Are our emotional feelings relational? A neurophilosophical investigation of the james–lange theory

Authors
Georg Northoff
University of Ottawa
Abstract
The James–Lange theory considers emotional feelings as perceptions of physiological body changes. This approach has recently resurfaced and modified in both neuroscientific and philosophical concepts of embodiment of emotional feelings. In addition to the body, the role of the environment in emotional feeling needs to be considered. I here claim that the environment has not merely an indirect and thus instrumental role on emotional feelings via the body and its sensorimotor and vegetative functions. Instead, the environment may have a direct and non-instrumental, i.e., constitutional role in emotional feelings; this implies that the environment itself in the gestalt of the person–environment relation is constitutive of emotional feeling rather than the bodily representation of the environment. Since the person–environment relation is crucial in this approach, I call it the relational concept of emotional feeling. After introducing the relational concept of emotional feeling, the present paper investigates the neurophilosophical question whether current neuroimaging data on human emotion processing and anatomical connectivity are empirically better compatible with the “relational” or the “embodied” concept of emotional feeling. These data lend support to the empirical assumption that neural activity in subcortical and cortical midline regions code the relationship between intero- and exteroceptive stimuli in a relational mode, i.e. their actual balance, rather than in a translational mode, i.e., by translating extero- into interoceptive stimulus changes. Such intero-exteroceptive relational mode of neural coding may have implications for the characterization of emotional feeling with regard to phenomenal consciousness and intentionality. I therefore conclude that the here advanced relational concept of emotional feeling may be considered neurophilosophically more plausible and better compatible with current neuroscientific data than the embodied concept as presupposed in the James–Lange theory and its modern neuroscientific and philosophical versions.
Keywords Emotion  Feelings  Neurophilosophy  Embodiment
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DOI 10.1007/s11097-008-9086-2
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References found in this work BETA

Action in Perception.Alva Noë - 2005 - MIT Press.
How the Body Shapes the Mind.Shaun Gallagher - 2005 - Oxford University Press UK.

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