Neuroaesthetics and Neurocultures


Patricia Pisters & Stephan Besser


Julian Kiverstein, Patricia Pisters, Stephan Besser, Tim Yaczo, Annelies Kleinherenbrink, Flora Lysen, Moosje Goosen, Dan Leberg, Manon Parry, Rob Zwijnenberg, Machiel Keestra, Nim Goede, and others.

Description of the research Programme of the Research Group

This research programme is dedicated to the critical and productive study of the rise of the neuro-turn from a humanities perspective. Some of the researchers in this constellation examine contemporary “neuroculture” from a philosophical perspective and question the implicit role of the brain in cultural discourses in relation to identity (gender, religion), free will and determinism. Other members of this group ask what can studying the brain tell us about art and film?  This question has become the target of a vibrant research programme within cognitive neuroscience known as “neuroaesthetics”.  However, so far a humanities perspective has been absent from this conversation, leading some scientists to make questionable framing assumptions about art and aesthetic experience.

Our project will demonstrate three interlocking ways in which the humanities can contribute to the study of neuroaesthetics.  One strand of our project will mine the history of neuroscience to uncover an aesthetics of neuroscience. During its short history neuroscientists have appealed to a number of different models and metaphors in theorising how the brain works.  We will investigate how these models and metaphors have influenced, and been influenced by practices in art and film. The second strand in our project will use conceptual tools from the humanities to develop an aesthetic theory for neuroaesthetics. Cognitive neuroscientists assume that the questions that have occupied researchers in the humanities when they reflect on our engagement with art can be reduced to questions about the range of perceptual, affective and cognitive responses we undergo when we encounter works of art.  We agree with the general project of attempting to theorise the aesthetic through biology but we argue that what is so far missing in the scientific work is any recognition of the social, cultural and political dimensions of our biological embodiment.  A third synthetic strand of our programme will explore ways in which culture and brain form complex systems of influence, control and resistance to contemporary global conditions. The specific aim of this group is to bridge the gaps between neurosciences, humanities and art practices by seeking active collaboration with neuroscientists and artists to participate in the various activities developed by this group.

Envisaged results

Several articles, 4 dissertations, expert meetings, seminars, conference, film programme and exhibition

Work plan and time schedule

The programme will run for 5 years: 2013-2018
Participants collaborate to prepare expert meetings, seminars, and other events that this programme will organize in collaboration with external partners. There is a reading group, phd students prepare visits to archives and laboratories in the Netherlands (such as Museum Boerhaave, EYE Film Institute) and the USA (Harvard Archives, Princeton Centre for Mind and Brain Sciences). 

Societal relevance

The brain is generally considered as one of the most important topics in contemporary culture. The debates are often polarized or simplified. This group wants to contribute to both the neuroscientific and humanities insights around this topic as well as to the discussions in the general public. The group will collaborate with cultural agencies in organizing a film program and an exhibition open to the general public.

This group is active in the following constellations:

Published by  ASCA

15 February 2017