* May 31-3 June, 1998: 21st Annual Conference of the European
Sociobiological Society (ESS) will be held at
the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), Institute of Cultural Anthropology,
Moscow 125267, Russia. The main theme will be The sociobiology of ritual and
group identity: a homology of animal and human behaviour? Local organizers will
be Prof. Marina Butovskaya and Dr. Olga Khristoforova. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or
email@example.com. Deadline of submission of abstracts is May
10, 1998. Please send your abstracts and applications as soon as possible,
preferably by e-mail.
* June 24-28, 1998: 14th Annual Meeting of the Language Origins Society
(LOS) at the Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.A. Local
organizer will be Prof. Elisabeth H. Peters. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* June 28-July 4, 1998: At Sun City, Johannesburg & Pretoria, South Africa: Fourth Congress of the International Association for the Study of Human Palaeontology & the International Association of Human Biologists. Dual Congress. E-mail: email@example.com; or visit the congress website at http://sunsite.wits.ac.za/conferen/dual98/home.html
* July 8-12, 1998: Tenth Annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES), at the University of California at Davis, California, USA. Local hosts will be Peter Richerson and Debra Judge. Program organizers will be Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, Jane Lancaster, Denise Cummins, Lore Ruttan and Joanna Scheib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Conference website: http://www.des.ucdavis.edu
* July 12-17, 1998: Thirteenth World Meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) will be held in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area. The host institution will be Ramapo College of New Jersey, a 300 acre campus located in the suburban town of Mahwah, New Jersey, just 30 km (20 miles) from New York City. The local organizer will be Prof. Roger N. Johnson. For more information please contact the local organizer at the e-mail address: email@example.com. A new conference website has been created: http://www.skitown.com/ISRA
* July 18-22, 1998: Annual Meeting of the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL, USA. For more information please contact Lee Drickamer, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.cisab.indiana.edu/ABS/Program/index.html
* July 26-1 August, 1998: 14th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Williamsburg, Virginia, U.S.A. E-mail address: email@example.com. Congress website: http://www.wm.edu/ICAES
* July 27-2 August, 1998: International Behavioral Ecology Congress, Monterey, California, USA. For more information please contact Walter D. Koenig, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://socrates. berkeley.edu/~isbe98/
* August 9-14, 1998: Seventeenth Conference of the International Primatological Society, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar. Information website: http://www.primate.wisc.edu/pin/ips.html
* August 18-21, 1998: International Workshop on Methods and Techniques in Behavioral Research, Groningen, the Netherlands. For more information please contact Rosan Nikkelen, e-mail email@example.com. Website: http://www.noldus.com/events/mb98/mb98.htm
* August 19-23, 1998: The Fourteenth BiAnnual Conference of the International Society for Human Ethology (ISHE) at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. Local organizer will be Dr. Charles Crawford, Dept. of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A !S6, Canada (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). The deadline for proposals and abstracts is April 1, 1998. Information on the conference will be posted and updated at the following website: http://www.sfu.ca/~janicki/
The millennium congress of ISHE will take place at the University of Salamanca, Spain, and will be hosted by Francisco Abati.
* August 31-3 September: 11th Congress of the European Anthropological Association in Jena, Germany. Main theme of the conference will be "Humans and Environment". For more information please contact Prof. U. Jaeger at the e-mail address: email@example.com. Congress website: http://www.mti.uni-jena.de/~ilf/institut/EAA11.html
* September 2-4, 1998: Summer Conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, University of Urbino, Italy. For more information please contact Giorgio Malacarne, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.hbuk.co.uk/ap/asab/conferen.htm
* September 3-6, 1998: The Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (APLS) will hold its first independent meeting in Boston, U.S.A.; the same dates and location as the American Political Science Association (APSA). The coincidence of the meetings will allow political scientists to attend sessions of both. E-mail: email@example.com. Website: http://www.lssu.edu/apls
* September 6-11, 1998: 16th Convention of the Ethologische Gesellschaft, Halle (Saale), Germany. For more information please contact Dr. Rolf Gattermann, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.biologie.uni-halle.de/Organizations/ethoges/ethoges.html
* 1999: SSHB Conference on "History and Biology" in Durham, UK. For more information please contact Dr. Malcolm Smith, University of Durham, Dept. of Anthropology, Old Elvet 43, DH1 3HN Durham, UK. E-mail: email@example.com
* August 24-28, 1999: The VIIth Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology will be held in Barcelona, Spain. The location is the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Contact person for submission of symposium proposals is: Dr. Lluis Serra, Departament de Genetica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, 08071 Barcelona, Spain. Fax: +34-3-4110969, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* 2000: SSHB Conference on Hominid evolution in Cambridge, UK. For more information please contact: Dr. Robert Foley, University of Cambridge, Department of Biological Anthropology, Downing street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK. E-mail: email@example.com
Borgerhoff Mulder, M. (1995) Behavioral ecology, levels of analysis, and the generation of history: A critique of MacDonald. Politics and the Life Sciences, 14: 2627.
