20.06.13 10:30

Meeting of Philosopher, Astronaut and Author

Shaun Gallagher holding Lecture on “Space, Science and Spirituality” followed by Panel Discussion with Martin Mosebach and Gerhard Thiele

Astronauts often speak of feelings of transcendence after space travel. Can feelings of awe and wonder be simulated? The internationally renowned phenomenologist Shaun Gallagher is trying to do exactly that: in cooperation with NASA, he is working on generating these feelings experimentally in the laboratory, attempting thereby to understand the phenomenon theoretically. The philosopher has been invited to Cologne by the Morphomata International Center for Advanced Studies within the framework of the thematic year “Luft- und Weltraumfahrt (Aeronautics and Astronautics)” in June. He will be holding a lecture and taking part in a panel discussion with the astronaut Gerhard Thiele and the author Martin Mosebach.

The world-renowned phenomenologist is addressing a theme, which combines questions pertaining to mankind with questions pertaining to astronautics: spirituality and space. Dr. Jan Söffner from the Morphomata International Center for Advanced Studies formulates Gallagher’s theme as follows: “Time and again, astronauts describe something that could be called “transcendence” after space travels, which often evolve into spiritual and religious descriptions.”  Awe and wonder is how Gallagher terms it. Shaun Gallagher has been examining these feelings of awe applying thereby scientific neurological methods with philosophical phenomenological methods. “Gallagher is a phenomenologist who is open to different scientific disciplines,” explains Söffner. With NASA’s involvement, visual, auditive and other impressions are being generated. “What is exciting for science is that some of these experiences simulate feelings of transcendence,” explains Jan Söffner. At the same time, the physiological changes that the test persons experience are described and the corresponding activities that occur in their brains measured.
Close collaboration with neuroscientists provides the philosopher Gallagher with the opportunity to formulate philosophical theories in a form that neuroscientists can work enabling them to apply them to experimental work.

Interlocutors of the American academic will be German astronaut Gerhard Thiele who went on a NASA Space Shuttle mission and is responsible for the DLR astronaut training program. Renowned author Martin Mosebach will also be taking part in the discussion. The Büchner prize winner is currently a fellow at the Morphomata International Center. “He is an excellent novelist who has examined the question of traditional religiosity intensively,” says Söffner.  

Jan Söffner hopes that the often contradictory points of view and perspectives will result in an animated and fruitful discussion: “We want to have a discussion that incorporates philosophy, science, technology and art in an unconventional manner,” say Söffner. “Knowledge and ability, theory and practical experience, cultural background and situated experience play equal roles in spiritual experiences. We want to address all of these themes in this discussion.”  


Monday, June 24th, 2013,
Admission: 6 pm
Begin 6.30 pm


The Aula,
Main Building,

For queries, contact:   

Dr. Jan Söffner,

Dr. Jan Söffner,