Monday, March 12, 2007


From: Ingeborg Reichle
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2007 06:10:35 -0400


In my research group we try to analyse the social and cultural implications of the images and pictures produced in the live sciences in collaboration with The Zuse Institute Berlin. This institution is a research institute for applied mathematics and computer science (Scientific Computing - Numerical Methods (Prof. Dr. Peter Deuflhard):
Numerical Analysis and Modelling Visualization and Data Analysis; Scientific Computing - Discrete Methods (Prof. Dr. Martin Grötschel) Optimization, Scientific Information Systems; Computer Science (Prof. Dr. Alexander Reinefeld) Computer Science Research.

Our research interest is focused on the scientific production processes in which these images emerge and how some of these “beautiful” images are selected and used to communicated scientific research results to a public audience. But what do we see, when we look at these images?

With my contribution to this secession, I would like to draw your attention to two very different research projects at the Academy of Sciences here in Berlin, two projects, which both try to analyse the social and cultural (and economical) implications of biosciences (and neuroscience).

Though we all work on the same floor and meet and talk quite often, it is very difficult even to understand the questions, the “frame” through which the social and cultural implications of bioscience are looked at, because the appoaches are so differnt.

The first project is the so called “Gentechnologiebericht” (The Gene Technology Report). This research group aims to compile a regular report about the state of genetic engineering in Germany. (Many Academy members are involved in this project, also Hans-Jörg Rheinberger)

“Gene technology, in other words recombinant DNA applications, have become well established in many fields of basic research as well as medical diagnostics, forensic science and the life science industry. It in extending its influence to ever new aspects of human life. These developments have led to fierce debates on principles and aroused emotions, particularly in Germany. What is desirable is an 'observatory'
to observe and describe the advance of genetic engineering. There have been, and still are, a number of activities which describe the state of genetic engineering in Germany. There was a committee of inquiry, and there are information systems operated by industrial associations, government bodies, political and party institutions. Although numerous reports have already appeared with useful information on specific issues, they are not of the broad-based, interdisciplinary nature, they are not free from particular interests and do not draw on the continuous observation of the state and development of genetic engineering, as would be necessary to sustain an objective debate. A working structure consisting of an interdisciplinary research group with staff and an expert network is to set up with a view to establishing a centre of expertise on gene technology issues at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Beyond the reports appearing at regular intervals, this will make it possible to respond swiftly to specific incidents, e.g. clones, accidents, unexpected problems and risks ¡V in other words, issues at the focus of public interest. These issues will then be included in the report and documented and assessed in retrospect.”

The second project is called “Funktionen des Bewusstseins“. This project about biotechnology and consciousness is organized by philosophers and neuroscientists. We have more than eight projects within this project, but I will draw your attention only to three of them, because these fit into our discussion:

The issues of these projects range from the question about consciousness in the age of biotechnology til the search for brain images before Kant:

"The molecular person" and consciousness. A study on feeling and thinking in the age of neuro-science, on the basis of Immanuel Kant’s philosophical anthropology Dr. phil. Fiorella Battaglia

Philosophy has approached the "problem" of the human being in various ways. Today the concern is to outline a holistic conception of the human through the joint efforts of both humanities and natural sciences – a conception that, faced with the new challenges of the present day, may also be able to give us a practical point of orientation for our actions.
Taking as a point of departure Immanuel Kant’s attempt to capture what it is to be human, this project will then describe an arc taking us to the anthropology of the present day, taking into account the current state of knowledge in neurophysiology and the philosophy of mind (Gerald M. Edelman, Giulio Tononi, Joseph LeDoux, Antonio Damasio, Christof Koch, Bernard J. Baars, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett, Michele Di Francesco, and John Searle). Here the historical survey will place particular weight on that function of consciousness that can provisionally be characterized as "I- or person-function" that constitutes identity.
The research in the neuro-sciences, in particular in their investigations into the metabolic, molecular, and functional activity of the human brain, presents an interesting and unique structure. This stems from that fact that in ars medica theoretical and practical dimensions are interwoven – in the person who, with his or her knowledge and actions, contributes to the health of another human creature. There is no theory of consciousness without practical reason. Thus the debate over consciousness overcomes the separation between nature and culture, in that brain research is the field that distinguishes itself in treating of elements of both these dimensions. Within the human brain, as Joseph LeDoux has shown, the genetic configuration and the individual experiences express themselves in the same language. It was Kant who opened the way for a dialogue between science and philosophy, between natural sciences and humanities, in arguing for the mutual interconnection of mind and body in a larger whole.
His reflections on the scientific conceptions of the human being contain fundamentally insights into the conditions of knowledge in the natural sciences that are still current.

