In 2018 Fondazione Prada undertook a multidisciplinary project for the study of scientific themes in depth. These reflections engendered “Human Brains,” a program of exhibitions, debates and publishing activities that will take place from November 2020 to November 2022. The project is the result of a complex research conducted in collaboration with a scientific board chaired by Giancarlo Comi and composed of researchers, physicians, psychologists, linguists, philosophers, popularizers and curators, such as Jubin Abutalebi, Massimo Cacciari, Viviana Kasam, Udo Kittelmann, Letizia Leocani, Andrea Moro, and Daniela Perani.
The “Human Brains” initiative is centered on the brain, a unique organ for the complexity of its functions, which are fundamental to characterize human beings. The scope of the investigation will survey different fields: from neurobiology to philosophy, from psychology to neurochemistry, from linguistics to artificial intelligence and robots. The brain will be analyzed from an anatomical-functional point of view, while also focusing on the brain aging processes and on neurodegenerative diseases.
Fondazione Prada’s interest in the current state of the sciences is an expansion of its intellectual inquiry, but one that continues to address fundamental issues of today. Historically, science and culture have been inseparable, and in constant dialogue with each other. The advent of our “technological age” has produced new frontiers of invention, and new social, cultural and political questions for humanity. Culture evolves with these profound shifts in scientific knowledge. And so too, our understanding of what it means to be a human during increasingly uncertain times.
An open project in constant evolution, “Human Brains” aims to experiment new collaboration and dialogue methods among scientists and scholars thus testing innovative communication formats addressed to a heterogeneous and international public.
The online conference represents the first part of “Human Brains”. The event was structured in five daily discussions focused on the study of consciousness in neurosciences. Each panel included a debate between two scholars coordinated by one or more moderators.
The scientific approach of the project proves our need for discovering the brain in its structural, functional and biochemical articulation, in order to create a relationship with human and social sciences. The aim is to involve a wide community of researchers in different fields linked to neurosciences as well as a non-specialized public—made of young people and students that share a great curiosity—and to stimulate fundamental questions and reflections such as those on the origin of human thinking and acting.
The first two discussions saw neuroscientist Mavi Sanchez-Vives and neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, moderated by neurologist Giancarlo Comi, and neurobiologist Eve Marder with neuroscientist
Antonio Damasio, moderated by neurologist and neuroscientist Daniela Perani. They explored the biological fundaments of consciousness, from the neurofunctional mechanisms to neurochemical and molecular basis, and they will carry on in-depth analysis of connectivity as a cerebral substrate of consciousness state and the revolutionary techniques that allow investigating the brain in vivo.
The second discussions between neurolinguist Andrea Moro and cognitive psychologist Stanislas Dehaene was moderated by Cognitive Neurologist Jubin Abutalebi, while the anthropologist Ian Tattersall and neuroscientist Idan Segev were moderated by neuroscientist Katrin Amunts. They examined the concept of consciousness in relation to anthropology, the key role of language and its connection to the emotional and affective sphere to then reflect on the future evolution of research and on the attempts to create thinking machines.
Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi and philosopher Michele Di Francesco held the final discussion, moderated by Giancarlo Comi, Massimo Cacciari and scientific journalist Vivian Kasam; it represented a crucial moment to confront different perspectives and approaches to the complex question of consciousness. Moreover, the two members of the scientific board reflected on the contributions of all the previous discussions.
The second chapter of “Human Brains,” consists of an international conference accompanied by an exhibition project scheduled for 2021 at Fondazione Prada’s venue in Milan.
The intent of this conference is to compare some of the most prestigious neuroscience international institutions on the progress of research and on the future developments in terms of normal and pathological aging of our brain. In fact, despite the great developments in medicine, neurodegenerative diseases cannot benefit from therapies to influence their evolution significantly.
A strategical and coordinated combination of stakeholders and the contribution of technological and methodological innovation is fundamental to support possible positive developments in this field. Several international institutions will contribute to the project: Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases, Boston, US; Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, Sorbonne University, Neurology department and ICM, Paris, France; IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, Milan, Italy; Juntendo University Hospital, Department of Neurology, Tokyo, Japan; Karolinska University Hospital, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Stockholm, Sweden; German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) within the Helmholtz Association, Bonn, Germany; Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Munich, Germany; Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital, MC Gill Research and teaching Institute, Canada; Ruijin Hospital affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Department of Neurology and Institute of Neurology; UCSF Weill Institute for Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, US; University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery Faculty of Brain Sciences, Institute of Neurology, Department of Brain Repair and Rehabilitation, UK; Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv, Israel; and Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, US.
On the occasion of the 2022 Venice Art Biennale, Fondazione Prada’s venetian venue will host an exhibition entirely dedicated to brain studies that will mark the third phase of “Human Brains” project. The exhibition, curated by Udo Kittelmann in dialogue with the scientific board, will represent an attempt to translate into an exhibition form the history of the studies on human thinking and the current scientific research up until future challenges, linked to the developments of molecular medicine and the analysis of microscopical mechanisms that make up our brain activity.