Linguistic Movement in Social Coordination: How an Enactivist Might Talk about Talking – IAS Research Seminar by Elena Cuffari

Elena Cuffari will be giving a talk entitled ‘Linguistic Movement in Social Coordination: How an Enactivist Might Talk about Talking

Date and place: 20th of November 2012, at 11.00, Room B14, Carlos Santamaría Building.

Abstract: In this talk I present some of my doctoral research on theories and models of co-speech gesturing in order to motivate a current project that I will also sketch out: developing an enactive theory of linguistic behavior. The conceptual toolkit that enaction offers (autonomy, adaptation, emergence, sense-making) is put to good use in response to growing recognition of the embodied and multimodal nature of high-order human communication. More specifically, I argue that the enactive perspective allows us to single out against a background of other dynamic dimensions the linguistic contributions to the sense we make in social interactions. I thus work towards what I am calling a ‘non-detachable’ philosophy of language in which we understand language as a distinct yet multifaceted sphere of reflexive coupling practices. By ‘non-detachable’ I mean that we must situate any theoretical account of language or empirical analysis of linguistic behavior firmly within a paradigm that explains the thinking and sense-making of living organisms more broadly. Within this context and informed by certain commitments and concepts, we then ask what specific contributions symbol use, abstraction, reference, and representation make to emergent shared meaning. The phrase ‘sphere of reflexive coupling practices’ indicates that linguistic behavior should be thought of as diverse phenomena unified by characteristics of intentional bodily motion through which language inhabitants appropriate, disclose, collaborate on, correct, interpret, and innovate their surroundings and shared significances.

As some video examples will show (but as passing attention to real-life experience also makes obvious!), hand gesturing while speaking is a ubiquitous practice. I suggest that from the acknowledgement that human utterances are multimodal constructions, two possible routes follow: 1) Assimilate the non-verbal modalities to models of verbal language production and comprehension. Within this tack there are a range of options and debates, but the core move is to add another dimension into a pre-existing theory or paradigm. 2) Rethink language entirely, in order to consider possibilities that may have been missed by measures made for monomodal meaning. Most gesture research describes itself as doing 2) while in practice doing 1). Which presses the question: how can we take seriously the challenge, as Adam Kendon puts it, of thinking “in terms of systems of communicative action as being at least bi-modal — kinesic and vocal always in collaboration” (Kendon 2012, 367)? Additionally to this multimodal requirement, we must also take equally seriously the quality of communicative action as being always multiplayer – thus any explanation of linguistic behavior that relies (only or mostly) on speaker intention will fall short of explaining shared sense-making, a basic attribute of what makes linguistic behavior linguistic.

The best theoretical resources for taking the second route in addressing these challenges – that is, rethinking language and linguistic behavior from the ground up – are found in the enactive cognition paradigm. I see my work as following out the leads offered by De Jaegher and Di Paolo’s definition of social interaction as social coordination (2007, 2010). To elaborate on what this might mean for linguistic behavior, I turn to the works of Maturana (1978), Pattee (1982), Polyani (1968), Gendlin (1962, 1997), and Raczawzek-Leonardi (forthcoming), which suggest related notions of linguistic symbol and linguistic behavior (coordination via symbol use) as continuous with materiality and biological life. As my project unfolds, and particularly in the context of an empirically-based project on interactive methodology that Hanne de Jaegher and I are beginning, I plan to focus on coupling, coordination, and reflexivity as traits of linguistic behavior. It may be this last, reflexivity, particularly understood as the condition for critique and sensitivity to correction, that at once connects linguistic behavior to more basic types of organismic sense-making, while also distinguishing the special capacity humans show in talking together.

“On the transition from prebiotic vesicles to protocellular membranes” – IAS Research Seminar by Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo and Sara Murillo

Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo and Sara Murillo will be giving a talk entitled ‘On the transition from prebiotic vesicles to protocellular membranes‘.

Date and place: 9th of October 2012, at 11.00, Room B14, Carlos Santamaría Building.

Abstract: It is well known that the generation of a physical border (a membrane) is a crucial step to the generation of a system with some kind of autonomy. Spatial separation of the internal and external medium allows the system to generate a minimally stable micro-environment (controlling concentration, energy-flow and osmosis) in which a metabolic reaction network could lodge inside maintaining the distinctive far from equilibrium dynamics of the autonomous systems.

In this autonomous context, in which the system has to self-constructed and self-maintained, generation of a compartment is achieved by self-assembly molecules which generates a semi-permeable barrier closely connected to the reaction network (being condition and result of it) and playing an active role in the interaction with the environment, regulating and controlling matter and energy exchanges with it.

Nowadays, these kinds of membranes are made of lipids (amphiphilic molecules that possess both polar and apolar parts) but they have a complicated generation process (which, besides, involves complex molecules). However, there is a different sort of molecules with the same amphiphilic properties which are enough simple to be present in the origin of protocellular systems, the fatty acids. Differences between amphiphile composition and mixtures with other simple molecules show differences on the stability, permeability and self-assembling capacities of such membranes. In general, more complexity means a stability profit and a permeability loss but is has been seen that mixtures of simple molecules allow a wide range of both.

Moreover, in order to be efficient and sufficiently robust, the set of endergonic-exergonic couplings underlying work production in the system has to be, in addition, well regulated. Nowadays this is carried out by enzymes, which change activation energies and regulate metabolic reactions in very sophisticated ways. But at the first stages of the origin these systems, the job ought to be done by more rudimentary catalysts, perhaps oligopeptides or smaller multimers, whose formation would be favored in the context of lipidic or fatty acid self-assembled structures, such as primitive vesicles.

