Einstein Visiting Fellow 2015–2019
Jesse Prinz is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is one of the most important philosophers of mind in the world, having made a name for himself in the field of empirically informed philosophy, both with numerous articles in leading international magazines and with a large number of well-regarded book publications that have caused a sensation. “Empirically informed philosophy” is one of the most significant developments of recent years and of great importance for our understanding of the area where philosophy and empirical sciences intersect.
Jesse Prinz’s New York website
The Einstein group’s website in Berlin
“Consciousness”, “Emotion” and “Values”
The purpose of this project is to promote research and collaborations on three linked topics: consciousness, emotions, and values. Key questions include: How does consciousness relate to the brain? How do emotions inform decision-making? How do we form moral and aesthetic values? There are also interconnections between these topics. For example: Are emotions always conscious? How are values influenced by emotions? Are there distinctively aesthetic experiences? How are consciousness, emotions, and values linked to identity?
These and other core questions will be explored by a group of experts who exchange ideas, collaborate, and participate in the rich intellectual life at Humboldt-Universität’s Berlin School of Mind and Brain. The project members will include the Einstein Visiting Fellow (Jesse Prinz, based in New York), a postdoctoral fellow, stipend-funded researchers (based in Berlin), and a group of rotating international members, who join the group for meetings and conferences. The researchers for these positions have been chosen for their expertise in the project themes, as well as their ability to speak across disciplinary boundaries.
Each year there will be a publicly advertised conference on one of the core themes, as well as smaller workshops and talks. Emphasis will be placed on interdisciplinarity. The project members will be philosophers who engage neuroscience and psychology or researchers working in empirical fields with a philosophical orientation. Collaborative experimental work will also be supported.
The research topic sequence for 2015–2017
Questions may include:
How does consciousness relate to the brain?
How does consciousness relate to other mental capacities such as memory and attention?
How is consciousness related to embodiment and action?
What information can enter consciousness and what can’t?
What accounts for the subjectivity of consciousness?
How does consciousness relate to the self?
Why do reductive theories of consciousness seem to leave the nature of consciousness unexplained?
How do people understand the concept of consciousness?
Questions may include:
What are emotions?
Do emotions depend on cognitive processes such as judgment or appraisal?
How are emotions related to bodily states?
How are emotions related to action tendencies?
How do emotions motivate?
Are all emotions alike?
Are emotions evolved or socially constructed?
How do emotions contribute to decision-making?
What and how do emotions represent?
Can emotions be assessed for their rationality?
Questions may include:
What are values?
How do they relate to emotion and reason?
How are they realized in the brain?
How are they embedded in social interactions?
How do they evolve, develop, and change?
Do they vary across cultures?
Are there objective standards by which they can be improved?
What, specifically, is the nature of moral values?
What are aesthetic values?
How do these relate to each other?
How do such values influence domains that are sometimes regarded as value-free, such as perception, categorization, and scientific theory construction?
The research topics for 2018–2019
Aesthetics and our relations to artworks have not been in the center of discussion in Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science, but are gaining more and more interest in recent years. Questions include: How should we conceive of the experience of beauty and the sublime? How do feelings such as wonder or confusion contribute to the assessment of art? And, what is the nature of aesthetic experience? Thus, emotion, value, and experience are once again brought into contact. Several members of the group are actively investigating topics in empirically informed aesthetics. Projects include aesthetic emotions, embodied responses to artworks, factors that drive appreciation, and expectations while watching films.
Morality and sentiments
Some group members are conducing research on moral judgments: What features of an action make people judge it morally permissible? And how do they make their actions cohere with their moral convictions? One recent perspective in answering such questions is that moral judgments centrally involve emotions. Emotions, in turn, have been analyzed in terms of bodily experience. Thus, emotions, values, and experience come together here. Group members are pushing moral psychology into new directions. For example, there are projects concerning the nature of conscience, moral hypocrisy, and links between morality, identity, and group affiliation.
Embodied and embellished perception
A third research theme concerns perception. Traditionally, perception has been studies as a collection of faculties (the traditional senses) that operate in a modular way: cut off from other aspects of the mind. New lines of research are exploring ways in which perception can be influenced by information processing that lies outside the senses, including emotion, embodiment, and thought. For example, aesthetic preferences might cause us to have emotional and embodied responses to artworks, and these responses may then have an impact on what we are perceiving by, for example, shifting the allocation of attention. Here, emotion, values, and experience interact once more. Members of the group are conducting projects that explore various forms of impure perception and cognition: how sound interacts with bodily experience, how emotions alter object recognition, how embodiment informs the perception of art.