Book Review: Descartes' Error

I have long been one to insist that emotion clouds reason. That the best analysis comes from a clear, dispassionate look at the situation, evaluating pros and cons, and then making a swift decision. When my friend Rob Urstein, Asst. Dean at Stanford GSB, recommended Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain I was intrigued.

The book’s premise is that contrary to popular belief emotion is essential to smart, rational decision making. It is heavy on neurobiology and evolutionary psychology, so I got lost in parts and it’s a tough read for a someone not steeped in those disciplines. This being said, it does raise some important issues. He lays out several patients with neurological diseases or deficiencies – in particular, those areas which regulate emotion – and demonstrates their faulty decision making.

I’m not totally convinced by its thesis yet, but certainly good food for thought. I recommend it if you are engaged by neuroscience and decision making.

3 comments on “Book Review: Descartes' Error
  • Does it make these conclusions primarily from patients, or does it use converging evidence from other experimental disciplines?

    It seems to me obvious that emotions are integral to decision making….

  • Patients and evidence from neuroscience and biology. I agree it’s obvious that emotions are “integral” but it’s not obvious that they’re integral in a positive way. In fact, I think most people (and me) would argue that they can more negatively affect the process than positively. This author disagrees.

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