"Modifying Persons: Self-Conception of Persons and Biotechnological Manipulation"
Dr. phil. Katja Crone

In the past years, great progress has been made in the field of neuroscience, expanding the spectrum of biomedical possibilities. Insights into cerebral functions have made the brain as the biological basis of human consciousness increasingly accessible. Thus neurosurgical, pharmacological and genetic interventions impacting specific cerebral capacities have become increasingly feasible – capacities that correlate to specific functions of consciousness. Such interventions are likely to have repercussions for one's own self-understanding as an individual person, the way of conceiving one’s own past as well as one’s possibilities for future actions, the way one interacts with one’s social environment and the reactions of others in return.
This prospect calls for an assessment of the possible outcomes of these new biomedical methods and thus gives rise to the main concern of this project, which aims at forming a philosophical concept of the person that systematically integrates key features of personhood. Of central importance will be the notion of a practical self, focusing on the concept of one’s self-understanding as an agent and the ability to reflect and evaluate one’s own practical decisions. The notion of personal identity over time will be articulated, founded primarily on a consideration of the specific nature of the first-person-perspective as well as the capacity for autobiographical reflection (narrative identity). Additionally, a concept of interpersonal recognition will be identified as a core issue of self-understanding and personal identity over time. The integrated model is meant to function as a conceptual tool allowing us to assess more precisely how personal functions of consciousness may alter due to biotechnological methods.

Representations of the brain in the 16th century. Models of perception between physiology and psychology Tanja Klemm, M.A.

Since the late 15th century, there has been increased interest in questions on the psychology and physiology of the human organism in regard to its perceptual faculties, not only in treatises of natural philosophy and theology but also in medical writings, encyclopedias, mnemotechnical texts and discussions of image theory.
Psychology was at this time not treated as an independent discipline but as the philosophical study of the soul, placed by philosophers and scientists in the broader context of natural philosophy (and so also of medicine and biology). Not until 1575 did the German Humanist Feigius first use the term in the context of the Aristotelian writings De anima and Parva naturalia. Physiology, in turn, was seen as a system of interaction between body parts, organs, fluids and the so-called spiritus.
This sensitive and subtle bodily substance floats from one organ to another, driving the natural (e.g. digestive), vital (e.g. affective) and animal (e.g. cognitive) functions of the body. Prior to William Harvey in 1628, this physiology of spiritus was the common conception of bodily
organization: spiritus running through the body, being processed from the liver to the heart to the brain (from spiritus naturalis to spiritus vitalis to spiritus animalis) where it dynamizes mental, perceptive and cognitive processes. In this conception of the body, the difference between mental and corporal processes is not categorical but gradual.
Taking this as a point of departure, my project aims to investigate two
fields: Firstly it will focus on the understanding of the physiological implications of (visual) perception. Even though the subject here is the human brain with its imaginative, cognitive and motive functions, I always consider it in relation to the whole body, its organs and functions. As the highest organ, though, the brain is by this time already seen as the seat of the soul and of the inner senses or virtues, sensus communis, imaginatio/fantasia, vis aestimativa, vis cogitativa and memoria (protected by the head, where most of the sensual phenomena arrive). One of the hypotheses here is that the conception of the psycho-physiological interplay between these senses is fundamental for an understanding of artistic concerns and pictorial theory of the time – and so also for questions concerning image production, the transfer of images, and their reception. A second field of research consists in the analysis of visualizations of the brain since the mid-15th century. Here, questions concerning the relation between two modes of visual representation of the brain/body are at the center of interest: the diagrammatic mode of representation (based on the traditional medieval psychology of faculties) on the one hand and, on the other, the representational mode based on sensual certainty (promoted e.g. by early anatomists). One aim of these analyses is to contribute to a differentiated view on current tendencies in the neuro-sciences which put emphasis on visualizations and on the rhetoric of images. A historical perspective on these practices seeks to provide a sharper look on questions concerning the roles of images in the production of knowledge on the one hand and on the relation of brain visualizations conveyed by the media and the production of new knowledge of the brain and its functions on the other hand.

All the best,


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1 comment:

Daniel said...

Thank you for the opportunity to post a question to this virtual symposium. As I have read these conversation threads, I am struck that little has been mentioned about artistic representation of ‘mind, emotion, behavior’. As neuro-biology continues to understand the layers of the mind, where is the art that bridges this science domain with such an important social issue?

Where is the forum for artists who bridge the evolving neuro-science, molecular signalling of emotions, affect regulation, social sciences, psychology, etc with the vast domain of mind, emotion, behavior, mental health, trauma, self regulation, etc. Anything being done at the National Institue for Mental Health?

Historically, media, film, advertising and entertainment have touched these areas with some influence from academia and science.

As the human form is a genetic genotype expressed within a social environment, I see a huge gap in art. Where is the art of our internal emotional, mental, behavioral states that dance poetically in social neuro-science and with the environment? It could be called many names ‘mind-body art’, ‘mental health art’, 'social neuro-science' art.

Medical students are given illustrations and animations of anatomy and physiology from an allopathic framework. I see that illustrations and animations for the domain of mind, internal subjective states, and inter-subjectivity are notably under-developed.

Art can help society learn, heal and transform - where is this mind-body domain of art?

Would you please comment on this, and offer suggestions for forums to connect with others on this topic.

Daniel Lappin
First Currency Sciences
Mill Valley, CA