Research Topic

Representation in Neuroscience and Humanities

About this Research Topic

Both neuroscience and the humanities seek to understand the nature of representation and simulation, yet seldom in dialogue or collaboration. Neuroscience tries to assign metrics of brain activity to specific representations of the outer world (for instance, a flower can be represented in terms of single cell or population level activity in the ventral visual stream, or in terms of the motor plans required to grasp it in parietal, premotor and motor areas, but also in much richer associations, likely spanning activity and computations across systems and networks.) The humanities study the many ways the external world is represented in art and literature, and to what effects and purposes. Both fields have also to deal with scaling issues. In neuroscience, the scale might be at the level of the neural coding of a transient event (a briefly flashed stimulus in a laboratory experiment) or of events unfolding over much longer time scales (a conversation, a film), while in literature, research might engage how to make sense of a single metaphor, or much longer literary forms, like In Search of Lost Time.

Research into representation will benefit from dialogue and collaboration between the neurosciences and the humanities, by exploring new avenues previously foreclosed by unilateral thinking. This Research Topic calls for contributions that aim to develop either conceptual or experimental bridges between the neurosciences and the humanities. How does brain activity during imagery, which mimics the brain activity associated with the imagined event (imagining a sunset in one’s head re-activates the visual cortex as if one is watching the sunset) relate to the concept of mimesis, used in aesthetic or artistic theory to refer to the attempt to imitate or reproduce reality? How do mental representations as conceived by cultural anthropologists Gebauer and Wulf as the “medial images, which occupy the space between the inner and outer worlds” relate to the concept of predictive coding or active inference in neuroscience, whereby perception is the product of incoming sensory input and an active internal process based on prior experience generating expectations on what is going on? We encourage neuroscientists to engage with mimesis, and humanists to engage with systems neuroscience as a portal toward a biological or phenomenological understanding of representation. Both neuroscientists and scholars in the humanities may ask: How do neurobiological conceptions shed light on representation in mimetic terms? Knowing that representation of the thoughts and intentions of others may be grounded in the sensorimotor transformations of distributed circuits in the brain, what new questions can we ask about mimesis? How does network neuroscience account for that? How might brain machine interface shapes humans’ representation of the internal and external world? These questions open a new frontier in integrative neuroscience, a neuro-humanities frontier that calls for integration, or mediation, of the methods, assumptions, and practices of the two fields.

The Guest Editors would like to express their profound gratitude to Julie Uchitel for her valuable work in initiating this Research Topic and actively contributing to it.


Keywords: Representation, Neuroscience, Humanities, Perception, Neurohumanities


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Both neuroscience and the humanities seek to understand the nature of representation and simulation, yet seldom in dialogue or collaboration. Neuroscience tries to assign metrics of brain activity to specific representations of the outer world (for instance, a flower can be represented in terms of single cell or population level activity in the ventral visual stream, or in terms of the motor plans required to grasp it in parietal, premotor and motor areas, but also in much richer associations, likely spanning activity and computations across systems and networks.) The humanities study the many ways the external world is represented in art and literature, and to what effects and purposes. Both fields have also to deal with scaling issues. In neuroscience, the scale might be at the level of the neural coding of a transient event (a briefly flashed stimulus in a laboratory experiment) or of events unfolding over much longer time scales (a conversation, a film), while in literature, research might engage how to make sense of a single metaphor, or much longer literary forms, like In Search of Lost Time.

Research into representation will benefit from dialogue and collaboration between the neurosciences and the humanities, by exploring new avenues previously foreclosed by unilateral thinking. This Research Topic calls for contributions that aim to develop either conceptual or experimental bridges between the neurosciences and the humanities. How does brain activity during imagery, which mimics the brain activity associated with the imagined event (imagining a sunset in one’s head re-activates the visual cortex as if one is watching the sunset) relate to the concept of mimesis, used in aesthetic or artistic theory to refer to the attempt to imitate or reproduce reality? How do mental representations as conceived by cultural anthropologists Gebauer and Wulf as the “medial images, which occupy the space between the inner and outer worlds” relate to the concept of predictive coding or active inference in neuroscience, whereby perception is the product of incoming sensory input and an active internal process based on prior experience generating expectations on what is going on? We encourage neuroscientists to engage with mimesis, and humanists to engage with systems neuroscience as a portal toward a biological or phenomenological understanding of representation. Both neuroscientists and scholars in the humanities may ask: How do neurobiological conceptions shed light on representation in mimetic terms? Knowing that representation of the thoughts and intentions of others may be grounded in the sensorimotor transformations of distributed circuits in the brain, what new questions can we ask about mimesis? How does network neuroscience account for that? How might brain machine interface shapes humans’ representation of the internal and external world? These questions open a new frontier in integrative neuroscience, a neuro-humanities frontier that calls for integration, or mediation, of the methods, assumptions, and practices of the two fields.

The Guest Editors would like to express their profound gratitude to Julie Uchitel for her valuable work in initiating this Research Topic and actively contributing to it.


Keywords: Representation, Neuroscience, Humanities, Perception, Neurohumanities


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

20 October 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

20 October 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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