by HARALD A. EULER, Department of Psychology, Kassel University, 34127
Kassel, Germany, & BARBARA WEITZEL, Sperlingsweg 8, 34253
Christian Vogel was an influential scientist, admired teacher, prolific writer
and affable colleague, who left his mark in German anthropology and other
related fields and died before his time in 1994. He dedicated his life to the
study of evolution and adaptation. He organized the 1986 ESS conference in
Göttingen, and was one of the first and foremost sociobiologists in this
country. In this festschrift his students provide an inventory of evolutionary
The volume contains 17 contributions grouped into five sections: The Anthropological Knowledge Interest in Evolution and Adaptation in the Mid Nineties (Borgerhoff Mulder; Weingart); The Primate Heritage: Endowment on the Way to Man (Preuschoft & Witte; Dunbar; Winkler, Podzuweit, & Borries; Paul & Küster); Adaptation on the Test Bench of Evolutionary Anthropology (Vollmer; Walter; Jürgens; Engel & E. Voland; Chasiotis & Keller; E. Voland & R. Voland; Sommer); Adaptation: A Biological Argument in the Societal Discourse (Schiefenhövel; Blaffer Hrdy; Mohr); Outlook ( Paul, E. Voland, & Winkler).
The separate contributions vary in theme and audience. Some are highly specialized and address a selected audience, others a broader scientific community. M. Borgerhoff Mulder ("A plea for the study of functional adaptations in evolutionary anthropology") tries to give an overview of the recent discussion between evolutionary anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists on the application of the concept `adaptation' ("Angepaßtheit"). This is indeed a central and important topic, but the author does not succeed in getting the idea across to the semi or uninformed reader. The text is full of non sequiturs, and the many sweeping value statements and criticisms and assigning positions to "some psychologists", without naming them are a nuisance. To our opinion, the article is not an inviting entree into an other wise interesting and stimulating book.
A different, even opposite approach is taken by P. Weingart ("The Evolution of Cognition"), a coy discipline moderator who takes the viewpoint of the sympathetic observer, not the apodictic expert. He looks for semantic communalities between various disciplines and points to difficulties and opportunities of interdisciplinary discussions, exemplified by the definition of culture. The author sees the opportunities, like Cosmides and Tooby, in the common focus on cognition, and argues his point with a referral to Sperber's epidemiology of representations.
H. Preuschoft and H. Witte add to the wide range of research carried out at the Göttingen Institute of Anthropology with their contribution ("The Body Gestalt of Man as a Result of Biomechanical Requirements"). They analyze the evolutionary causes of the human figure and its proportion of trunk and extremities to conclude that Homo is a primate highly adapted to enduring walks on even ground but not to fast runs.
With a keen eye on the problems of quasi-experimental analyses, R.I.M. Dunbar ("Socioecological Influences on Group Living of Primates") takes a very differentiated look at the variables which can influence group size and composition. Demographic factors, according to his analysis, are important determinants of the various aspects of group structure.
In a well-written and concise article, P. Winkler, D. Podzuweit and C. Borries ("Forced to tolerance - or why Hanuman langurs do not just live in harems") describe some of the recent fruits of Christian Vogel's interest in the Hanuman langur field study in India and Nepal, a project which was started in 1968. The authors make salient, also to the uninformed reader, the impact of ecological conditions on the social structure and mating systems of langurs. The harem males in India, living at the semiarid outskirts of the town of Jodhpur, pursue a highrisk/highgain reproductive strategy, whereas the ecological conditions of the forest dwelling Nepal langurs render the establishment of one-male polygynous groups reproductively less effective.