In this talk we will focus on two recently published papers showing new out comings of  experiments with amphiphile mixtures and our future experimental projects about insertion of small peptides in the fatty-acids membrane, based on the `lipid-peptide protocell model´ (Ruiz-Mirazo & Mavelli, 2008) previously in sillico developed.

“Mechanisms in the Sciences: A Field Guide” IAS-Research Talk by Federica Russo

Dr. Federica Russo will give a talk entitled “Mechanisms in the Sciences: A Field Guide“.

Date and Venue: 12th of June, at 15:00,  Room B14 – Carlos Santamaria.

Abstract:The philosophical literature mechanisms is growing rapidly. In this seminar, I will try to offer a panoramic view of the main issues involved. In particular, I will consider (i) why mechanisms gained popularity, especially in connection with causality and explanation; (ii) the distinction between mechanistic reasoning and evidence of mechanisms; (iii) the disputed ‘Russo-Williamson Thesis’ and its consequences for monistic and pluralistic approaches to conceptual analysis; (iv) the role mechanisms play in (some) scientific contexts.

“Genotype-phenotype map models and evolution” IAS-Research Talk by Isaac Salazar-Ciudad

Dr. Isaac Salazar-Ciudad will give a talk entitled “Genotype-phenotype map models and evolution”.

Date and time: 10th of November, at 11:00,  Seminar room – Dept of Logic and Philosophy of Science

Abstract: It is currently accepted in evolutionary theory that the relationship between genotypic and phenotypic variation is not simple and that that relationship has important consequences for our understanding of evolutionary dynamics. There are, however, highly divergent ways by which this relationship is conceptualized in the different fields within evolutionary biology. These are not mere details of how genetic interactions are implemented but lead to serious common biases and misconceptions that damper advancement in the field. Here I will briefly outline the bases of those problems in the fields of quantitative genetics, gene networks and evo-devo. These have to do with the idealization that adult phenotypic traits arise from individual genes without interaction and with the view that the simplest most ancestral genotype-phenotype maps had this kinds of relationship between individual genes and phenotypic traits. In some fields thus it is accepted that there is a complex relationship between genotype and phenotype but it is implicitly assumed that this arose as a by-product or nuisance from a simple genotype-phenotype map and that selection will ultimately lead back to simple maps again. I will also discuss how a similar kind of reasoning has also an influence in the field of the origins of life.

“The Ethics of Randomized Clinical Trials: The Debate about “So-called Clinical Equipoise” and some underlying issues in philosophy of science” IAS-Research Talk by Fred Gifford

Prof Fred Gifford will give a talk entitled “The Ethics of Randomized Clinical Trials: The Debate about “So-called Clinical Equipoise” and some underlying issues in philosophy of science”.

Date and Venue: 4th of November 201, at 11:00, Seminar room – Dept of Logic and Philosophy of Science

Abstract: Benjamin Freedman’s proposal that we conceptualize the ethics of randomized clinical trials in terms of his concept of “clinical equipoise” has been extremely influential.  One goal of this presentation is to show how the “so-called clinical equipoise” position for justifying and regulating RCTs is in fact, despite its broad popularity, not viable.  Another goal is to indicate how the debate about that criterion connects up with various questions in the philosophy of science and medicine.  These include the nature of clinical judgment, the role of value judgments in science, and the significance of claims about the social nature of science.

“Life cycle models and origins-of-life scenarios: A reproducer perspective” – IAS Research Talk by James Griesemer

Prof. James Griesemer will be giving a talk on “Life cycle models and origins-of-life scenarios: A reproducer perspective”.

Date and Venue: 20th October 2011, at 11:00, Seminar room – Dept of Logic and Philosophy of Science.

Abstract: A key feature of cellular living systems is organization of life trajectories into cycles. A now common view of the minimal organization of living systems — “chemoton” organization (Gánti 1971, 2003) — characterizes living systems in terms of three autocatalytic subsystems: a metabolic subsystem, a template hereditary subsystem, and a membrane boundary subsystem. Szathmáry and colleagues (e.g. Fernando et al. 2005, Fernando and Szathmáry 2009) investigate a variety of “infra-biological” systems that have some but not all components of chemoton organization. One or more of these may have emerged in possible chemical evolutionary routes to a biological protocell (Griesemer and Szathmáry 2010). In this talk, I consider the aim of such work to characterize the space of possible living systems in terms of the reproducer perspective on units of heredity, development and evolution (e.g. Griesemer 2000). I argue that it is important to recognize the role of theoretical perspectives in guiding the ways scientists track phenomena of interest. Different tracking perspectives lead to different evaluations of models and evidence. In origins of life research, replicator-, metabolism-, and boundary-first perspectives involve commitments about what sorts of chemical and molecular variation are worth tracking through life cycles to discover potential units of evolution. These commitments in turn govern choices of resolution in models of life cycles that guide and constrain judgments about important properties of proto-biological systems, such as whether they involve limited vs unlimited heredity or holistic vs modular replication. I offer some reflections on a recent argument by Vasas, Szathmáry and Santos (2010) that certain kinds of systems with “compositional” rather than “alphabetic” hereditary subsystems (e.g. GARD, Lancet and colleagues) cannot sustain fitter types by selection to illustrate the value of the reproducer perspective.