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Interdisciplinary conference in Düsseldorf

Sure Eternal Life? Interdisciplinary perspectives of existence, death and self-determination

November 15-16, 2019


Düsseldorf: Heinrich Heine University (Oeconomicum, Bldg. 24.31)

Our Bildungsakademie  actively participates in research projects by young researchers. An interdisciplinary conference is to take place in November, inviting scientists from various disciplines to Düsseldorf. The scientific conference is organized by several young researchers. Personal initiative, social and scientific commitment, the drive to make a name for yourself in public - these are very important prerequisites for gaining a foothold in science. 

The scientific objective of the conference is explicitly guided by a dialogical gesture, insofar as it does not allow formulated findings to freeze to the sudden juxtaposition of discipline-specific knowledge or specialist knowledge, but rather seeks productive exchange with other subjects and strives for an interdisciplinary discourse._cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_

This epistemological attitude of an interdisciplinary exchange is tested on the thematic tension between life and death. To approach this polar juxtaposition, different concepts of existence, death and self-determination become the rubrum of the discussion. The relevance of the topic is defined against the background of current social, economic and technological developments, the possibilities of which, especially in medicine, computer science and digital media, require a humanistic understanding of philosophy, theology and literature; this, however, in the course of an examination of basic intellectual and ideological concepts as a corrective for determining one's own subject-related positions.

The global starting point of the conference project is that death has always decisively determined human life and its relationship to the world. As trivial as this initial thesis may appear, it has nevertheless become the historical basis for ways of dealing with life and death that have been widely differentiated culturally since antiquity, especially in religion, philosophy and art. Here the initial question is which meaning or function was assigned to death at all? The spectrum of meaning and function of death can essentially be outlined in three basic conceptions: 1) Death is the final conclusion of individual existence including all physical, psychological as well as cognitive abilities. 2) Death is understood in the course of dying as a transition to another state of being. It is not uncommon for such conceptions to be accompanied by ideas of a life after death, a realm of the dead or heaven. 3) Sometimes death will also 

understood as a phase which, once passed, leads to a new individual life in the course of reincarnation. What seems so effortlessly schematized here, however, is confronted with far-reaching medical-technical, digital and therefore also social changes today and in the near and distant future.

For despite all these cultural-historical conceptions of the meaning and function of death, a (scientific) definition of death remains problematic. For it would have to encompass the different ways and causes of death. However, as a result of medical advances, human life spans can be extended and the time of death delayed. This fact implies dealing with death, especially with regard to the current conditions and possibilities in the near and distant future. In addition to scientific and therefore medical or biological efforts to define death, the anthropological constant of self-determination must also be taken into account be included in interdisciplinary considerations when dealing with death and existence. Can a person decide freely about the end of his life? What are the conditions trying to justify a motivation for suicide or other forms of death in the context of active and passive euthanasia due to serious illness? 

How far can or must a person's self-determination reach? Where does it possibly have to be delegated to third parties when a person in the final stages of dementia no longer has reasonable decision-making power over their actions, since organic brain decay deprives cognitive abilities of the physiological basis? What validity does the Cartesian cogito 'I think therefore I am' still have if thinking as the epistemic basis of self-knowledge and individual determination of existence is lost? Because the sentence 'I don't think therefore I am not' cannot be meaningfully stated, since a cognitively intact, reflective I makes this statement, it is based on it. The order of a cognitively structured world suffers a relapse into the noise of perception. In the field of digital media and virtual reality, the potential of artificial intelligence and cloud computing is increasingly being recognized.  Das Brain Activity Map Project endeavors to map neural networks and the human brain in particular, as well as computer-based models to simulate human cognitive abilities. Some even have a vision: the mind upload into a digitally generated world. The question here would be to what extent the ontological status of a person changes. Is that still me, whose spirit is performed by a program for which I may even have put up with the death of my body? 

Does being a person or being human mean maintaining cognitive performance, for which the biological basis threatens to become obsolete in order to be replaced by machines? The topos of eternal life from mythology, religion and philosophy, even literature and art, appears in a completely different light in view of these groundbreaking possibilities, heaven as a cloud, the digital paradise of eternal life within reach. The current technological development points to the possibilities of cryonics, mind uploading and virtual reality.

We find ourselves increasingly able to influence our aging process, determine the way we die and redefine the conditions of our existence. In the field of future research, for example, the possibilities of reversing death are examined. 

One thinks here of the medical-technical procedures of xenotransplantation or even cryonics, which are increasingly being considered by private individuals. Cryonics allow the body to be frozen. The decision to use this procedure is based on the assumption that, in the course of medical progress, previously irreparable aging processes, damage and diseases can be cured in the distant future, for which the body must be preserved in a transitional phase to this technical level. Science fiction becomes fiction science?

14 speakers from different subjects, each with their own focus from literary studies, philosophy, theology, economics, neuroscience, computer science, psychology, media studies and medicine are invited.

The conference will promote interdisciplinary networking, strengthen Düsseldorf as a science location and stimulate socio-political discussion. In the course of this, further thematic orientations are planned in cooperation with the HHU; students in particular will be able to benefit from this offer in the long term.

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