A. Paul and J. Küster ("Vater sein dagegen sehr? Relations Between Primate Males and Offspring") present a comparative analysis of variables pertinent to primate paternal investment. They discuss three hypotheses on the variations present between males and infants: investment, mating effort, and agonistic buffering. The data on Barbary macaques suggest that these hypotheses may be complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Every German, by the way, immediately understands the first part of the title. It is derived from a rhyme by the ever popular 19th century poet and cartoonist Wilhelm Busch whose most famous story ("Max and Moritz") takes place in the Göttingen countryside: "Vater werden ist nicht schwer, Vater sein dagegen sehr" ("To become a father is not difficult, to be a father, however, very'). The rhyme is - obviously - addressed exhortatively to young men.
G. Vollmer ("Is Our Eye Like the Sun? Evolutionary Biology and Human Knowledge") is one of the main proponents of German evolutionary epistemology, and his text is a basic introduction. The central theme is philosophical: What is the relation between cognition and reality? The question, why the brain as an organ for survival developed into an organ of cognition of phenomena such as abstract mathematical or physical models, is answered in the tradition of Konrad Lorenz: It is a superfulguration, a system effect, and as such an epiphenomenon of evolution.
H. Walter ("The Role of Selection and Adaptation in population differentiation") introduces genetics into population differentiation. He shows by way of examples (e.g. blood characteristics) that population differences are adaptations to ecological conditions.
H.W. Jürgens ("Adaptation and mode of population") argues from a historical perspective that over or underpopulation are defined neither by the size of the available territory or population nor by population density but solely by the carrying capacity determined by the mode of economy. Generative behavior, therefore, has become more a socioeconomic problem ("in the meantime completely") and less of a biological one. Three aspects of his otherwise very good and well-written contribution were unnecessary, we felt: He argues against obsolete biologism as if it were currently still accepted, takes an everyday concept of naturalness as if it were a scientific one, and anthropocentrically views man as a unique species instead of just "another unique species", as Robert Foley does in the title of his well-known book.
C. Engel and E. Voland ("Evolution, adaptation, and historical behavioral ecology") discuss the nature-nurture problem using a merger of the "sister disciplines" sociobiology and behavioral ecology. Men and women obey the biological imperative but do this with their cultural knowledge. This is well exemplified by Voland's familiar and comprehensive historical data from the two North German regions of Krummhörn and Leezen about differential parental investment in the 18th and 19th century. Sextypical investment depends on land ownership, both the current one and the one to be expected which is determined by economic and demographic development. Mechanisms of behavioral control work conditionally by motivating certain behaviors in one situation and alternative behaviors in another.
Chasiotis and H. Keller ("Human childhood and childhood of mankind") try to show how questions of developmental psychology can be elucidated by evolutionary metatheory. They describe species characteristics of human childhood, compare 'natural' socialization with 'modern' socialization and look at parental behavior from an evolutionary perspective. The topic is interesting and highly relevant, the text however is frequently unclear. For example, the authors write that in 83% of all societies polygynous marriages prevail, obviously referring to Murdock's data but citing only secondary sources and leaving the impression that all married people live polygynously when in fact polygyny, even in societies with usual polygyny, let alone those with occasional polygyny, is usually the option for only a few wealthy and powerful men.
E. and R. Voland ("Guilt, shame, and disgrace: On the evolution of con science") deal competently with a problem which Christian Vogel discussed in his 1989 monograph ("Vom Töten zum Mord"). How and why did species specific human morality evolve? There is little dispute that human morality also serves fitness interests. Here the authors point to the "riddle of the conscience" and the deficits in existing sociobiological theories: all the other animals solve their fitness interest problems without a nagging conscience. Our conscience, however, may prod us into behaving truly altruistic, to show acts not explainable by reciprocity or kin selection, with intrapsychic costs in case of noncompliance. How can conscience evolve in the face of these fitness costs? After describing ontogeny and the function of conscience from a psychoanalytic outlook and after a short but enlightening review of relevant findings on reciprocal altruism, the authors conclude that conscience is best understood as an extended phenotype of egoistic and manipulative genes which reside in other individuals, namely the parents of the virtue personified. Conscience is, therefore, a consequence of a structural parent-child conflict conserved lifelong, a viewpoint basically consonant with psychoanalytic thinking.
