Britta Schinzel


Britta Schinzel
Am Sande 5
21335 Lüneburg


Research Project


The project draws on works as part of the first author's stay as mecs-Fellow during the winter-term 2014/15. Within this period, as well as on the occasion of subsequent visits to the Institute of Computational Neurology in Jülich, workshops and interviews on neuro-simulation were conducted. There are some audio recordings and the respective, not yet expertly prepared transcriptions. The current 2018/19 project is about the analysis, actualization and the following publication of the discussions and results of the former events, enhanced by more recent findings.  But it is also intended to more fully analyze, compare and explain their meaning on the basis of the already existing research from the entire mecs project on media theory of computer simulations, so as to rate and frame them in a broader context.

Computer simulations have replaced the so called thought experiments, which were invented to confirming or refuting theories about areas to be investigated. This was and is especially necessary in situations that are experimentally very difficult or prohibitive to produce, which is especially true for the complex and invasively largely inaccessible human brain. Simulations in areas of neurology are making special demands on the methods used in almost all simulations, i.e. on those primarily used in physics, the theory of dynamic systems using partial differential equations: to begin with the lack of knowledge about biological neural networks, so that no direct simulation is possible, which could lead to theories for the simulation of a theory and its confirmation or rejection; the difficulties continue in compatibility problems of diverse findings, resulting from the hardware alliances necessary, which must often merge incompatible platforms such as NEURON, Emergent, Genesis, in our case the NEST simulator; they furthermore continue with models and experimental arrangements incompatible due to lack of knowledge; go further in the dimension problems of dynamic systems compared to the physical materials, such as crystals, for which they were created, and do not end with the individualization and the uncontrollable dynamics of interactions of environmental influences on the development. All this leads to a situation in which the simulations can hardly confirm or disprove any established theories. Rather, they can also use models to generate theories, to be used further, if they are then confirmed in a real experiment. So neuro-simulations are general experimental systems for experiments on theories! They allow interviewing processes in a shared and distributed action space between model and modeler (Nancy Nersessian), questioning processes on variable models and their existential conditions.

One unanswerable problem here is the diversity of the material, wetware versus hardware.

Another science-theoretical problem is the reproducibility of the results, which is necessary for scientific validity. But in real biological life situations are never reproducible. However, this problem has been occurring since the development of rational science in the Renaissance, with the invention of the experiment by Francis Bacon. In every experiment the contexts having been wiped off, the environmental conditions are relativizing the real world validity of experimental results.

Not forgotten should also be the often problematic popularization of result assertions in the media. There is a gap between possibilities of popular understanding and the complexity of the material. This incomprehensibity usually is attempted to close by a non-specific uniformizing language at the expense of precision: what is the brain? Is it mine, the one of a baby, of a German, a Japanese; what is a standard brain? Gabriele Gramelsberger calls this kind of research a post-empirical and post-analytical way of producing knowledge.

In our analysis we will focus on the methods using philosophical media theories as already done within the mecs project. In particular, feminist theories of technology and natural sciences, such as Karen Barad's agential realism, are be used for the analysis.

After studying mathematics and physics, she entered the German computer industry for compiler compiler development. From there she changed to the Institute of Theoretical Computer Science at the Technical University of Darmstadt and habilitated there. As part of her following professorship in Theoretical Computer Science at the RWTH Aachen, she worked in various fields of artificial intelligence like learning theories, pattern recognition and Neuronal Networks. She initiated a series of interdisciplinary projects with sociology, linguistics, biology and medicine and began, at first only in teaching, and later in research to employ computer science and society. During this time, the first study on women and computer science was also developed. Since then she has continuously carried out various projects on the situation of women in computer science and software development, and later in gender studies in computer science and in MINT subjects.

Since her appointment (denomination: effects of information technology in society) to the Institute of Computer Science and Society at the University of Freiburg, she has dealt with various topics of computer science and society, the theory of computer science initiated by Wolfgang Coy, legal informatics, computer science and gender, the new media in higher education in research, development and application. Moreover she investigated in the IT-enabled and consolidated norms and normalizations through imaging techniques in biomedicine. From January 2001 she founded and led together with Dr. Sigrid Schmitz the Competence Forum [gin]: Gender research in computer science and natural sciences at the University of Freiburg, funded by the MWFK Baden-Württemberg. With it she added the denomination "gender research computer science" to her former one. Retired since 2008, she continues to work, among others, in the fields of computer science-gender research, the media cultures of computational sciences (this especially within a fellowshiop 2014/15 at mecs of the University of Lüneburg), as well as the imaging techniques and visualizations. She combines all these activities with their political work in the NGOs "Humanist Union" and "Forum Computer Scientists for Peace and Social Responsibility".