Flashes of Past: Triggering Biology of the Brain

I am passionate about psychology and specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). My career as a researcher has focused on ways to look at the patterns substance users develop while I work to help people break these patterns and create healthier ones. Lately, I have wondered about consciousness and what the biology of our brain and the arousal of emotion does to consciousness and cognitive processing.

Antonio Damasio explores the role of biology and the mind in his book The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (1999). This book explores a range of human neural processes and mental patterns that form consciousness and construct a person’s idea of self. Damasio speaks in a mainly conversational tone as he weaves in medical research, personal thoughts, scientific theories, and case studies that look at the behaviors of those with healthy and damaged brains. He talks about that area inside of our mind, our mental stage, where we see images, attach feelings to images, project feelings onto objects, and gain knowledge.

Damasio’s book discusses the biological grounding and the emotions that manifest by exploring the connections between those ideas I’ve always considered abstract: feeling, knowledge, thoughts, images, and emotion. He defines these abstractions from a mechanistic perspective: “Emotion is critical for the appropriate direction of attention since it provides an automated signal about the organism’s past experience with given objects and thus provides a basis for assigning or withholding attention relative to a given object.”

In psychology, we are in “the brain era.” We are learning more and more about the underlying processes of the brain and how they shape everything humans experience. I am not a brain scientist, yet this book was written in a way that allowed me to follow the biological processes of the body and mind. What I lacked before reading this book was the appreciation of the synergy between the body, emotion, and consciousness, and the knowledge of the science based on this synergy. Damasio left me with a better appreciation of the rooted triggering biology of the brain and the blooms we call consciousness.

Melissa Gordon