One of the highlights of the festschrift, in our opinion, is the contribution on religion by V. Sommer with the title "The past of an illusion", an allusion to Freud's famous treatise "The future of an illusion". Sommer is a prolific German author with substantial monographs on the sociobiology of homosexuality, deception, and Indian langurs. Being a theology student himself once, he presents the thesis that religion, defined as the behavior based on the belief in the existence of supernatural beings with supernatural powers, is indeed an archaic illusion, but a very fit one. It reflects social situations, e.g. parent-child relations, and prods believers to deal tactically with supernatural powers. It offers coping mechanisms that result in wellbeing. Various religious denominations offer discernible sets of reproductive rules. Sommer's article colligates sociobiology and evolutionary psychology with continental European contributions from theology and evolutionary epistemology.
W. Schiefenhövel ("Adaptive or pathogenic? Cultural influences on stress physiology") assumes that adaptive stress reactions are a disadvantage in modern societies. His evidence is the relative health of the Papuan Eipo despite ubiquitous existence of various stressors. Up to this point the article is instructive and informative, from then on it becomes insecurely speculative. The possible causes for our suffering from a stressful physiology which is no longer adaptive and gives us poor sleep, heart attacks and cerebral bleedings are presented in a 10 item list, all somewhat plausible, but together a hodgepodge of societal ailings with no means of finding omissions or means of pointing to errors of commission: timing devices, junk foods, little exercise, little affection during infancy, brittle social nets, deritualization of social life, increase in the work tempo due to modern means of communication, and a few more. The author's prescription against this big disease is helpless: No palliative medicine, but "behavioral changes", which may mean (concretely) techniques of self-control and sublimation?
S.B. Hrdy, in a reprint of her presentation at the 1989 convention of the American Association of Physical Anthropology ("Sex bias in nature and in history: A late 1980s reexamination of the 'biological origins' argument") and published in the 1990 Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, demonstrates the flexibility of biologically based behavior using the example of differential treatment of sons and daughters.
H. Mohr ("The moral plight - Will the present fail because of its past?"), author of a 1987 book on nature and morality, reflects on what he calls the moralischen Notstand. Evolutionary ethics is purely descriptive and only illuminates the biological roots of morality whereas philosophical ethics is normative and evaluative. But how can we justify any particular morality in the face of today's moral pluralism? Is evolutionary ethics of any help? Mohr affirms, pointing to the double nature of man: Basically, peaceful morality within genetically related communities and violence based morality for intergroup relations. The behavioral structure of modern man is founded on a genetically anchored and still influential 'propensity structure' (Neigungsstruktur). So much for explanations, but what about prescriptions? The author leaves us in limbo. On the one hand he reinforces the necessity to avoid the natural fallacy; on the other hand we are told to raise "barricades in front of our own inhumanity"? What material and which construction should we then use?
A. Paul, E. Voland, and P. Winkler ("The biological adaptation of man: Obstacle or guide on the way to a better world?") resume the festschrift. The central questions are the evaluation of the phylogenetic heritage for the cause of and the coping with our acute problems of existence: asset or liability? The biological adaptation of the human psyche is seen by some as a rather hindering and cumbersome burden unsuited to yield future oriented conflict solving strategies because of their conservative design. Others value the biological gifts as precious experiences and time tested survival aids which should be utilized, more than in the recent past, as a guide and reference for the possible and the desirable in the organization of individual life and formation of society, in the face of a world that is increasingly becoming out of joint. The authors hope, as did Christian Vogel, that the past not only explains the present but also helps in building the future.
by ROGER V. SHORT, Department of Perinatal Medicine, Royal Women's
Hospital, 132 Grattan Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia.
