Sept. 1, 2016, 9 a.m. UTC // Sept. 1, 2016, 5 a.m. in America/New_York
Since Antonio Damasio’s popularising of the role of internal bodily feelings not only for emotion but also decision-making (Damasio 1994) and his extension of this to the foundations of consciousness in (Damasio 1999) there has been a surge in research and interest in the sense of the internal, visceral body (interoception). A.D. Craig’s work, in particular, on the spinal pathway that brings interoceptive information towards various processing areas in the brain, most notably the insular cortex, (Craig 2002; Craig 2003; Craig 2009) has now become canonical in the literature. What is so exciting about this literature is that, along with correlations between activation in the insula and bodily awareness, e.g. (Critchley et al. 2004) research in this area has highlighted the role of bodily feelings in a variety of psychopathologies giving us the beginnings of a framework for understanding on the one hand, the bodily contribution to different kinds of experience and on the other, insight into the what-it-is-likeness of a variety of psychopathologies, as well as pointers towards possible remediation strategies.
However, I want to argue that some of the conclusions that have been drawn in this literature, in particular in respect to the neural basis of subjective bodily feelings, are a result of harbouring a binary framework of subjectivity and self, in which subjective feelings of body or self, or indeed consciousness in general, is either present or not. I argue that this is not warranted by the empirical findings, and biases the interpretation of these towards talking about certain areas, in particular the right anterior insula (rAIC), as (at least partial) substrates of subjective feeling and experience of self, thereby distinguishing human subjectivity from animal experience. Furthermore, this move is worrying in the implications that we thereby draw in respect to humans who have less, or no, activation in the rAIC, and our understanding of the psychopathologies that are associated with this. I will argue in this paper that drawing on taxonomies of feeling states from the literature in phenomenological psychiatry can provide a more subtle interpretation of the neural data that can account for apparent inconsistencies in the role that the perception of bodily feelings play in various psychopathologies.