Publication details [#12039]

Aicardi, Christine. 2014. Of the Helmholtz Club, South-Californian seedbed for visual and cognitive neuroscience, and its patron Francis Crick. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 45 (PART C) : 1–11. 11 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Amsterdam: Elsevier


The paper explores the history of the Helmholtz Club, a scientific society bringing together scientists from research fields ranging from neuroanatomy, to neurophysiology, psychophysics, computer science and engineering, who all had an interest in the study of the visual system and of higher cognitive functions relying on visual perception, such as visual consciousness. Arguing that semi-institutional gatherings such as clubs, societies, research schools, have been instrumental in creating sheltered spaces from which many a 20th-century project-driven interdisciplinary research programme could develop and become established within the institutions of science, the paper explores the history of the Helmholtz Club from its inception in the early 1980s into the 2000s. It argues that British molecular biologist turned South Californian neuroscientist Francis Crick had lasting influence over the Helmholtz Club of which he was a founding pillar, and that from the beginning, the club served as a constitutive element in his long-term plans for a neuroscience of vision and of cognition. Furthermore, the Helmholtz Club served many purposes, the primary of which was to be a social forum for interdisciplinary discussion, where ‘discussion’ was imbued with an epistemic value and carefully cultivated. Finally, it questions what counts as ‘doing science’ and in turn, definitions of success and failure—and provides some material evidence towards re-appraising the successfulness of Crick’s contribution to the neurosciences.