What if…?

Conference, Philosophy, Literature, History, Roma

Entrata: Via Liguria 20




Conference, Philosophy, Literature, History

Entrata: Via Liguria 20

‘What if…?’ – Counterfactual Explorations and Thought Experiments

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the Neandertal had become the dominant species, or in what ways artificial intelligence is going to transform our society? At the outset of these questions usually stands the conditional ‘what if’, proposing either alternative scenarios for the past or more or less plausible views of the future. Positing a contrary-to-fact point of departure, what-ifs enquire into the possibilities of what might have happened (if Neandertals ruled the world) or what may happen (if AI starts changing society). From this, a possibly infinite number of scenarios emerges that play through different outcomes and consequences on the basis of counterfactual reasoning.

Mental constructions of alternative realities quite naturally belong to the realm of everyday experience, but counterfactuals also play an important role in scientific and public discourse. Discussions about the nature of time, and counterfactual thinking in particular, belong to the core competencies of philosophical reflection. Social scientists use counterfactual simulations as a methodological tool to make future predictions and sketch alternative lines of development. Historians, on the other hand, explore alternative pasts as a way to better understand the impact of historical turning points. In literature and film, the pursuit of unactualized possibilities and the imagination of alternative worlds takes a central place that articulates itself in an ever-growing number of works of fiction. Finally, then, counterfactual reasoning has been employed as a powerful tool in politics putting forward alternative truths with no necessary basis in neither fact nor common sense, which bears the question: what is the role and place of counterfactuals in society and what are the implications of imagined truths for existing realities and factual claims? To discuss these and other questions, the Istituto Svizzero has invited a mixed group of researchers and writers to a cross-disciplinary dialogue.

The artistic programme has been curated by Michelle Steinbeck.

A simultaneous translation service will be available for presentations and discussions. Literary contributions will be presented with written Italian translation.


22 May 2019 – Day 1

Moderator: Wolfgang Struck (University of Erfurt)

H10:30 Welcome Coffee
H11:00 Introduction
H11:30 Maurizio Basili (Università degli Studi Guglielmo Marconi): Fuori dal tempo: letteratura ucronica e contesto elvetico

Thought Experiments
H15:00 Ricardo Domeneck (Berlin): Conferência Internacional dos Direitos Humanos (Reading)
H15:20 Julia Langkau (University of Fribourg): Thought Experiments and Fiction
H15:50 Margherita Arcangeli (IJN, Paris): Imaginary Perspectives
H16:20 Discussion
H16:50 Coffee Break

Temporal Relations
H17:20 Clèa Chopard (Geneva): Dislocution (Performance)
H17:40 Holger Brohm (HU Berlin): Preposterous Thinking
H18:10 Discussion

23 May 2019 – Day 2

Moderator: Adrian Brändli (Istituto Svizzero)

Counterfactual History
H10:30 Anaïs Meier (Zürich): Die Ehre der Schildkröten (Reading)
H10:50 Benjamin Von Wyl (Basel / Zürich): Kontrafaktisches Schreiben als Therapie (Reading)
H11:20 Johannes Dillinger (Oxford Brooks University): What if … in Historiography: Responsibly Altered Pasts
H11:50 Discussion

Moderator: Giovanna Scatena (Università degli Studi Guglielmo Marconi)

Dystopian Views
H15:00 Michelle Steinbeck (Basel): Die Rückkehr des Hummers ins Meer (Reading)
H15:20 Marc Atallah (University of Lausanne): AI and Science Fiction
H15:50 Discussion
H16:10 Coffee Break

Future Prediction
H16:40 Andreco (Rome): Future Climatic Scenario (Performance)
H17:00 Giuliano Torrengo (University of Milano): Travelling Back and Forth to the Future
H17:30 Jacques Lévy (EPFL, Lausanne): What if ‘what if’ did not exist?
H18:00 Discussion
H18:30 Break

Evening Lecture
H19:00 Thomas Strässle (Bern University of the Arts, University of Zurich): Fake and Fiction

Andreco was born in Rome, works as artist and scientist. Andreco is also an environmental engineer with a PhD in sustainability. He did Post-Doc research on green technologies for urban sustainability collaborating with the School of Engineering and Architecture of the University of Bologna and the Columbia University of New York City. His artistic research focuses on the relation between humans and nature and between the built environment and natural landscape. Since 2000 Andreco is researching on different topics such as anatomy, environmental sustainability, urbanism, ecology and symbolism. On the basis of this research, he is creating new symbols. Andreco uses many techniques to represent his art, from public installations to videos or wall paintings and drawings. Andreco worked for several international festivals, museums and galleries.

Margherita Arcangeli is a post-doc at the Jean Nicod Institute in the ANR project SublimAE (“The Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences”). Previously she was an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Department of Philosophy), post-doctoral researcher at the University of Geneva (Department of Philosophy and Swiss Center for Affective Sciences) as holder of a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship for Foreign Scholars, and post-doctoral researcher at the Jean Nicod Institute, in the ANR project FICTION (“Fiction in emotion”). At the same institute and the University Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC) she qualified as Doctor in philosophy and cognitive sciences. She is the author of several articles and a book on imagination, and other topics in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and aesthetics, among which are thought experiments, memory and the sublime.

Marc Atallah is the Director of Maison d’Ailleurs (Museum of Science Fiction, Utopia and Extraordinary Journeys), Director of Numerik Games Festival and Professor in the French department at University of Lausanne. His researches focuses mainly on what we call « Hypothesis Literatures » (utopia, dystopia, imaginary journey, science fiction) and on literary theories (theories of genres, theories of fiction). He published many papers and has co-edited several books: L’Homme-machine et ses avatars (2011), Souvenirs du Futur. Les miroirs de la Maison d’Ailleurs (2013), Pouvoirs des jeux vidéo (2015), Portrait-Robot ou Les multiples visages de l’humanité (2015), L’Art de la science-fiction (2016), Pop Art, mon Amour. L’art de Tadanori Yokoo et du manga (2016), Je suis ton père ! Origines et héritages d’une saga intergalactique (2017) and Le Jeu (2018).

Maurizio Basili was born in Rome in 1980. He took his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Cassino and is now a lecturer at various Italian universities; he is mainly involved in Swiss Literature. He has published a book on the history of Swiss literature from 1945 to present days, a monograph on the Swiss writer Thomas Hürlimann and essays on other authors such as Robert Walser. In addition, his collection of poems “Le occasioni v’hanno creati” won the “Città di Penne-Fondazione Piazzolla” award as “best first work” in 2010.

Holger Brohm is research assistant and academic advisor at the Institute for Cultural Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. After several years as a lecturer at Aufbau-Verlag Berlin and Weimar, he studied cultural studies and modern German literature at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. There he received his doctorate in 1999 with a dissertation on the subject of “Review and Literary Criticism in Times of Censorship”. In the same year, Holger Brohm took up his position as research assistant at the Seminar for Aesthetics, which merged with the Cultural Studies Seminar at the Institute for Cultural Studies in 2009. He also taught at the TU Berlin, the UdK Berlin and the DIU Dresden. Currently, he is researching the cultural history of the dream, and he is also interested in the theory of photography, the relationship between aesthetics and sport, and works on the history of cultural studies.

Cléa Chopard‘s artistic work is based on text and uses a variety of mediums: performance, poetry, micro-editions and sometimes video. Her thoughts on languages have naturally led her to think also about translation. Currently she is a doctoral student of the “translation – relationship” research project at the Berne University of the Arts.

Johannes Dillinger studied History, Catholic Theology and Education at Tübingen and Norwich, UK (PhD 1998: comparative study of witch hunts in two German Catholic territories. Habilitation 2006: political representation of peasant communities before the revolution). He has been guest lecturer at Georgetown University, Stanford University, Nehru University New Delhi, Trier University, and Gutenberg University Mainz. Since 2014 he is Professor of Early Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He published numerous works (11 monographs in German and English) about witchcraft, magic, constitutional history, peasant culture, local history, political crime and Uchronia (alternate history). Among his most notable publications are Uchronie: Ungeschehene Geschichte von der Antike bis zum Steampunk (Uchronia: History that did not happen from Antiquity to Steampunk) and articles on Steampunk and alternative Reformations.

Ricardo Domeneck (1977) is a contemporary Brazilian poet, visual artist and critic. He has published four books of poetry and two chapbooks to date. His poems, short stories and essays have been published in magazines in Brazil and abroad. Currently he lives and works in Berlin, Germany.

Julia Langkau is an SNSF Ambizione Fellow in philosophy at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and member of the research group The Aesthetic Mind, working on a project titled `Learning from Literary Narratives’. She was a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Miami (USA) from August 2017 to April 2018. Until 2012, she was a PhD student in the Philosophical Methodology project at the Arché Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology at the University of St Andrews (Scotland).

Jacques Lévy is Professor of Geography and Spatial Planning at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where he is Director of the Chôros Laboratory and Co-Director of the Collège des humanités. He works on the city and urbanity, political geography, Europe and globalization, the theories of individual and societal space, the epistemology of geography and social sciences, cartography, urban planning and spatial development. He has published Géographies du politique (dir.), 1991; Le monde. Spaces and systems, 1992, with M.-F. Durand and D. Retaillé; L’espace légitime, 1994; Egogéographies, 1995; Le monde pour Cité, 1996; Europe. Une géographie, 1997; Le tournant géographique, 1999; Logiques de l’espace, esprit des lieux (dir.), 2000, with M. Lussault; From Geopolitics to Global Politics (dir.), 2001; Dictionnaire de la géographie et de l’espace des sociétés (dir.), 2003, with M. Lussault; Les sens du mouvement (dir.), 2005, with S. Allemand and F. Ascher; Milton Santos, philosopher of the world, citizen of the local, 2007; L’invention du Monde (dir.), 2008.

Anaïs Meier was born in 1984 in Bern. She studied film and media with a focus on script writing at the Film Academy Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg and literary writing at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel. 2013 co-founder of Büro für Problem, 2017 of Material – Raum für Buchkultur and 2018 of RAUF. Lives and writes in Zurich.

Michelle Steinbeck is a Swiss author and editor. She writes stories, poetry and plays; columns and reportages. Her first novel My father was a man on land and a whale in the water was published in 2016 at the publishing house Lenos in Basel. The English translation by Jen Calleja came out 2018 at Darf Publishers in London, the Italian by Hilary Basso will follow in fall 2019 at Tunué in Latina. A collection of poetry “Eingesperrte Vögel singen mehr” was published in 2018 at Voland&Quist in Berlin. Steinbeck is the editor-in-chief of the Zurich based magazine Fabrikzeitung (fabrikzeitung.ch). In 2017/18 she was a fellow at Istituto Svizzero. Currently she lives at Cité Internationale des Arts Paris. 

Thomas Strässle (born in 1972) is a literary scholar, author and trained musician. He studied German language and literature, philosophy and musicology in Zurich, Cambridge and Paris and at the same time became a flutist with a concert diploma. In 1999, he received his doctorate in baroque literature, in 2008 he habilitated with a study on the symbolism of salt in literature from Homer to the present. From 2009 to 2013, he held his first SNF professorship at the BFH. He has headed the Y Institute at the Bern University of the Arts since 2013 and is titular professor at the institutes for German language and Comparative studies of the University of Zurich. He is also President of the Max Frisch Foundation at ETH Zurich and a member of the SRF/3sat literature club. Recent book publications include among others: Salz. Eine Literaturgeschichte (Hanser, 2009); Gelassenheit. Über eine andere Haltung zur Welt (Hanser, 2013); Max Frisch: Aus dem Berliner Journal (Suhrkamp, 2014); Fake und Fiktion. Die Erfindung der Wahrheit (Hanser, 2019).

Giuliano Torrengo currently is associate professor at the Department of Philosophy at the State University of Milan, where he is supervising three PhD students of the Doctoral School in Philosophy and Human Sciences, and two post-docs at the Department of Philosophy. His current focus of interest is the connection between temporal experience and the fundamental features of temporal reality. On the one hand, he is developing an account of temporal experience that aims at being empirically plausible and compatible with the B-theory.  On the other hand, he is exploring alternative metaphysics to standard A- and B-theory. Relatedly, he is working on the open future, and on an original account of explanation in metaphysics of time.

Benjamin von Wyl is a Journalist and Author. He regularly writes for WOZ, Republik, Swissinfo, Medienwoche, AAKU, and bz Basel. In 2017 his first novel Land ganz nah was published by Lectorbooks.