I well remember the occasion in the 1960's when Dr John MacLeod, expatriate Scot and in
those days doyen of the American spermatologists, was
invited to give the main Plenary Lecture to the Annual Conference of the Society for the
of Fertility meeting at the National Institute for Medical
Research in Mill Hill, London. His opening slide was a high power photomicrograph of a
motley selection of human spermatozoa. Pointing to one of the
plumper ones in midfield, he grandiloquently announced "That, Ladies and
Gentlemen, is a normal human spermatozoon". Sitting at the back of the
room was Dr (later Sir) Alan Parkes. He immediately jumped to his feet, and
in his characteristic loud, resonant, fruity voice, said "Excuse me, Dr
MacLeod, but how do you know?". MacLeod shuffled his papers, um-ed and
ah-ed, and as the depth of his predicament gradually dawned on him, he
vacated the podium, the conference, and the country, never to return. So, do
Robin Baker and Mark Bellis deserve a kinder fate? I doubt it.
I had read with some surprise and much scepticism their original papers on the kamikaze sperm hypothesis published in Animal Behaviour in 1988 and 1989. That the hypothesis has survived, untested, for so long owes more to its catchy title than to its scientific veracity. The reviewers for Animal Behaviour may have been entranced by Baker and Bellis' sociobiological speculations, but they obviously knew little about gamete biology.
When I read the subtitle of this book, my heart sank. Had they added copulation, masturbation and infidelity just to spice it up a bit? Baker's pop paperback version, "Sperm Wars", has certainly been in the bestseller lists for some time, and has made him a wealthy man. Where there's muck there's brass, as they say in Yorkshire. My forebodings were accentuated on looking at the Frontispiece of Human Sperm Competition - one of the few photographs in the book - which purports to show the "metamorphosis" of a "normal" sperm into a coiled-tail "blocking" sperm, and "seek-and-destroy behaviour" as one sperm kills another. And they call this evidence?
The cornerstone of the book is their data on human copulatory behaviour. Baker and Bellis carried out a grandly titled "Nationwide Survey of Human Female Sexual Behaviour" through a questionnaire published in Company Magazine. It has an estimated circulation of 439,000 copies, from which they received 3,679 replies, a 0.84% response rate. How could one ever draw any conclusions whatsoever from such a hopelessly unrepresentative sample? No wonder that their survey has never been published; no reputable journal would ever accept it. In any event, it has been superseded by the far larger (n=18,876), and truly representative (63.3% response rate) survey by Wellings, Field, Johnson and Wadsworth, entitled Sexual Behaviour in Britain (Penguin 1994).
Baker and Bellis are convinced that sperm competition "has been the main force to shape the genetic programme that drives human sexuality". From their nationwide survey, they estimate that in the late 1980's about 4% of children were conceived while their mother contained within her reproductive tract sperm from two or more men. Certainly, there can be no denying the fact that genetic paternity studies have established the truth of the aphorism that it is a wise man that knows his own father. But if, on average, about 9% of children show evidence of paternal discrepancy, this does not mean that all were conceived under circumstances where sperm competition would operate. The pairbonding enforced by romantic love, a topic never mentioned in this book, surely ensures that in stable relationships, extrapair copulations are highly unlikely to occur? Granted that serial monogamy rather than lifetime monogamy may be our behavioural norm, it is only in the changeover period that multimale mating is likely to be a common occurrence.
Baker and Bellis fail to mention one major line of evidence which strongly suggests that sperm competition has been unimportant in human evolution. We now know that the size of the testis relative to body weight is an infallible indicator of the mating system. In species in which more than one male is likely to mate with one female at the time of ovulation, there will be intense sperm competition. The male who deposits most sperm in the female's reproductive tract will be the one who is most likely to sire the offspring, and hence transmit his genes to the next generation. Since the only way of making a testis produce more sperm is by increasing the volume of spermatogenic tissue sperm competition will automatically result in increased selection pressure for increased testicular size. Since testicular size is a highly heritable characteristic, it can respond quite rapidly to such selection pressure. Thus, it should come as no surprise that testis:body weight ratios are three times greater in species with multimale or promiscuous mating systems, compared to species in which the female only mates with one male (Kenagy & Trombulak, J Mammal. 67, 1-22, 1986). We first demonstrated this relationship in primates (Harcourt et al, Nature 293, 55-7, 1981), and there is no doubt that the relatively small 20 g human testis places us amongst the singlemale mating species. This compelling anatomical evidence provides no support for Baker and Bellis' contention that sperm competition has been the main force to shape human sexuality.
