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BMBF Collaborative Research Project "Embodied Information"

FU Freie Universitaet Berlin (Institute of Philosophy) and KHM Academy of Media Arts Cologne (Media Science Department) in cooperation with researchers from Helsinki University and the ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Lancaster.

The collaborative research project was finished in September 2012 after nearly four years of research. We like to thank all participating researchers and scientific board members. The outcome of the collaborative research project is documented in the following publications:

Gabriele Gramelsberger, Tarja Knuuttila, Axel Gelfert (eds.): Philosophical Perspectives on Synthetic Biology, Special Issue of the Journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 44(2), 2013.

Gabriele Gramelsberger, Peter Bexte, Werner Kogge (eds.): Synthesis. Zur Konjunktur eines philosophischen Begriffs in Wissenschaft und Technik, Bielefeld: Transcript 2014.

Topic

The convergence of technologies like information and bio sciences, and also nano and neuro sciences, characterises the recent challenge in science and technology, promising new technological outcomes like nano-bio processors, smart dust and innovative materials. Because manipulating matter on the nano scale, information bit by bit, and life on the scale of cells and neurons raises the hope of creating a new form of science and technology, convergence is being hailed as the new paradigm of the 21st century, referring to the 'unity of nature'.

Research Focus

The research group explores current concepts and visions of convergence from a science and technology studies perspective, especially in the information and bio sciences. We question that the 'unity of nature' can explain convergence, proposing instead that a new approach to dealing with informational structures is what makes convergence possilbe. Information plays a key role for technologies. Unlike previous technical developments, which have concentrated on the symbolic and therefore representational function of information, today’s technological developments are based increasingly on symbolic as well as operational functions that expand the concept and applicability of 'in-formation'. Applying operational functions requires new ways of dealing with information, for instance by creating units of embodied information.

Two major scientific fields can be identified that create units of embodied information: the information sciences and the bio sciences. While information science tries to restructure circuits as sensitive and adaptive units, transforming them into 'lifelike' entities; bio science tries to restructure living cells and organisms as programmable entities, transforming both into 'machines'. The basis of these developments is the merging of algorithmic and cellular concepts, which in turn facilitates various kinds of convergence.

Research Goal

The goal of the research group is to analyse the concepts and visions currently applied to produce units of embodied information in the fields of information and bio sciences. Our investigations are based on interviews with leading scientists and analyses of concepts, practises, images and metaphors for conceiving and envisioning 'converging technologies'.

Funding

The research group is funded by the BMBF German Ministry of Research and runs from March 2009 until  September 2012. The group is part of the BMBF programme "Uebersetzungsfunktion der Geisteswissenschaften" (“The Translation Function of the Humanities”). Therefore the meta-context of this research is to explore the ability of the humanities to function as a socio-cultural seismography of new developments like the change of paradigms influencing our lifeworld.