What the Nose tells the Brain. Olfaction and Mental Representation

November 12, 2020 - November 14, 2020
Center for Interdisciplinary Research, University of Bielefeld, Germany



  • Zif (Center for Interdisciplinary Research, University of Bielefeld)


University of Oslo
University of Kentucky
Thomas A. Cleland
Cornell University
Richard Gerkin
Arizona State University
Universitätsklinikum Dresden
Andreas Keller
Rockefeller University
Karolinska Institute
University of York
Goethe University Frankfurt
University of Zürich


Goethe University Frankfurt
University of Zürich

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The aim of this workshop is to bring together psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers in order to explore foundational questions concerning the nature of olfaction. Until very recently, visuo-centrism was the dominant paradigm in both the science and the philosophy of perception, i.e. vision was taken to be the model of perception in general. As a consequence, the representationalist framework, which seems to fit visual perception very well, was also presupposed in the study of other sense modalities, including olfaction. However, it seems that visuo-centrism is no longer tenable, especially when it comes to olfactory perception. Recent studies in psychology and neuroscience demonstrate that the sense of smell differs from vision in fundamental ways, and phenomenological considerations also point to crucial differences. This raises two fundamental questions, which will be central to our workshop. First: Is representationalism still the best approach to olfactory perception, or should we understand olfaction in a fundamentally different way? And second: If representationalism is still the best approach after all, what form should it take and how can it account for the peculiar features of olfactory perception? These questions will be investigated from the perspectives of psychology, the neurosciences and philosophy, with a view to advancing interdisciplinary theory construction.

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Ispire Institute

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