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Delusional atmosphere and the sense of unreality 

Delusional atmosphere and the sense of unreality

Delusional atmosphere and the sense of unreality

Matthew Ratcliffe

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date: 30 May 2017

In this chapter, I begin by outlining Jaspers’ account of ‘delusional atmosphere’ or ‘delusional mood’, focusing upon the ‘sense of unreality’ that is central to it. Then I critically discuss his well-known claim that certain ‘primary delusions’ or ‘delusions proper’ cannot be understood phenomenologically. I reject that view and instead sketch how we might build upon Jaspers’ insights by developing a clearer, more detailed phenomenological analysis of delusional atmosphere, thus further illuminating how certain delusional beliefs arise. However, I concede that this task poses a particular challenge for empathy, and suggest that a distinctive kind of empathy is required in order to overcome it. I call this ‘radical empathy’. I conclude by considering how we might relate a phenomenological approach along these lines to non-phenomenological research on delusions, and tentatively suggest that recent neurobiological work on ‘predictive coding’ might offer a complementary way of explaining them. I do not claim (or seek) to naturalise the phenomenology through neurobiology, but I at least maintain that there is potential for fruitful commerce between the two.

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