International Conference

Jena, 27th February - 1st March 2019

Visual Thinking and Morphology

Bilddenken und Morphologie


Scientific Committee:

Dr. Laura Follesa (FSU Jena)

Prof. Dr. Michael Maurer (FSU Jena)

Prof. Dr. Federico Vercellone (Torino)





During the International Conference “Visual Thinking and Morphology” scholars from different fields of research will investigate the role of “images” and the notion of “form” in relation to knowledge from both an historical and theoretical point of view. The notions of “form” and “image” were fundamental for two German authors between the eighteenth and the nineteenth Century: Goethe and Johann Gottfried Herder. They underlined the importance of the senses, and especially of sight, showing how a comparison or an analogy between different forms could represent a valid method to establish new knowledge in natural science as well as in the arts or in history. In this sense, they gave importance to image thinking and visual thinking as a different way of reasoning, which is parallel and complementary to the logical and conceptual thinking. These ideas offer the chance to analyse the complex relationship between analogical/visual and logical/conceptual thinking not only from an historical point of view, but also from the perspective of the current thought. For this reason they offer the chance to investigate on the relation between knowledge and seeing in every aspect of daily life and scientific knowledge.

Forms and images mediate a particular way of thinking (thinking in images, morphological thinking, thinking through analogies), that characterises many aspects of our life (e.g. dreams, memory, emotions) and human culture in general; scientific thought cannot avoid to make use of this kind of thinking, complementary to the logical and conceptual one. Morphological sciences are scientific disciplines based on the comparison of ‘forms’ and in which the role of the ‘image’ in thinking is unavoidable. To associate different forms and images, belonging to separated research field, represents a way to find and establish new connections, to open new ways of investigation, to promote the dialogue and confrontation between different research fields.

The conference will take into account the historical roots of the ideas of ‘thinking in images’ and ‘morphological thinking’, with special regard to the history of modern philosophy and science, also in connection with literature studies, art and cultural history. Authors such as J.G. Herder and W. Goethe in the eighteenth century stressed on the role of the ‘image-thinking’ in disciplines such as history (Herder) and natural sciences (morphology), and did show how forms and images enable us to think the multiplicity, complexity and dynamism.

The conference host the contributions of historians of philosophy and of science, theorist of images and historians of culture, but also mathematicians, physicians and biologists according to both an historical and a theoretical perspective. We will survey the role of forms and images in a theoretical frame according to different fields of research from aesthetic and philosophy to the natural sciences (mathematics, physics, biology). The main language of the conference is English.

The conference will be dedicated to the memory of Professor Olaf Breidbach, a biologist and a historian of science, Professor at the University of Jena and Director of the Institute of History of Science Ernst-Haeckel-Haus, who spent his life to investigate with passion and creativity these research topics according both an historical and a theoretical point of view.

This conference is funded by the European Commission through a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship as part of the research project "TIM-Adrastea: Herder’s Thinking in Images from 1801-03 up to Nowadays” (MSCA-IF, Projekt Nr. 753540)