Cover of the publication »Molecular Aesthetics«
Thu, November 22, 2012 – Sat, November 24, 2012, Symposium
As part of several joint projects on creativity and innovation, which are carried out by the ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and Akademie Schloss Solitude and were initiated by the State of Baden-Württemberg in 2007, the symposium "Neuroaesthetics" aims at establishing a link between the current developments in neurosciences and the arts.

The classical theory of technology, from Bergson to Stiegler, from Freud to McLuhan, is mainly an organological theory of technology. Technical media are being interpreted as an enhancement of sense organs (the wheel is an extension of the foot, the computer an extension of the brain, and so forth). Secondly, the relation between the senses is being redefined through every new medium. The synaesthetic program of the turn of the century has opened in abstract painting and in the avant-garde films of the 1920s and 1930s the chapter "Seeing Sound", which led to the mainstream of MTV (Music Television). In classical synaesthesia one organ (eye) has partially overtaken the function of another organ (ear).

Through novel technical interconnections of media (from computer to iPad), from the extension of sense organs as well as to those of sense organs themselves, new integrations of sense organs emerge. The neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita speaks of "sensory substitution", whereby any one sense organ can take over functions of every other sense organ.

Through the interaction of different regions of the brain novel chains of association are being produced, which in turn generate creativity. New artistic approaches in dance, music, and fine arts, exist already und are being celebrated with great success as a new alliance between science and the arts, as scientific aesthetics or as evolutionary aesthetics respectively. Aesthetic experience can hereby serve as a field of experimentation of this generation of connections between different sensory perceptions, which allows for the creation of creative processes.

The symposium will center around two basic themes. On the one hand, it will discuss the meaning of "cultural neuroscience", that is, the effects of culture on the brain structure and its function for both science and the arts. The second topic will be the notion of "sensory substitution" and "synaesthesia".

By cooperating with the Hertie Foundation, which is the largest private supporter of neuroscience in Germany, the ZKM will try to initiate a potential way for art to gain access and draw inspiration from the neurosciences, and for neuroscience to obtain means of socially articulating their experimental results.



  • Joan Y. Chiao, Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, USA
  • Shihui Han, Culture and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Bejing University
  • Shinobu Kitayama, Department of Psychology; University of Michigan
  • Peter König, Institut für Kognitionswissenschaft, Universität Osnabrück
  • Fiona Newell, Department of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin
  • Georg Northoff, Mind, Brain Imaging and Neuroethics Research Unit, University of Ottawa, Institute of Mental Health Research
  • Shinsuke Shimojo, The Shimojo Psychophysics Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
  • Julia Simner, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh
  • Peter Weiss-Blankenhorn, Institut für Medizin, Forschungszentrum Jülich



  • Eckart Altenmüller, Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover
  • Olaf Breidbach, Director of the Institut für Geschichte der Medizin, Naturwissenschaft und Technik, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
  • Udo Dahmen (requested), Artictic and Managing Director of Popakademie Baden-Württemberg
  • Thomas Grunwald, Epilepsie-Zentrum, Zürich
  • Israel Nelken, Department of Neurobiology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
  • Alva Noë, Professor at the Department of Philosophy at UC Berkeley
  • Patricia Pisters, Professor of Media and Film Studies, University of Amsterdam


  • Helga Griffiths (Germany)
  • Arijana Kajfes (Sweden)
  • Warren Neidich (Germany and USA)
  • Reto Schölly (Germany)
  • Tim Otto Roth/Benjamin Staude (Germany)



Thu, November 23, 2012

02:00 p.m Opening lecture (Peter Weibel)
02:30 p.m. Shihui Han
»Neural representation of the self in sociocultural senses«
3:30 p.m. Julia Simner
»Synaesthesia: The aesthetic consequences of merging senses«
04:30 p.m. Coffee break
04:45 p.m. Eckart Altenmüller
»Is music the universal "language" of emotions? The neurobiology and psychology of aesthetic feelings«
05:30 p.m. Udo Dahmen
»The rhythm brain − body & vocal percussion − a journey in 45 minutes«
06:15 p.m. Benjamin Staude, Tim Otto Roth
»The Sonapticon − A space as an acoustic neuronal network«
7 p.m. Concert at the ZKM_Cube

Fri, November 23, 2012

10:00 a.m. Joan Chiao
»Cultural neuroscience: Promise and progress«
10:45 a.m. Warren Neidich
»Artistic research in the 21st century: Bringing the Outside/In«
11:30 a.m. Coffee break
11:45 a.m. Georg Northoff
»The self and its brain − a neurophilosophical perspective«
12:30 a.m. Shinobu Kitayama
»Cultural neuroscience of perception: Implications for art and art appreciation«
01:15 p.m. Lunch break
02:45 p.m. Thomas Grunwald
»Processing architectural ranking across cultures and within the human hippocampus«
3:30 p.m.
Peter Weiss-Blankenhorn
»Functional and structural imaging insights into the neural basis of synaesthesia«
04:15 p.m. Coffee break
04:30 p.m.
Shinsuke Shimojo
»Sensory substitution, and the third kind of "qualia"«
05:15 p.m.
Israel Nelken
»The highs and lows of the auditory system

Sat, November 24, 2012

10:00 a.m. Arijana Kajfes
»Seeing is not believing«
10:30 a.m. Olaf Breidbach
»Looking from within − On the concept neuronal aesthetics
11:15 a.m. Coffee break
11:30 a.m. Helga Griffiths
»From an archeology of the senses to an animated flight over the glacial landscape of the artist's brain«
12:00 a.m. Peter König
»On the relation of action and perception
01:00 p.m. Lunch break
02:30 p.m. Patricia Pisters
»The Neuro-Image: Brain cinema and digital logic«
03:15 p.m. Fiona Newell
»How every day multisensory interactions affect aesthetic«
04:00 p.m. Coffee break
04:15 p.m. Alva Noë
»Art and the limits of neuroscience«
05:00 p.m. Reto Schölly
»Neuronal music

Organization / Institution
Gemeinnützige Hertie-Stiftung
Gemeinnützige Hertie-Stiftung ; Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst