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May 10, 1995

Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

Author Affiliations

University of Rochester School of Medicine Rochester, NY

JAMA. 1995;273(18):1463-1464. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03520420079045

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Descartes' Error is a delightfully written account of the author's views on brain function. It is suitable for people who wonder how we wonder, for physicians who need to be reminded of what a wonderful creation is the brain, and for scientists who want to see how a hypothesis should be tested.

The book has two parts. The first is the development of the idea that the neural substrates for emotion and for reason are intertwined and that one is necessary for the other. The second part tests this proposal. The introductory portion retells the story of Phineas Gage, who had a tamping rod blown through his skull. He had profound behavioral changes following this terrible event. Recently, Hanna Damasio, also a noted neuroscientist, along with a group of investigators including the author, analyzed the extant skull of Gage and proposed that the most prominent damage was in the ventromedial

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