It was Hartsoeker, the 17th Century microscopist, who thought that he could see a little man, or Homonculus, crouched in the head of each human spermatozoon. Baker and Bellis' ideas are no less fanciful. Like John MacLeod, they imagine that they can identify many different types of sperm in an ejaculate, with many different functions. There are very small numbers of sperm with large heads which they call "egggetters", the only ones destined for fertilisation. They ignore the fact that we have shown that these sperm with large heads are diploid, and hence incapable of producing a normal embryo (Seuanez, Carothers, Martin and Short, Nature 270, 345-7, 1977). The rest of the sperm are "kamikaze sperm", according to Baker and Bellis. Those with tapering or pyriform heads are "seek and destroy" morphs, designed to attack and kill all "egggetters", whether friend or foe. Then there are the more selective oval-headed variants, which only kill the sperm of other males. And finally, there are the "blockers", with coiled tails, which impede the passage of all sperm. But the evidence to support this fanciful categorisation is entirely lacking, and as Tim Birkhead, Harry Moore and Michael Bedford point out in their devastating review, there is absolutely no evidence that human sperm from different males kill one another (Trends in Ecology and Evolution 12, 121-122, 1997). They consider, and I agree with them, that Baker and Bellis have mislead the public on a grand scale.
Contrary to Baker and Bellis' hypothesis, we now know that in primates, those with a multimale mating system in which sperm competition occurs have the most uniform appearing sperm, whereas in monogamous or polygynous primates, like humans and gorillas, where sperm competition is a rare event, there is a high degree of sperm pleomorphism (Møller, Biol J Linn Soc 33, 273-83, 1988).
The only good thing that I can say about the book is that it has an excel lent bibliography of almost 1000 references. But by selective referral to only those facts that support their hypothesis, Baker and Bellis have lost all scientific objectivity, and brought the discipline of spermatology into disrepute.
by DOROTHY TENNOV, RR 9, Box 251, Millsboro, DE 19966, U.S.A.
Long ago, as an undergraduate participant in a psychology experiment, I was
presented with a series of pictures at durations too brief to allow me to
identify their contents. To the one that stands out most vividly in my recollection (or
'reconstruction') I gave an emotional reaction of such intensity that
I drew in my breath audibly and brought a hand to my mouth. Yet I did not
know what I had seen. Later, when the same pictures were presented at
longer durations and I could clearly see the one to which I had reacted so
strongly, I was astounded by the appropriateness of a reaction mediated by
processes entirely beyond my consciousness. Similarly, when I was presented
with three sounds in a perception experiment and required to indicate
whether the third was more like the first or more like the second when they all sounded the
same to me, I could only make wild guesses. But my responses fell neatly along a curve; my
guesses were under the control of
stimuli undifferentiated to my awareness. Today, priming effects and other
confirmations of control through unconscious processes are well-documented,
but no written report can quite match the personal reactions I felt in those
controlled situations. Nor have the implications been adequately incorporated
into common conceptions. We think of ourselves as acting consciously and
although , if pressed, we admit that we do not exactly control the genesis of
our ideation, we still feel that consciousness, not unconsciousness, is where
things happen. Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the
Human Brain presents a conception of mind that moves us closer to a conceptual reality
that incorporates it all - conscious processing, unconscious
influences, the emotions, and, as Damasio adds with scientific flair, the body
in all its varied parts.
Descartes' Error is a very successful book written by a very successful scientist.1 It has been translated into a dozen languages, featured in major popular magazines, and its author has appeared on national radio and television shows. Furthermore, and of greater significance, it has received high praise from colleagues in the scientific community. As it contains a major scientific, social, and personal-philosophical message banishing forever the dualism of former times and setting conceptions of human mentality on a new course in the popular as well as the scientific imagination, it clearly deserves all the accolades.
Descartes could not conceive of thought as physical. His intuitions decreed that the mind must be some magical, mysterious, non-body mental force that is inherently different from mundane physiological functions. Nor could previous scientists who lacked accurate conceptions of the time scale on which evolutionary processes operate conceive of the complex and intricate processes arising by natural, physical laws. It is not that Damasio is the first or only theorist to put forth a neurologically-based conception of the mind. Luria, Sacks, Penfield, Hebb, Edelman and many others also reject the traditional Cartesian notion that mind is an ineffable, mysterious, supernatural extra-body entity, to view the problems of consciousness and of self as within the reach of concrete scientific investigation.
