Passport to the 21st Century
John Seely Brown, Steve Denning, 
Katalina Groh, Larry Prusak: 
Some of the world's leading thinkers
explore the role of storytelling in the world

 I Introduction to storytelling I John Seely Brown on science I Steve Denning on change I Katalina Groh on video
Larry Prusak on organization I Discussion I | Contact us | Bibliography on storytelling

Descartes' Error (from Antonio Damasio)
    "What then was Descartes error? Or better still, which error of Descartes do I mean to single out, unkindly and ungratefully? One might begin with a complaint, and reproach him for having persuaded biologists to adopt, to this day, clockwork mechanics as a model for life processes. But perhaps that would not be quite fair and so one might continue with "I think therefore I am." That statement, perhaps the most famous in the history of philosophy ... illustrates precisely the opposite of what I believe to be true about the origins of mind and ab out the relation between mind and body. It suggests that thinking, and awareness of thinking, are the real substrates of being. And since we know Descartes imagined thinking as an activity quite separate from
the body, it does celebrate the separation of mind, the "thinking being"... from the non thinking body, that which has extension and mechanical parts....
    "Yet long before the dawn of humanity, beings were beings. At some point in evolution, an elementary consciousness began. With that elementary consciousness came a simple mind; with greater complexity of mind came the possibility of thinking and even later, of using language to communicate and organize thinking better. For us, then, in the beginning it was being, and only later it was thinking. And for us now, as we come into the world and develop, we still begin with being and only later do we think. We are, and then we think, and we think, only inasmuch as we are, since thinking is indeed caused by the structure and operations of being.
   "When we put Descartes' statement back where it belongs, we might wonder for a moment whether it might mean something different what it has come to stand for. Might one read it instead as an acknowledgment of the superiority of conscious feeling and reasoning, without any firm commitment as to their origin, substance or permanence? Might the statement also have served the clever purpose of accommodating religious pressures of which Descartes was keenly aware?...
   "This is Descartes' error: the abyssal separation between body and mind, between the sizable, dimensioned, mechanically operated, infinitely divisible body stuff, on the one hand, and the unsizable, undimensioned, unpushpullable, nondivisible stuff: the suggestion that reasoning, and moral judgment, and the suffering that comes from physical pain or emotional upheaval might exist separately from the body....
   "Now, some may ask, why quibble with Descartes rather than with Plato, whose views on body and mind were far more exasperating... Why bother with this particular error of Descartes? After all, some of his other errors sound more spectacularly wrong than this one... Why not take him to task for those notions? The reason is simple: we have known for a long time that he was wrong on those particular points... That is not the case when we consider questions of mind, brain and body, concerning which Descartes' error remains influential. For many, Descartes' views are regarded as self-evident and in no need of reexamination.
   "The Cartesian idea of a disembodied mind may well have been the source, by the middle of the twentieth century, for the metaphor of the mind as software program...

  From Antonio Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, (Avon, New York, 1994)

Books and videos on storytelling 
*** In Good Company : How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work
by Don Cohen, Laurence Prusak (February 2001) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Social Life of Information, by John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid
(February 2000) Harvard Business School Press
*** The Springboard : How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
by Stephen Denning (October 2000) Butterworth-Heinemann 
*** The Art of Possibility, a video with Ben and Ros Zander : Groh Publications (February 2001)
Copyright © 2001 Stephen Denning 
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