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Neuroaesthetics and Neurocultures: Worlding the Brain


Patricia Pisters & Stephan Besser


Julian Kiverstein, Machiel Keestra, Patricia Pisters, Stephan Besser, Halbe Kuipers, Flora Lysen, Nim Goede, Moosje Goosen, Dan Leberg, Manon Parry, Tim Yaczo, Joe van Eerden, Dan Oki and others.

Description 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. While there have been varying reactions to the neuro turn - some ebullient, some critical – this research group has opted for a specific approach in bringing scholars from different fields together with those working on practical implementations and artists developing their imaginings of what lays ahead of us.

In recent decades neuroscience has had an undeniable socio-cultural impact. Against the backdrop of the rise of the ‘cerebral subject,’ (i.e. the self-understanding of contemporary subjects that is defined by the property or quality of ‘being, rather than simple having, a brain’) several large-scale initiatives are planning to further map, decode and simulate the human brain. In addition, other projects have put this neuroscientific knowledge to use, by creating self-learning neural network AI’s or neuro-enhancing brain-computer-interfaces (BCI’s), ranging from neurofeedback to more recent attempts to connect our brains to the internet, effectively transforming post-human science-fiction imaginings into scientific facts and technologies. At a time in which the circulation of knowledge between science, business, technology and society happens at a fast pace, this group provides a space for reflection on the discursive, societal and ethical implications and prospects of brain research and inspiration to look ahead in critical and constructive ways.

Some of the researchers in this group examine contemporary “neuroculture” from a philosophical perspective and question the role of the brain in cultural discourses in relation to identity (gender, religion), free will and determinism. Other members ask what studying the brain can tell us about art, film, and literature and, importantly, what artistic practices can teach us about the brain. Artists who creatively engage with contemporary knowledge of and technical tools for reading and understanding the brain are also part of this group, creating a productive and unique combination of perspectives on neurocultures and neuroaesthetics in this research constellation.

In this research group the brain  is understood in a broad, non-reductionist sense and approached via a wide range of multi- and cross-disciplinary encounters. They converge in a focus on ‘worldings’ of the brain, i.e. the various ways in which brains are currently placed within and related to worldly contexts in different social, scientific and artistic practices and discourses. This perspective has provided the framework for two international conferences and one symposium that the research group has organized in 2016 and 2017 under the series title Worlding the Brain. These events emerged out of the regular reading seminars of the group, held on a (bi-)monthly basis since 2014 and open to all interested participants.

Results so far

Two dissertations: Brains with Character: Reading and Writing Neuronarrative (Tim Yaczo, 2015); The Politics of Plasticity. Sex and Gender in the 21st Century Brain (Annelies Kleinherenbrink, 2016); numerous publications by individual group members. 

Two international conferences: Worlding the Brain 2016: Patterns, Rhythms and Narratives; Worlding the Brain 2017: Affect, Care, Engagement, including a public event at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 'Two international symposia: Predictive Processing as an Interdisciplinary Concept (2016) and Brain-Culture Interfaces: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Entanglement of the Human Mind and its Cultural Environment (2019).

Envisaged results

Building a sustainable international network around multi-disciplinary brain-culture interfaces and ‘Worlding the Brain’ conferences; four dissertations; grant applications; artistic research project; further collaboration with several non-academic partners.

Work plan and time schedule

The first phase of the project has run from 2013-2017; the second phase will run from 2018-2022. Participants collaborate to prepare expert meetings, reading groups, conferences and other events that this programme will organize in collaboration with external partners. If you want to join the reading group or the mailing list, please contact Nim Goede (

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 the neuroscientific and humanities insights around this topic as well as to the discussions in the general public. The group collaborates with cultural agencies in organizing a film program and an exhibition open to the general public.

Members of this group are active in the following constellations: