Research Subjects, Research Approaches and Concepts

In the past, the proponents of the Institute for Social Aesthetics and Mental Health worked on and developed a number of different concepts which were presented to the scientific community at national and international scientific events, such as, for example, the Annual Congress of the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN) in Berlin (November 2014), the World Psychiatric International Congress in Madrid (September 2014), the Advanced Studies Seminar Aesthetics and Mental Health at St. Catherine’s College University of Oxford (June 2014), the annual congress of the European Society of Aesthetics and Medicine in Berlin (April 2014), the Annual Congress of the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie in Gmunden (April 2014), the 12th International Conference for Philosophy & Psychiatry in Lisbon (October 2009) and the 23rd European Conference on Philosophy of Medicine and Health Care in Tübingen (August 2009) to name just a few. These concepts form the starting points for the future focus of the institute’s scientific research, which include the concept of atmospheres and aura, the concept of place (topos), the concept of the dwelling, the concept of the familiar, the concept of hospitality, the concept of mindfulness and presence, the concept of reciprocity, the concept of engagement and the concept of attractiveness, etc. In addition to this, the Institute for Social Aesthetics and Mental Health will address the comparatively new field of psychotherapy and film (cinema therapy interventions in psychotherapy, the psychotherapist in film, psychopathological disorders in film), resource-oriented methods of treatment (aesthetic resources) and the discourse of the narratibility of life (narrative identity and identity formation through narrations).

Research Methodology

The broadening of human scientific approaches to the sick and their suffering has made it necessary to find new research methods and scientific ways of exploring the subject. In his book of the same name published in 2003, the philosopher Wolfgang Welsch coined the term aesthetic thinking for one of these new types of thought. This way of thinking stands in stark contrast to “computational thinking” (“rechnendes Denken” – M. Heidegger, 1927, Sein und Zeit), i.e. the form of thought, which still shapes medical discourse today. The term “computational thinking” was coined and critically deconstructed by Martin Heidegger (cf. Poltrum 2005).

Today, however, going beyond Heidegger’s definition, calculative thinking is understood to be an essentially cognitive approach to the world, the first step of which is based on the observation (i.e. on sensory perception or technically enhanced sensory perception) of natural events and circumstances. In a second step, these observations are then transformed into figures in a “measurement process”. The figures obtained in this manner are the starting point for the “calculations” that form the third stage of calculative thinking, whereby these “calculations” today are essentially limited to probability analyses. In a fourth step, the “significances” are interpreted by the investigator, and it is not uncommon for speculations that go far beyond the numerical results to be passed off as a scientific discussion of “objective calculations”. In turn, these speculations serve as the starting point for new “series of observations or experiments”.

In contrast to this, in “aesthetic thinking” sensory perception does not form the sole basis for scientific interpretation. Describing the unique characteristics of man as a zoon logon echon, Aristotle pointed out that the human person is characterised not just by his reason, but above all by an inborn aisthesis or perception. This human aisthesis cannot be reduced to a mere animalistic-emotional feeling, it is a deeply human-emotional approach to knowing and understanding the world. As a special means of the capability to experience, it is also a fundamental basis for aesthetic thinking. In a further step, aesthetic thought is shaped by a “generalised imaginative interpretation” (“aesthetic-imaginative expansion”), as Wolfgang Welsch put it in the work referred to above. This in turn is the starting point and basis for the reflective exploration and examination of what one perceives in the third step. The consolidation of the perception that has been reflectively substantiated in this way to a “phenomenological overall view” then takes place in the fourth stage, which is guided not just by a love of truth, but above all by integrity (“Redlichkeit” – Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft).

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche drew attention to the central role of integrity and truthfulness in the study of our world. He set this against the arrogant and ultimately unrealistic aspiration of the scientific investigator, who remains bound by the conviction that it is possible for people to recognise the objective truth of nature. However, such an ultimate universal truth will always remain inaccessible to us as human beings; even a mathematical artistry that pretends objectivity will not make it possible for us to “find the truth”. In place of a “truth gain” that is dogmatically demanded but can never be achieved, what is needed in research is a love of truth that is manifested in honesty and truthfulness. A love of truth in place of the love of probability that is so prevalent today also enables us to open up new dimensions of understanding of the world.

From this perspective, aesthetic thinking that is based on a love of truth and “Redlichkeit” can only enrich our medical understanding. Aesthetic thinking becomes an indispensable method everywhere that questions not just about the What of something (e.g. what must I do therapeutically?) but also and above all about the How (e.g. How must I structure the initial contact?) have to be asked and answered, i.e. everywhere that we enter the field of medical social aesthetics. Thus questions such as how to create atmospheres that are free of fear and conducive to health in diagnostic and treatment facilities or questions concerning the development of differentiated forms of meeting the stranger in hospitality, cannot be meaningfully answered without aesthetic thinking.

Aesthetic thinking should not therefore, despite all methodological differences to computational thinking, be seen as its alternative. On the contrary, it is a complementary form of thought that permits a broadening of understanding the world. In any case – whether one approaches the other and their problems with computational thinking or aesthetic thinking (or with another established form of thought) – what is needed in research is integrity and truthfulness instead of an ideology of objectivity.