Public Conference

The Quantified Self: Ethics and Aesthetics of Altered Corporeality



How quantified is our approach to our bodies? How do the numerous new possibilities of collecting data on our own lives change our concept of (normal) corporeality, and how can we reflect on this ethically and artistically? With simple tools that have become almost indispensable in some cases, such as smartphones and wearables, it is now possible to digitally record and analyse a wide range of parameters – for example, the steps we take each day, the calories we consume, our heart rate, the menstrual cycle and the duration and quality of our sleep, but also contact tracing such as during the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim is to gain knowledge about oneself through data collection and thus to optimise one’s lifestyle. This may concern promoting physical or mental health or improving the management of existing illnesses, but also optimisation in various other areas of life. Continually measuring the self has become part of everyday life, and is increasingly widespread and important for individuals as well as for society.

The German Ethics Council has already dealt with some aspects of self-quantification in its Opinions on “Big Data and Health – Data Sovereignty as the Shaping of Informational Freedom” (2017) and “Robotics for Good Care” (2020). This conference focuses primarily on how the use of such technologies changes conceptions of the self and of being human. Altered corporeality is thus to be considered as such, as well as in its effects on holistic or primarily mind-focused conceptions of the human being.

Together with experts and the audience, the German Ethics Council examines the current state of development as well as future technical possibilities, and discusses ethical, social, cultural and political science aspects of the issue. In addition, there are reports on experiences from various application contexts. Since this topic particularly calls for an aesthetic approach, the ethical perspectives are complemented by an artistic element.

The focus is on the following guiding questions:  

  • What influence do wearable diagnostic devices have on individuals and their environment?
  • How does the use of technologies for self-measurement change the relationship of humans to the body as a part of their self?
  • In what ways are social inequalities related to the use of apps for self-measurement?
  • Could the increased orientation towards quantifiable data lead to a loss of direct body perception?
  • How can we counteract the pressure to conform to a (supposed) ideal?
  • How should the prognostic uncertainty of the data obtained be dealt with?
  • How do the potential gains of autonomy and the risks of losing sovereignty relate to each other?

Please switch to the German version of this website to see the programme and a video recording (in German). The event is held in German.