Intersubjectivity, Empathy, Life‐World, and the Social Brain: The Relevance of Husserlian Neurophenomenology for the Anthropology of Consciousness

Anthropology of Consciousness 34 (1):229-260 (2023)
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Our species of hominin, Homo sapiens, is an extremely social animal. We are born with social brains. The phenomenology of Edmund Husserl is a methodological approach to social consciousness that offers significant advantages in terms of uncovering and describing the essential structures of our social perceptions and actions. This is especially true in this period of post-neuro-turn social science, because the structures described by Husserlian “pure” phenomenology with its emphasis upon “returning to the things,” performing reductions, and developing the skills available to the phenomenological attitude are in synch with neuroscientific research on the neural correlates of consciousness. For the anthropology of consciousness, the Husserlian methodology allows us to explore consciousness in cross-cultural settings in greater detail and depth of understanding. This is especially the case with respect to the experience of intersubjectivity, the roots of which are found to be part of the inherent life-world that all normal humans depend upon to true their experiences of the environing world, regardless of cultural background. The Husserlian approach to intersubjectivity challenges the discipline of anthropology to move past its knee-jerk distinction between nature and nurture, and its erroneous assumption that human experience is somehow “culture all the way down.”



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