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

Harcourt Brace & Company


Antonio Damasio


Chapter seven Extended Consciousness



“Extended consciousness allows human organisms to reach the very peak of their ental abilities.  Consider some of those:

the ability to create helpful artifacts;

the ability to consider the mind of the other;

the ability to sense the minds of the collective;

the ability to suffer with pain as opposed to just feel pain and react to it;

the ability to sense the possibility of death in the self and in the other;

the ability to value life;

the ability to construct a sense of good and of evil distinct from pleasure and pain;

the ability to take into account the interests of the other and of the collective;

the ability to sense beauty as opposed to just feeling pleasure;

the ability to sense a discord of feelings and later a discord of abstract ideas, which is the source of the sense of truth. (Damasio/FWH/230)”

“Among this remarkable collection of abilities allowed by extended consciousness, two in particular deserve to be highlighted:  first,

the ability to rise above the dictates of advantage and disadvantage imposed by survival-related dispositions

and second,

the critical detection of discords that leads to a search for truth and a desire to build norms and ideals for behavior and for the analyses of facts. (Damasio/FWH/230)”

“These two abilities are not only my best candidates for the pinnacle of human distinctiveness, but they are also those which permit the truly human function that is so perfectly captured by the single word conscience.  I do not place consciousness, either in its core or extended levels, at the pinnacle of human qualities.  Consciousness is necessary, but not sufficient, to reach the current pinnacle.  (Damasio/FWH/230)”

“The enchainment of precedences is most curious:  the nonconscious neural signaling of an individual organism begets the proto-self which permits core self and core consciousness, which allow for an autobiographical self, which permits extended consciousness.  At the end of the chain, extended consciousness permits conscience.  (Damasio/FWH/230)”

“The status of our understanding relative to conscience, extended consciousness, and core consciousness may well parallel the order in which humans seem to have realized the existence of such phenomena and become curious about them.  Humans had identified conscience and had an interest in its doings long before they identified extended consciousness as a problem, let alone core consciousness.  The gods of antiquity do not speak to the heroes of the Homeric poems about matters of consciousness but rather about matters of conscience….It is not just that the word for consciousness is not to be found in Plato or Aristotle, neither nous nor psyche being equivalents.  The concept is not there, either.  (Psyche did refer to some aspects of an organism that I believe are critical for the appearance of what we now call consciousness [breath; blood] or that are closely related [mind, soul], but it did not correspond to the same concept. 19)  The reoccupation with what we call consciousness now is recent – three and a half centuries perhaps – and has only come to the fore late in the twentieth century.  (Damasio/FWH/231)”

“The word conscience (from the Latin con and scientia, which suggests the gathering of knowledge) has been in usage since the thirteenth century, while the words consciousness and conscious only appear in the first half of the seventeenth century, well after the death of Shakespeare (the first recorded usage of the word consciousness dates to 1632).  (Damasio/FWH/232)”

“Whatever the word for consciousness, we are never far from the notion of encompassing knowledge, as betrayed by some variation on con (an embracing with) and scientia (facts, scientific and otherwise).  (Damasio/FWH/232)”

“One might have guessed that because conscience is at the top of the complexity heap I have just outlined, it would have been the last phenomenon to be considered and understood in terms of its nature and mechanisms.  The opposite seems to be true.  I would argue that we know more about the workings of conscience than we do about those of extended consciousness, in the same way that we know more about extended consciousness than we do about core consciousness…..As far as I can see, the balance of the mystery lies behind core consciousness.  It may well be that conscience and extended consciousness are incompletely explained only because understanding them depends in part on resolving the problem of core consciousness.  (Damasio/FWH/233)”

ch 10


“…unrestrained attribution to consciousness of properties of the human mind that we consider extremely refined and uniquely human, such as our ability to distinguish good from evil, our knowledge of the needs and wants of fellow humans, our sense of the place we occupy in the universe….I see consciousness, instead, as allowing the mind to develop the properties we so admire but not as the substance of those properties.  Consciousness is not conscience.  It is not the same as love and honor and mercy; generosity and altruism; poetry and science; mathematical and technical (Damasio/FWH/309)invention.  Nor, for that matter, are moral turpitude, existential angst, or lack of creativity examples of bad states of consciousness.  The consciousness of most criminals is not impaired.  Their conscience may be.  (Damasio/FWH/310)”

Damn I wish the scanner worked, I need his Figure 10.1 From Wakefulness to conscience on page 310

“The marvelous achievements that come from the human mind require consciousness in the same fundamental way that they require life, and that life requires digestion and a balanced internal chemical milieu.  But none of those marvelous achievements is directly caused by consciousness.  They are, instead, a direct consequence of a nervous system which, being capable of consciousness, is also equipped with a vast memory, with the powerful ability to categorize items in memory, with the novel ability to code the entire spectrum of knowledge (Damasio/FWH/310) in language form, and with an enhanced ability to hold knowledge in mental display and manipulate it intelligently.  Each of these abilities, in turn, can be traced to myriad mental and neural components.  (Damasio/FWH/311)”

“Core consciousness does not rank especially high in the order of operations which permit human beings to be what they are.  It is part of the foundation of a complicated edifice, not one of the dreamy spires at its top.  In rank order, core consciousness sits above, but not far from, other foundational capacities, such as action, emotion, and sensory representation, which we share with several nonhuman species.  (Damasio/FWH/311)”

“The essence of those foundational capacities has probably changed little when we compare the human version to the nonhuman.  For example, I see no evidence that emotion has become “better” in humans.  What has become different is our sense of the role emotions play in our lives, and that difference is a consequence of the greater knowledge we have of the substance of our lives.  Memory, language, and intelligence make the difference, not emotion.  The same probably applies to consciousness.  Extended consciousness occurs in minds endowed with core consciousness, but only when those minds can rely on superior memory, language, and intelligence, and when the organisms which construct those minds interact with suitable social environments.  In short, consciousness is a grand permit into civilization but not civilization itself.  (Damasio/FWH/311)”

“When I bring consciousness down from its current pedestal, I am not bringing the human mind down from its pedestal.  It is just that what put the human mind on its pedestal and should keep it there are not only the biological phenomena subsumed by the term consciousness, but also many other phenomena which we need to describe, name, and attempt to underrstand scientifically.  Nonetheless, I am ready to admit that we probably were banished from Eden because of consciousness.  Consciousness is not the full taste of the fruit of knowledge, but innocent consciousness did start things along the way, many species ago and many millions of years before humans began to construct conceptions of their own nature.  (Damasio/FWH/311)”

His figure on page 310, which I cannot recreate here, contains the following information with the topics aligned beside the curves of a ribbon-like drawing from side to side:

Other creations




Autobiographical self and

Extended consciousness



Other creations




Autobiographical self and

Extended consciousness



Conventional                                                                        enhanced attention and

memory                                                                                    Working  memory

core consciousness

(includes core self)

second-order map

of organism-object


images of object

changes in proto-self




detection of object significance

minimal attention

image-making ability

Figure 10.1 From wakefulness to conscience

“We only create a sense of good and evil as well as norms of conscionable behavior once we know about our own nature and that of others like us.  (Damasio/FWH/315)”


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