Returning to his hotel in the Hague on a wet, wind-battered day in 1999, Antonio Damasio could not resist telling the doorman that he had just come from a visit to Spinoza's house. "You mean ... the philosopher?" the doorman responded after a pause. "They don't speak much of him, these days."
In fact, for most people, the author of The Ethics and other tracts is little more than a dimly remembered figure from a college textbook. Damasio, a prominent neurologist and the author of two previous popular books on emotions and the brain, sets out to redress this state of affairs in Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Specifically, he would like to show that the philosopher, who took an active interest in the physics, astronomy and mathematics of his time, anticipated much of what neuroscientists are now learning about the human brain and, in particular, about the biological underpinnings of feelings and even consciousness itself.
This article was originally published with the title The Neurologist and the Philosopher.