Cornelius Borck: Das Maschinenbild als Auge des Geistes

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Cornelius Borck, Department of Social Studies of Medicine & Department of Art History and Communication Studies McGill University Montreal: »The Machine Image as the Mind's Eye. Visualization in the Neurosciences«

Visualization is neither new nor specific to the neurosciences. The recent neuroimaging technologies, however, show a remarkably wide and swift distribution via mass media and enjoy particularly broad public attention. In various respects, theses images appear to be perfect pictures; they portray the human brain's topography with extraordinary morphological acuity in vivo, and at the same time, highlight centers of functional activity. Sites of specific interest show up with hitherto unknown precision and impose as unprecedented evidence. Resulting from advanced data manipulation technologies, these images look, nonetheless, remarkably 'natural' and appear to reveal the nature of the human mind. In a historical perspective however, the recent imaging technologies share this potential to kindle public fasination with earlier advances in the neurosciences, and in particular with earlier strategies to visualize the brain in its functional organization. From Paul Flechsig's anatomical demonstration of the pathways of thinking via Oskar Vogt's identification of the cellular substrate for Lenin's intellectual acrobatics to the online observation of the mind at work by electroencephalography, there are plenty examples of how new visualization techniques have marked periods of alleged breakthroughs in the history of the neurosciences. In this perspective, a zooming-in effect that goes along with any new technology seems to furbish machine images with the particular credibility for far reaching claims. This, in turn, calls for a careful epistemological evaluation of visual evidence.