, however, these days we know much more about the brain than about the universe. 

Damasio is an excellent scientist and an exceptional educator. He is curious and passionate. He is a neurophilosopher able to provide answers to the questions that we all ask ourselves at some point. At the end of the day, all that we are, all that we feel, and everything we have created as a society and civilization resides in the incredible organ that is the human brain.

Antonio Damasio quotes that will help you know yourself better

Human beings differ from other animals for basically one reason: sophisticated intelligence. There are a few aspects of our intelligence that distinguish us from other species. One is that we have an incredible memory. The other is our use of language. In addition to that, Damasio points out another crucial human trait: emotions.

All that we are and all that we have achieved come from our feelings. They are what motivate us to find solutions to our problems. They push us to find alternatives and new paths when we run up against obstacles. Another crucial aspect of Damasio’s theories is the clear distinction that he sets between emotions and feelings.

Contrary to what you might think, they aren’t the same thing. You will see this come up a lot in Antonio Damasio’s’ quotes. The concept, and the quotes, come from his interesting books like Descartes’ Error, The Strange Order of Things, and The Feeling of What Happens. 

1. Feelings are mental experiences

“Feelings open the door to a certain degree of premeditated control of automatic emotions.”

When you confront danger or a person who makes you feel uncomfortable, your body reacts with an emotion. Your heart speeds up, you get chills, your stomach turns…

So, the mental representation that you have of that fear and those associated thoughts make up the feeling. This is, without a doubt, one of the most well-known quotes from Antonio Damasio. Emotions precede feelings, they are chemical and organic changes. However, the latter (feelings) are what guide us to make a decision. In the above example, you might decide to run away from the person who scares you.

2. The human conscience

“What is the conscience for? The answer is simple. The conscience serves to widen the reach of the mind of the organisim, and with that improve the life of the organism whose mind has a wider reach.”

Antonio Damasio makes it very clear: the conscience is present in most living beings. The moment that a brain (of a primate, a dolphin, a dog, or even a reptile) creates a sense of self, conscience appears. After all, this entity isn’t located in some corner of the brain. It is simply a process that occurs.

There is something that differentiates us from other species. That is the fact that evolution has expanded our conscience much more. There we find creativity, memory, and logical reasoning.

3. Emotions drive life

“The beginning of everything was emotion. Feeling, then, isn’t a passive process.” 

This is another important quote from Damasio if you want to understand his work. His hypothesis comes from the following principle: an emotion is a set of chemical and neuronal responses that form a distinct pattern. When you encounter a certain stimulus, a particular reaction happens. That’s because the brain is the result of an evolution of learned behavioral patterns.

So, after the emotional response comes the mental process, the feeling. With it, we regulate the emotion and channel it towards a specific behavior. We orient it towards a more or less effective type of response. As such, we could say that emotions are basically the spark of life. They are what lead us to action. 

4. The importance of compassion

“We have to learn to feed the good emotions that allow humans to prosper.”

Damasio has always shown himself to be sensitive to humanity’s social crisis. It’s common to hear him speak about violence, inequality, and conflict in his presentations. He believes we have lost our sense of compassion. He thinks that we let ourselves get carried away by negative emotions like anger and resentment.

We have to be capable of creating environments that encourage positive emotions. Only then will we prosper, only then will we understand each other better.

“I am completely against the idea that artificial intelligence can recreate the human mind because it doesn’t have the ability to have feelings.”

This is another one of Antonio Damasio’s most well-known quotes. He often expresses skepticism about artificial intelligence and its future with us. Just as he explains in his last book “The Strange Order of Things,” this type of entity will never compare with the human conscience. We have to remember that our brain is the result of a sophisticated evolutionary process.

These computational processes based on codes and silicon lack past experience, emotions, fears, vulnerability, and, of course, conscience. That’s why they will never have feelings. They can help us in many ways, but they will never be intelligent beings.

As we’ve seen in this Damasio quotes, human beings are the result of a brain development characterized by self-awareness, language, and above all, emotions. So, although this organ made of 100,000 millions of neurons might seem a mystery wrapped in a riddle, scientists like Damasio help us understand more and more about it (and ourselves) every day.