X Lisbon Summer School for the Study of Culture Neurohumanities Promises & Threats
When the US government declared the 1990s “The decade of the brain”, it aimed at raising public awareness toward the use of neuroscience for the enhancement of life quality and as a way to better address the challenges of growing life expectancy. The initiative was further supported by substantial research funding, which not only impressed public opinion but appealed to many research fields. Finding a link to brain research and the processes of the human mind, many disciplines were repositioned and adopted the “neuro” prefix, promising new insights into age-old problems by reframing them from the angle of the brain-mind continuum.
Neuroscience seeks to explain how the brain works and which neurophysiological processes are involved in complex cognitive abilities like sensation and perception attention and reasoning, memory and thought.
One of the most striking and unique features of the human mind is its capacity to represent realities that transcend its immediate time and space, by engaging complex symbolic systems, most notably language, music, arts and mathematics. Such sophisticated means for representation are arguably the result of an environmental pressure and must be accounted for in a complex network of shared behaviors, mimetic actions and collaborative practices: in other words, through human culture. The cultural products that are enabled by these systems are also stored by means of representation in ever-new technological devices, which allow for the accumulation and sharing of knowledge beyond space and across time.
The artifacts and practices that arise from the symbolic use, exchange and accumulation are the core of the research and academic field known as the Humanities. The field has been increasingly interested in the latest developments deriving from neuroscience and the affordances they allow about the conditions and processes of the single brain, embedded in an environment, in permanent exchange with other brains in an ecology that is culturally coded.
This turn of the humanities to neuroscience is embraced by many and fiercely criticized by others. The promise of the Neurohumanities, the neuroscientifically informed study of cultural artifacts, discourses and practices, lies in unveiling the link between embodied processes and the sophistication of culture. And it has the somewhat hidden agenda of legitimizing the field, by giving it a science-close status of relevance and social acknowledgement it has long lacked. Here, though, lies also its weakness: should the Humanities become scientific? Can they afford to do so? Should they be reduced to experimental methodologies, collaborative research practices, sloppy concept travelling, transvestite interdisciplinarity? Is the promise of the Neurohumanities, seen by some as the ultimate overcoming of the science-humanities or the two cultures divide, in fact not only ontologically and methodologically impossible and more than that undesirable? And how will fields like Neuroaesthetics, Cognitive Literary Theory, Cognitive Linguistics, Affect Theory, Second-person Neuroscience, Cognitive Culture Studies or Critical Neuroscience relate to the emerging omnipresence and challenges of Artificial Intelligence?
The IX Summer School for the Study of Culture invites participants to submit paper and poster proposals that critically consider the developments of the Neurohumanities in the past decades and question its immediate and future challenges and opportunities. Paper proposals are encouraged in but not limited to the following topics:
- 4E Cognition: embodied, embedded, enacted and extended
- performance and the embodied mind
- spectatorship and simulation
- from individual to social cognition
- mental imagery
- memory, culture and cultural memory
- cognition and translatability
- mind-body problem
- life enhancement
- (neuro)humanities and social change
- AI, cognition and culture
The Summer School will take place at several cultural institutions in Lisbon and will gather outstanding doctoral students and post-doctoral researchers from around the world. In the morning there will be lectures and master classes by invited keynote speakers. In the afternoon there will be paper presentations by doctoral students.