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Descartes' error
  1. Tom Hughes,
  2. Katharine Harding
  1. Department of Neurology, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katharine Harding, Department of Neurology, University Hospital of Wales, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4XW, UK; KatharineHarding{at}

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Damásio A. 1994. Decartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain 

‘Cogito ergo sum’ (I think therefore I am) sums up the philosophy of René Descartes (figure 1)—on which Western ideas of consciousness and mind are often based—postulating a division between mind and body (or brain). Damásio says, “I am, therefore I think”. Or, to elaborate, “I am, therefore I think and I feel, and therefore I thrive”. His thesis is that our reasoning powers and the dissuasive (or persuasive) bodily emotions are in fact a life-saving, life-enhancing double act, and that without a body as a yard stick to perceive the outside world and respond to thoughts and memory, a mind as we know it could not exist. No longer should we regard feelings as a source of only detrimental influence on our reasoning skills. Damásio challenges their oil and water reputation and with …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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