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About the SpecLab

Published onOct 26, 2022
About the SpecLab

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The Speculative Realities Lab (short: SpecLab) is a space connecting neurosurgery, anthropology, and the immersive arts. It contributes to expanding their respective disciplinary equipment – conceptual, material, and digital – in order to animate brain-related knowledge for navigation, prediction, and inspiration.

We want to make neurosurgery appear strange again in order to unsettle certain status quo of the clinical practice. There are two ways through which the speculative can be understood and put into use at this crossroads of neurosurgery and anthropology.

Speculative starting point (1):

Voxel-based interface prototype derived from the BrainRoads project, 2022 ©Vanta ©MoA

15 years from now, the interfaces used by neurosurgeons to access data brain will be different. One can only imagine that clinicians will be engaging their senses and sense of space in richer ways than with a mouse and a keyboard. We want to explore alternative navigation models within brain data by engaging with immersive arts and alternative human-machine interaction models, such as sketching interfaces and interactive virtual reality environments. For this, we are committing to develop an emergent learning community with the Berlin-based creative coding and artistic scene, learning from brain imaging practices and neuro-navigation by staging immersive installations. Formulating the question of what the future could be is first and foremost a method for a multimodal and collaborative exploration of knowledge practices.

Speculative starting point (2):

Sketch journaling by surgeon-chief Ran Xu. Photo by Maxime Le Calvé

In neurosurgery (as in anthropology), various kinds of knowledge are co-habiting, and each of them functions with different regimes of value. Notions of scientific rigor and precision mingle with talent, humility, and charisma; randomized studies cohabit with hand sketches; dry statistics and indicators are brought into the same paragraph with eloquent discourses on struggle and personal growth. Besides, beyond being considered as research objects, brains and nerves are often given the status of active partners in these practices, subduing our idea of the human subject on both sides of the scalpel. The SpecLab is committing to a speculative inquiry in order to emphasize the plurality of the ways to know and to act in neuro-clinical settings. Thereby, it contributes to a more general battle against the reductionist attempts to define science as a uni-dimensional rationality model.

Stefan Wolf in action: pattern recognition. Digital graphic fieldnote © Maxime Le Calvé

What if it wasn’t all science, but also an art —with perhaps a twist of magic?[1] By bringing the notion of experience back to the core of neurosurgical practices, in particular in training, planning, and developing treatments, the Speculative Realities Lab aims at creating other frameworks to leverage intellectual and artistic conversations between neurosurgery and anthropology, inviting design, computer science, and environmental science to the table. 

The Speculative Realities Lab (SRL) is a collaboration between the University Hospital of Charité and the Cluster of Excellence “Matters of Activity” at Humboldt University in Berlin.

The SpecLab is co-founded and co-led by Dr. Maxime Le Calvé and Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Picht. More information on the projects, the lab space, and a list of the members coming soon!

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