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10.01.2013 - 12.01.2013 | Berlin

Empathy. A neurobiological based capacity and its cultural and conceptual history


With the discovery of the mirror neuron system (MNS) the concept of empathy has gained a central role in neuroscience and neurobiological research. New research protocols such as two- or multi-person neuroscience are developed, and there is a rising interest in figures such as embodied simulation, inner imitation, intersubjectivity, social cognition etc. Since empathy is a translation of the German Einfühlung and thus refers to a field of aesthetic theory around 1900 (F. Th. Vischer, R. Vischer, Th. Lipp et al) the question arises whether and how both concepts are actually interrelated.
Neurobiological research describes the MNS as a system of inner or embodied simulation of perceived (inter)action. Understood as general capacity of mental imitation, the MNS is also considered the physio-neurological foundation of empathy. But how gets this neutral capacity related to or connected with emotions, sympathy and moral meanings associated with empathy in interpersonal and social behavior such as altruism or care taking? In several research areas the moral values and social attitudes underlying empathy in human perception and acting are conceptualized as universal traits. In the humanities the historical, cultural and scientific genealogy of empathy and its forerunners (e.g. Einfühlung and sympathy) are analyzed showing their dependence of various preconditions, procedures and symbolic systems of production.
The symposium provides a site to examine the neurobiological theory of empathy and its impact on socio-psychological ideas of care-taking, altruism etc. within the cultural and conceptual history of empathy and related concepts, the latter referring to both aesthetics and moral philosophy.

Topics of interest are (among others):

How is the neutral neurological capacity of the MNS related to emotions, quality and moral meaning?
What are the historical, cultural and scientific genealogies of empathy, sympathy, resonance, simulation, imitation and mimesis (across e.g. philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis, aesthetic theory, spectator theory, cybernetics, evolutionary theory)?
How do we develop empathy and how do we loose it?
Is empathy with persons (in children and in adults) and empathy with things the same?
How is empathy evoked by cultural artifacts, film or theater?

Confirmed speakers:
Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber, Director of the Sigmund-Freud-Institut Frankfurt a.M.
David Freedberg, Dept. of Art History, Director of The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University
Vittorio Gallese, Dept. of Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, University of Parma
Andrea Pinotti, Dept. of Philosophy, Università degli Studi di Milano
Mark Solms, Dept. of Neuropsychology, Cape Town University, President of the International Neuropsychoanalysis Society

The symposium will be followed by a second one (scheduled for January 2014):
Semantic and neurophysiologic knowledge of emotions. Language as threshold between neurophysiology and the expression of emotion
Do neuroscientists who examine pain, anxiety or joy and patients who report these emotions refer to the same phenomenon? How is the neurological data visualized with functional imaging methods interrelated to the semantics of emotions in linguistic expressions of humans? Since psychoanalysis is a ›talking‹ science and neuroscience is based on physiologic evidence, experimental knowledge and data language plays a crucial role in the effort to integrate both perspectives.
Within the research process language functions as both a bridge and a threshold between brain activity patterns and individually expressed feelings. But what exactly is bridged here by semantics? At what point do concepts of affects come into play? What exactly functions as link between neurobiological indicators and the naming and conceptual identification of a specific feeling? Which role does language play in the process of subjective and scientific identification of feelings? Furthermore, research on the cultural history of emotions showed that concepts of emotions changed their meanings and connotations numerous times through the course of history. How can neuroscience approach cultural differences of historically inhabited patterns of emotions inscribed in linguistic expressions of feelings?

Hinweise zur Teilnahme:


10.01.2013 ab 10:00 - 12.01.2013 20:00


Schützenstr. 18, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum 308
10117 Berlin


Studierende, Wissenschaftler




Kulturwissenschaften, Medizin, Philosophie / Ethik, Sprache / Literatur


Konferenz / Symposion / (Jahres-)Tagung




Sabine Zimmermann


Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin (ZFL)

Veranstaltung ist kostenlos:




URL dieser Veranstaltung:


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