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On the 15th and 16th of November 2019, an interdisciplinary conference examining questions of existence, dying and self-determination took place at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. Current technological developments in medicine, computer science and cognitive science were considered and investigated throughout the course of the conference.

Over 120 attendees flooded the conference halls, including representatives from various scientific fields, economics, the university student body, people from the public, and of course, sections with differing topics.


After the greeting by the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Prof. Dr. Achim Landwehr, introduced Amine El Maleq and Tim Willmann, thanking them for the conception and realization of the conference, Prof. Dr. Henriette Herwig (Düsseldorf, German Studies II, Chair of Modern German Literary Studies) took over the exposition of the first section.


Section I - Literary Historical Exposition: 

As keynote speaker, Henriette Herwig opened with her lecture "Senicide in Literature and Film", based in research surrounding aging on the basis of literary and historical examples and cinematic realizations. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c.. Dieter Birnbacher was able to develop a thematic link with his lecture on medical ethics, "The New Face of Death- From the Experience to Self-Determination", and thus address the extent of human self-determination and the individual shaping of death, for example through curative and palliative treatment.

Prof. Dr. Marco Lehmann-Waffenschmidt (Dresden) presented a thought-provoking lecture, "Economic Growth, Money and Happiness. The Psychogram of the Modern Homo-Infinitus in Goethe's Faust”, which functioned as a beautiful bridge between first and second sections of the conference. The lecture conveyed an economic interpretation of the Faust figure with a literary-historical claim to ideas of unlimited life.


Section II - Digitization and Data Economy: 

Prof. Dr. Andreas Wagener (Hof) kicked off the second section by presenting the potentials and limits of the existing data surrounding artificial intelligence within the field of marketing. Dr. Wegener made connections to his research, "Artificial Intelligence and Data Economy - Are We on the Way to a Cyborg Society?", laying the foundation for the lectures to come. Prof. Dr. Tobias Matzner (Paderborn) problematized with his lecture "Death and Killing as Differences between Humans and Artificial Intelligences". Here, he examined the ethical consequences of a right to kill for artificial intelligences (such as in the case of self-driving cars, and automated weapon systems) and criticized this as an installation of another difference between humans and AI.

Next, PD Dr. Christina Klüver and her husband presented the results of Dr. Klüver’s research group, Computer Based Analysis of Social Complexity. Throughout her lecture, "Eternal Life through Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Societies", she explored the question of eternal life through Artificial Societies. Numerous experiments with the SCCA (Socio-cultural-cognitive algorithm) have shown that fundamental mechanisms of socio-cultural evolution can be modeled and understood in a precise sense based on individual learning and development processes.

Junior researcher Laura Hartmann-Wackers, M.A. asked in her lecture "Gone Online: Privacy Post Mortem on the Internet- How the Privacy of Deceased Persons is Dealt with Online”.

Based on a privacy theory of restricted access, the question of whether and to what extent it could be morally permissible to allow relatives to access online profiles and thus make available data that would never have been shared in the person`s life.


Is privacy a concept that applies only to the living, or does it also apply to the dead?


Section III - Human and Artificial Intelligence - Boundaries, Transitions and Dimensions of Ego Expansion: 

Dr. David Tobinski (Duisburg-Essen) opened the third section through the lens of the field of psychology. In his lecture "Cognitive Architectures - Human or Artificial Intelligence?", he addressed the status and function of human symbol processing, the dynamics of which he illustrated through short interactive experiments with the plenary.

As director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Prof. Dr. Olaf Blanke (Geneva) addressed bodily ego-consciousness in extreme situations of approaching death ("Bodily ego-consciousness and the experience of death: neuroscience, virtual reality and robotics"). He described the subjective feeling of the presence of a third party as so-called “phantom-body perception” and illustrated his considerations by means of robotics experiments (dissonance experiments). 

Dr. Marcus Knaup’s (Hagen) lecture, "Deathly Eternal Life? Philosophical Remarks on Mind Uploading", discussed the assumption of mind uploading and its questionable potentials for the future. He presented a modernized take on the so-called "mind-body problem", showcasing a philosophical juxtaposition of "mind and brain" in order to probe the latent basic beliefs and anthropological premises implied by a mind uploading. Man in his corporeality is neither a discontinued model, nor his living-bodily relation to the environment reducible to codes.


Section IV - A look into the future: Prof. Dr. Klaus Hermann Sames (Hamburg) presented the possibilities of human cryopreservation (also cryonics), which puts biological objects in cryostasis at temperatures below - 130° C in order to preserve them in a viable state for almost any amount of time - according to Sames' thesis ("Safe Preservation of Organs by Cryogenic Cooling, a Future Opportunity Not Only for Medicine"). An anatomist and gerontologist, Sames formulates the prospect of new medical technology procedures in resuscitation and organ preservation and transplantation. Sames pointed out his thesis provocatively: In the future, life will be able to be switched on and off.


The diversity and variety of the lectures showed the complexity of subject-specific approaches to the triad of existence, dying, and self-determination and offers room for further conference projects of this kind in the future.

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