For most of the 20th century, scientific psychologists, fired with Popperian stringency, virtually outlawed discussion of mind. They focussed, as much for ideological as for scientific reasons, on the experimentally manipulable and directly observable. Now neuroscientists use the powerful tools of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron-emission tomography (PET) that permit direct observation of neurological processes. These, supplemented by computer-assisted analyses, e.g. Brainvox, enable the relating of specific functions and dysfunctions to specific sites of damage. It had seemed at first that the brain functioned as a memory storage vessel, a view bolstered by Penfield's finding that stimulation of parts of the brain elicited reports of what appeared to be vivid recollections. This conception has now given way to one of multiple modules and recurrent loops in a ceaselessly active nervous system. Construction and reconstruction, not storage and retrieval, better describe the process. The current image is one of multiple and complex interrelations among various cortices and pathways of simultaneous feedforward and feedback transmissions including numerous interconnections across the cortex.
For purposes of analysis, Damasio divides the organism into two parts: body proper and brain. Brain refers to all parts of the nervous system, even including the neurologically stimulated passage of chemicals through the blood stream. The rest is body. The key conception, the one at the heart of Damasio's dynamic conception of mental (brain-body) functions, the one that guides experience and behavior, is the largely unnoticed or nonconscious operation of the interplay between the cognitive processes involved in planning and decision-making and the 'feelings' induced by bodily changes. Experimental neuroanatomical findings and human neuropsychological data suggest that the decision-making network includes bilateral ventromedial prefrontal cortices, right somato-sensory cortices, and autonomic-endocrine nuclei such as the amygdala, hypothalamus, and brain stem. Some processes and reactions, especially those necessary for the regulation and maintenance of the health of our physiology, are innate, but the vast majority are developed during the life span through interactions with the pains and pleasures experienced as the result of environmentally mediated events.
Damasio begins with the amazing and unexpected relationship between frontal lobe damage and the specific (yet seemingly general) change such damage produces in the personality. Why did Phineas Gage, Damasio's patient Elliott, and other victims of ventromedial lesions, fail to plan and to carry out personal life decisions even while they functioned normally on virtually every psychological measuring instrument with which they were confronted? Localization of language, vision, and other functions had been determined in that certain brain area damage was associated with specific dysfunction, but the deficit produced by frontal lobe injury was not picked up by standard intelligence, perception, or personality tests. Yet these patients cannot manage their lives. They neither make the decisions nor carry out the plans on which survival depends; they fail at every enterprise. The implication seemed to be that there was a specific and localized mental module involved in these major life-governing functions. A better answer developed when it was noted that Elliott displayed little emotional response, especially of what Damasio called 'secondary,' the kind that develops through association with innate emotional reactions. Elliott himself remarked that before the brain tumor he had felt sensations and emotions that he no longer experienced.
This spark set Damasio's theory-building apparatus into motion. The prefrontal cortex receives input from sensory areas, somatic areas, association areas, and parts of the limbic system, an area associated with basic drives and emotions. What then was damaged by frontal lobe lesions? Feelings. Emotional responses. From this, Damasio constructs a plausible conception of reasoning and its dependent relationship to emotion and experience in the normal organism.
Brains evolved, Damasio reminds us, to enable bodies to survive. They monitor constantly. Emotions result from threat, from the prospect that bad things will occur to body. As William James noted a century earlier, emotions are notably body. Throats tighten, muscles tense, heartbeat patterns change, perspiration flows, capillaries dilate or constrict. These and many other body functions are intimately tied in with the ever-active conscious and (largely) unconscious mind. When favorable or unfavorable events occur, the body and nonconscious mind remember. When a similar event is later anticipated, "a disposition" occurs in response to a feeling that may be consciously experienced or may only exist as a neuronal pattern or image. That "somatic marker," which may have been given innately or acquired through similar past experience, gives rise to a process that says go ahead in one direction or turn to another. The decision process is affected in that at each choice point, when innumerable possibilities lie before us, our learned or innate, present or symbolic, body sensations push unpromising possibilities out of consideration, leaving only a few for consciousness to evaluate in working memory, that tiny tip of the iceberg in which reside our senses of self and of control. When patients suffering frontal lobe damage that caused this mechanism to have been disconnected are asked to make a simple decision regarding, for example, the time of their next appointment, they might, as Elliott did, spend an agonizing period considering all sorts of reasons for and against various possibilities. They lack a mechanism that enables them to choose.
