zum Inhalt springen

Research Project

The Many Faces of Experience. Empathy, Imagination, and the Distribution of Consciousness in the Natural World

Recent years have seen a surge of interest in questions related to the origins of consciousness and its distribution in nature. It is now widely accepted that species other than humans have some kind of phenomenal experience; the current debate focuses on how to describe it and where to draw the line between sentient and non-sentient beings. Here at the Husserl-Archiv, I am developing a PhD proposal that draws on phenomenology to make progress on such questions.

My research proceeds along three different axes. The first is a critique of our naïve intuitions about the distribution of consciousness. Drawing on the phenomenological theory of empathy, I try to shed light on the factors that underlie our everyday attributions of sentience. I focus particularly on the role that bodily similarity and movement play in “basic” empathy, on the reach of this phenomenon, and on its epistemic significance.

The second research strand concerns the question of how to characterize the most primitive forms of subjectivity. In Husserl’s view, transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with an analysis of human consciousness; rather, it brings to light the necessary conditions for any phenomenal experience. I am interested in comparing the insights gained through this approach with contemporary theories about the origins and distribution of consciousness.

Finally, the third part of my project takes up the question of how to describe the variety of forms that experience can take in different species. Taking Husserl’s method of Abbau and Aufbau as my starting point, I argue that, although some aspects of those experiences will necessarily keep escaping our grasp, their structural features lend themselves to an investigation that is both phenomenological and informed by scientific evidence.

E-Mail: y.venuta[at]studenti.unipi.it

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thiemo Breyer