The central theme of the Neurosciences and Cognitive Sciences at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg is “Brain Worlds”. This thematic framework comprises three interconnected perspectives:
- The world in the brain: the brain’s representation of the environment and the shaping of the brain by the external world;
- Brains in the world: the effects of neuroscientific research on our sense of self, i.e. how we perceive ourselves as brains in the world and shape the environment with our brains;
- Cultural Intelligence: the connection of these two perspectives.
Many aspects of the environment are represented in our brain structures and functions. This also means that our brain is changed by external influences, mental images, internal regulation processes, etc. Such changes can even lead to permanent, individually specific modifications of the brain’s functional architecture, which in turn affect our experience and behavior. Biological as well as cultural factors have an impact on the creation and the development of the “world in the brain”. The guiding principle of this thematic perspective is illustrated by the exemplary questions listed below:
- How do we perceive our environment? Which perceptual, cognitive, emotional, motivational, and socio-cultural aspects contribute to these processes?
- What happens after cerebral lesions? How can functional loss be compensated and how can lost or impaired brain functions be restored?
- How do we manipulate the world in our brain? What are the consequences for brain functions and structures?
- What are the neuronal processes underlying these abilities? Can these processes be changed – and how?
Neuroscientific knowledge has gained a growing influence on our everyday life over the past decades: it increasingly influences our self-perception as human beings, the understanding of socio-cultural processes, and also the interaction of the neurosciences with other scientific disciplines. Individuals as well as societies are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that we are affected and shaped by our neuronal “hardware”. Thus, we perceive ourselves as “brains in the world” and we understand our social environment as “a world of brains”. Some guideline questions for this thematic perspective are collected below:
- What is the impact of knowledge about our biological and genetic endowment and the connection between mind and brain on the neurosciences and cognitive sciences and related disciplines?
- What are the consequences of neuroscientific research for our individual, social, and socio-cultural perception of ourselves? How do we shape the world with our brains?
- What are potential practical applications of the newest findings from the field of neurosciences and cognitive sciences (e.g., learning research, education science, and medicine, etc.)?
- How can our environment be optimally adapted to the performance of our brains?
- What technical solutions can benefit from neuroscientific findings?
- Where are the limitations and ethical problems of neuroscientific research?
The human species differs from all other species in its desire to create a connection between brain, mind, and the external world. This specific characteristic has been termed “Cultural Intelligence”, and is exemplified in the formation of culturally defined groups, the development of a “theory of mind” and of empathy, and reflections on the self, humankind, and the meaning of our existence. Again, some guideline questions referring to this thematic perspective are listed below:
What aspects characterizing human beings are constant across cultures (universals)? What conclusions can we draw regarding the distinctiveness of the human species based on these universals?
- Which neuronal structures and functions represent specifically human characteristics?
- How does Cultural Intelligence arise in individual and species development? What will future steps in evolution with respect to these skills look like?
- Can concepts of neuroscience and cognitive science help answer fundamental questions of human existence?