Damasio's conclusion is that emotions are essential to rational thinking. Far from interfering with rationality, the absence of emotion and feeling breaks down rationality and makes wise decision making impossible. The widely held view that there exist separate neural systems for reason and emotion is no longer tenable. As Damasio says, "Flawed reason and impaired feelings stood out together as the consequences of a specific brain lesion, and this correlation suggested to me that feeling was an integral component of the machinery of reason." And reason depends on several brain systems, working in concert across many levels of neuronal organization, rather than on a single brain center. Both high-level and low-level brain centers, from the prefrontal cortices to the hypothalamus and brain stem, cooperate in the making of reason.
Quoting Damasio directly: "The lower levels maintain direct and mutual relationships with virtually every bodily organ, thus placing the body directly within the chain of operations that generate the highest reaches of reasoning, decision making, and, by extension, social behavior... A feeling may not be an elusive mental quality attached to an object, but rather the direct perception of a specific landscape: that of the body. The critical networks on which feelings rely include not only the traditionally acknowledged collection of brain structures known as the limbic system but also some of the brain's prefrontal cortices, and, most importantly, the brain sectors that map and integrate signals from the body."
For Damasio, feelings and the emotions from which they develop are cognitive guides within the indissociable mind/body integrated by means of mutually interactive biochemical and neural regulatory circuits that include endocrine, immune, and autonomic neural components and are comprehensible only in the context of an organism's interacting in an environment.
Daniel Dennett points out that Damasio's conceptions echo those of Aristotle and Nietzsche, and most recently those of Nicholas Humphrey, and are "retrospectively obvious." But for Descartes, rational thought occurred apart from affairs of the body. For Damasio, all imagery is determined through interaction with body proper and, ultimately, with its regulatory needs. Reasoning is "never a matter of rule-governed manipulation of 'pure' propositions (the logic-class model of reasoning), but rather is always imagistic - even in those rare cases of sophisticated deduction in which the images are of logical formulae being manipulated." For Damasio, the environment is represented by the "modifications it causes in the body proper."
That the missing element that produces dysfunction in frontal lobe patients is an emotional linkage to imagery is demonstrated in experiments in which they emit appropriate galvanic skin responses when confronted with the stimuli that elicit the primary emotions of immediate fear or startle, but fail to do so when the stimuli are symbolic, e.g., photographs, and this despite the fact that they are able to indicate and accurately describe the emotional reactions appropriate to them. That which is missing is neither the machinery for producing emotion nor cognitive awareness of what emotions would normally be aroused by the stimulus. In an experimental test of the theory that a failure in the emotional response produces personality changes, frontal lobe patients were matched with uninjured persons and with patients with other brain injuries. As participants in a "gambling game," they were required to choose between an initially rewarded, but highly risky, option and a safe option. Only the frontal lobe patients persisted in making the wrong choice. It was especially interesting that some control subjects who occasion ally chose the riskier alternative emitted a galvanic skin response before doing so. This implies that the somatic marker is learned unconsciously - outside awareness - a finding that is consistent with the fact that intuitions are sometimes accurate. We often know what we want to do without knowing quite or at all how we came to want to do it.
In this ground-breaking book, Damasio leads the way to important new conceptions of mind. But as compelling as his theoretical conjectures are, he insists that they be seen only as "provisional approximations, to be enjoyed for a while and discarded as soon as better accounts become available."
1 Antonio Damasio is Van Allen Distinguished Professor
and Head of the Department of
Neurology at the University of Iowa, Adjunct Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological
Sciences in La Jolla, California, and Director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center,
University of Iowa. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of
Sciences (1995) and to the European Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993). He is a recipient
the Pessoa Prize (1992) and the Beaumont Prize from the American Medical Association