Freiburg University
University Freiburg (Foto: Mesenholl, Universität Freiburg)

Symmetry, Proportion and Seriality:

The Semantics of Mirroring and Repetition in Science and the Arts#

Academia Europaea Conference
to take place in Freiburg/Germany
Venue: Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
May 26-28, 2016

Symmetry is one of the key factors in a variety of sciences and humanities subjects. Equations must be symmetrical; in architecture symmetry is a basic design feature; linguists discover iconic and symmetrical relationships in their objects of study; in chemistry and physics symmetrical and asymmetrical designs play an important role; in music and all the arts symmetry is often considered the basis of aesthetic quality. There are also several types of symmetry that one might want to distinguish. Symmetry can be set off against, but also paired with, two other features that play a similar role in the sciences and the arts: proportion and seriality. Exact symmetry in some instances is too neat, too boring, or simply not possible, yet a set of proportional relationships may be deemed crucial to a particular effect. Proportion can thus be regarded as a more general framework that allows one to set items in relationships to one another, with symmetry being the most perfect of these relationships. The visual arts, especially film and dance, employ proportion and symmetry as kinetic rather than merely static modes. As regards seriality, it is a recursive application of symmetry and repetition, but also a type of design that operates dynamically rather than statically. Besides its obvious relevance to the arts in experiments in seriality in (post)modernist painting, music and literature, seriality plays a central role in mathematics and physics.

The high-profile speakers at this conference come from a wide range of discipline and they share a commitment to cross-disciplinary dialogue. They will compare concepts of symmetry, proportion and seriality across the humanities-sciences divide; they will explore the historical dimensions and changes in taste that affect the understanding of these terms and concepts; they will discuss them as culture-specific phenomena, comparing ideas of symmetry and proportion across different global cultures; finally, they will explore why it is that symmetry is so important to our minds and our language, indeed to the design of our bodies and brains.

The conference is organized into three sections, each starting off with a plenary lecture and extended plenary discussions between speakers from different disciplines. Speakers at this conference include scholars from the fields of musicology, theoretical physics, literary studies, art history, neuroscience, and theatre and performance studies. Please see the space below for the full conference programme.

Freiburg (Foto: Rebecca Davies, Freiburg)


If you would like to participate in the conference, please register by 15 May 2016. Download the registration form(info). Attention: The conference fee for delegates who are not listed on the programme and who are not regular members (teaching staff or students) of the University of Freiburg is €150. The fee can be paid in cash on the first day of the conference. Participants from the University of Freiburg who did not register in time are asked to pay a €10 fee towards catering.


Thursday, 26 May 2016#

from 12:30 Registration

14:00 Conference opening (President of the University; Director of FRIAS; Conference organisers)

Section I: Aesthetics: Symmetry, Proportion, Mirroring

15:00-16:15 Plenary address by Fionn Murtagh (Data Science, Goldsmiths University of London and University Derby) and Rosapia Lauro-Grotto (Neuroscience, University of Florence): "Matte Blanco's Bi-Logic: Symmetry and Asymmetry in Unconscious and Conscious Thought Processes"

Chair: Jan Michael Rost (MPI for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden)

16:15-16:45 Coffee break

16:45-18:45 PANEL (Section I)

Chair: Werner Frick (German Literature, University of Freiburg)

Stefan Dittmaier (Theoretical Physics, University of Freiburg)
Aura Heydenreich (German Literature, University of Erlangen)
Klaus Mecke (Theoretical Physics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
Hans W. Hubert (Art History, University of Freiburg)
Zhang Longxi (Sinology and Comparative Cultural Studies, City University of Hong Kong)

19:00 - 20:00 Reception and buffet

20:00 Poetry reading by Mark McMorris

Friday 27 May 2016#

SECTION II: Symmetry − Indeterminacy – Chance

09:15-10:30 Plenary address by Slavko Kacunko (Media Studies and Art History, University of Copenhagen): “Coreless

Chair: Angeli Janhsen (Art History, University of Freiburg)

10:30-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-13:00 PANEL (Section II)

Chair: Mark McMorris (English Literature, Georgetown University)

Christoph Bode (English Literature, LMU Munich)
Berthold-Georg Englert (Physics, National University Singapore)
Olav Krämer (German Literature, University of Freiburg)
Thomas Klinkert (French Literature, University of Zürich)
Jan Michael Rost (MPI for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden)

13:00-14:30 Lunch, (Restaurant Aguila, Sautierstraße 19, Freiburg)

SECTION III: Repetition, Seriality, Temporality

14:30-15:45 Plenary address by Monika Schmitz-Emans (General and Comparative Literary Studies, Ruhr-University Bochum): “Proportion, Symmetry, Seriality: Comparative Remarks about Three Concepts and Their Recent Reception

Chair: Benjamin Kohlmann (English Literature, University of Freiburg)

15:45-16:15 Coffee break

16:15-18:15 PANEL (Section III)

Chair: Berthold-Georg Englert (Physics, National University Singapore)

Hans Bertens (General and Comparative Literary Studies, Utrecht University)
Angeli Janhsen (Art History, University of Freiburg)
Mark McMorris (English Literature, Georgetown University)
Thierry Paul (Mathematics, Centre de mathématiques Laurent Schwartz)
Vasco Zara (Musicology, University of Bourgogne)

19:30 Conference dinner at Colombi Hotel (self-paid)

Saturday 28 May 2016#

9:00-11:00 Plenary discussion

Chair: Thomas Klinkert (French Literature, University of Zürich)

Andreas Buchleitner (Physics, University of Freiburg)
Werner Frick (German Literature, University of Freiburg)
Klaus Mecke (Theoretical Physics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)
Martin Middeke (English Studies, University of Augsburg)
Monika Schmitz-Emans (General and Comparative Literary Studies, Ruhr-University Bochum)

11:00-12:00 Coffee break; conference ends

The organisers are grateful to the Academia Europaea, to the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies, to the Graduate School “Factual and Fictional Narration”, and to the University of Freiburg for organisational and logistical support. Financial support has been provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and by the Academia Europaea.

Download the programme(info) (last updated April 26, 2016)


Monika Fludernik (English Studies, Freiburg)

Martin Middeke (English Studies, Augsburg)

Andreas Buchleitner (Physics: Quantum Optics and Statistics)


Benjamin Kohlmann

Freiburg street (Foto: Rebecca Davies, Freiburg)


Special prices have been negotiated with a number of local hotels. All hotels are within convenient walking distance from the train station and the conference venue at FRIAS. When calling the hotels to place a reservation, please remember to give the following reference code: “Academia Europaea”.

List of hotels(info), including prices.

Tourist Activities#

If you would like to explore the city of Freiburg and the Black Forest, please visit the website of the tourist office.

Download a poster(info) (pdf) of the conference.






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