Interdisciplinary Research on Emotions in Neuroscience and Philosophy

animal emotionale II – Existential Feelings, Psychopathology and the Range of Evolutionary Explanations

A human being, as is our basic assumption, is an emotional being to the core - an animal emotionale. Emotions do not just shape our experience, but also our thoughts, decisions, and actions, by creating a primary relation to the world. This affective intentionality of emotions was the object of our philosophical and neuroscientific studies in animal emotionale I. In animal emotionale II, we will continue and extend this research by incorporating two new disciplines (evolutionary anthropology and psychopathology) and the category of existential feelings.


Affective processes do not just allow for an evaluative stance towards objects or situations, as is the case for the basic emotions fear and disgust, they also mediate, in form of existential feelings, an intrinsically qualitative relation to the world as a whole. This affectively colored relation to the world becomes especially apparent when it is malfunctioning, e.g. in the feeling of derealization, in which the world appears to be unreal and unfamiliar. Up to now, the category of existential feelings has primarily been investigated from the perspective of phenomenologically oriented philosophy. Building on this work, we will systematize existential feelings from an analytical point of view as a part of the first two subprojects. We will take insights from psychopathology into account, discuss their empirical accessibility from a neuroscientific perspective, and conduct a neuroimaging study with patients affected by the depersonalization-derealization disorder.


Historically, the theory of evolution stands at the beginning of psychological theories of emotions. Thus, in the third subproject, we will investigate the range of evolutionary explanations of emotions in general and (in connection to our empirical studies of animal emotionale I) specifically for fear and disgust. This subproject is complemented by an empirical study of the fourth subproject, in which we will study the neural correlates of the experience of fear and disgust in healthy individuals and patients with spider and blood phobia. These phobias will also be studied as a case study in the philosophy of science. The results of this case study will provide criteria for the relevance of neurobiological findings to evolutionary explanations in general. In the fifth subproject, we will investigate the question whether functional equivalents of existential feelings, which have so far been classified as typically human, can also be found in animals, and whether and how existential feelings can be explained from an evolutionary point of view.


The following picture illustrates the strong connection between the subprojects:


Subproject 1: Theory of Existential Feelings
Subproject 2: Existential Feelings and Empirical Science

Subproject 3: Evolutionary Theory and Basic Emotions

Subproject 4: Neurophilosophy of Fear and Disgust

Subproject 5: Existential Feelings and Evolutionary Theory

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