IAS-Research Talk by Francesca Michelini: “Keywords in Philosophy of Nature and Autonomy in Biology. On Hegel and Plessner’s Theories of Living Beings”

Date and Time: November 8, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Francesca Michelini teaches philosophy at the University of Kassel (Germany). She is co-founder member of the project cluster “Integrative Biophilosophie“ and member of the research program “Animal – Human Being – Society“ of the Hessen State Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts. Her main subject of research is the intersection between History of Philosophy and Philosophy of Biology, and she is author of many publications in the fields of Philosophical Anthropology, Philosophy of Nature and Classical German Philosophy. In the field of Philosophy of Biology she has coauthored the books “Frontiere della Biologia“ (2014, with Jonathan Davis, in Italian) and “Oganisms: The Explanation of Aliveness“  (2016, with Georg Toepfer, in German).

Title: Keywords in Philosophy of Nature and Autonomy in Biology. On Hegel and Plessner’s Theories of Living Beings

Abstract: 

In their recent volume Autonomy in Biology, Alvaro Moreno and Matteo Mossio emphasize that biological autonomy has two equally important and closely connected dimensions: the “constitutive” one, which determines the identity of the living system, and which fundamentally derives from what they label “closure of constraints”; and the “interactive” one, also called “agency”, which „far from being a mere side effect of the constitutive dimension, deals with the inherent functional interactions that the organisms must maintain with the environment“ (Moreno and Mossio 2015, VIIII). Furthermore, in their assessment of the specific nature of the biological organization of living systems, they make reference especially to Kant’s legacy in the current debate.

Without neglecting Kant’s importance, in my talk I would like to focus on two historical positions in philosophy of nature, such as Hegel’s and Helmuth Plessner’s, that – I think better than Kant – may fruitfully contribute to the current debate on autonomy in biology, especially in regard to the “interactive” dimension of autonomy. Both philosophers arguably aimed, in different ways, to continue Kant’s enquiry on living organism, going however beyond Kant in some important respects, notably concerning the relationship between the organism and the environment, an aspect neglected by Kant himself. More precisely, my aim is to show the connection between two key categories they elaborated for the conceptualizing of what life is: Plessner’s “boundary” (Grenze/Begrenzung) and Hegel’s idea of “deficiency” (Mangel), or, to say it better, Hegel’s “activity of deficiency”. First of all, I will try to explain the meaning of these categories in their respective philosophies of nature, consequently showing to what extent the two categories are closely interrelated; I will then point to the most significant similarities between the two approaches, and finally I will briefly outline what their contribution to today’s debate on autonomy in biology can be.

First Bordeaux-San Sebastián Workshop on Philosophy of Biology

Date and time: October 20-21, 2016. Centro Carlos Santamaría (Aula A.4). Campus de Gipuzkoa – UPV/EHU, Donostia-San Sebastián

Speakers: Lynn Chiu (CNRS, Université de Bordeaux), Martha Susana Esparza Soria (UPV/EHU), Arantza Etxeberria (UPV/EHU), Sara Green (University of Copenhagen), Alvaro Moreno (UPV/EHU), Laura Nuño de la Rosa (UPV/EHU), Thomas Pradeu (CNRS, Université de Bordeaux), Marie-Elise Truchetet (University Hospital of Bordeaux)

Organizers: Leonardo Bich (CNRS, U. Bordeaux) Arantza Etxeberria (UPV/EHU)

Info: leonardo.bich@immuconcept.org

Flyer: Here

Program and abstracts: Here

IAS-Research Talk by Wim Hordijk: “Autocatalytic Sets: The Origin and Organization of Life”

Date and Time: October 11, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Wim Hordijk (KLI)

Title: Autocatalytic Sets: The Origin and Organization of Life

Abstract: 

Life is a chemical reaction. Or, more precisely, life is a functionally closed and self-sustaining chemical reaction network. In other words, living systems produce their own components, insuch a way as to maintain and regulate the chemical reaction network that produced them.

During the 1970s, several researchers independently developed formal models of a minimal living system based on the above definition. However, most of these models do not explain how these systems could have emerged spontaneously from basic chemistry. They provide insights into the organization of life, but not necessarily its origin.

Now, a new mathematical framework, based on the original notion of autocatalytic sets, is able to shed more light on both of these aspects. Autocatalytic sets capture the functionally closed and self-sustaining properties of life in a formal way, and detailed studies have shown how such sets emerge spontaneously, and can then evolve further, in simple models of chemical reaction networks. Furthermore, this new framework has been applied directly and successfully to real chemical and biological networks. Thus, the autocatalytic sets framework provides a useful and formal tool for studying and understanding both the origin and
organization of life.

In this talk, I will give a non-technical overview of the background, concepts, and main results of the formal framework, and how it can perhaps be generalized beyond chemistry and the origin of life to entire living systems, ecological networks, and possibly even social systems like the economy.

IAS-Research Talk by Leonardo Bich: Why defining life is not pointless

Date and Time: June 21, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Leonardo Bich (Universidad de Chile)

Title: Why defining life is not pointless

Abstract:

Despite numerous and increasing attempts to define what life is, there is no consensus on necessary and sufficient conditions for life. Accordingly, some scholars have questioned the value of definitions of life and encouraged scientists and philosophers alike to discard the project. Commenting on the merits of this pessimistic conclusion, this paper explores the instrumental potential for operational definitions of life in scientific research. Rather than as classificatory tools for demarcation of natural kinds, we consider definitions of life from a pragmatic standpoint as theoretical and epistemic tools, and we focus on the possible contributions to research in those domains in which they are used most (e.g., Synthetic Biology, Origins of Life, Alife, and Astrobiology). We argue that critically rethinking the nature and uses of definitions can provide new insights into the epistemic roles of definitions of life for different research practices. In particular, we examine contexts where definitions integrate criteria for life into theoretical models that involve or enable observable operations. We show how these definitions of life play important roles in influencing research agendas and evaluating results, and we argue that to discard the project of defining life is neither sufficiently motivated, nor possible without dismissing important theoretical and practical research.

IAS-Research Talk by Sune Holm: Causation as control: The case of synthetic biology

Date and Time: June 21, Tuesday, 12:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Sune Holm (University of Copenhagen)

Title: Causation as control: The case of synthetic biology

Abstract:

“The ‘cause’ of an event in nature is the handle, so to speak, by which we can manipulate it” (R. G. Collingwood). On the manipulationist view, the distinction between causal and non-causal relationships is a distinction between relationships that can be manipulated and those that cannot. The manipulationist account of causation is thus guided by the idea that causal relationships can be exploited for purposes of manipulation and control. It is “our interests in controlling the world” (Woodward 2010) that gives us an appetite for spotting causal relationships. In this paper I discuss Woodward’s manipulationist account of causation in the context of synthetic biology and its effort to construct machine-like living systems.

IAS-Research Talk by Argyris Arnellos: “The body complexity thesis: multicellular hurdles for animal cognition”

Date and Time: June 7, Tuesday, 12:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Argyris Arnellos

Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, (KLI) Klosterneuburg, Austria
e-­‐mail: argyris.arnellos@kli.ac.at

Title: The body complexity thesis: multicellular hurdles for animal cognition

Abstract: Animal – and thus multicellular (MC) – agents and their relation to a macroscopic environment composed of various media available for locomotion and recognizable objects are taken by many to be central to cognition. However, as I will claim, neither animals as (freely moving) MC organizations nor the macroscopic environment in which they act can be taken as a self-evident starting-point for the evolution of cognition. I will argue that the evolution of animal cognition as is exemplified in MC organisms that appeared during the Cambrian explosion requires a set of pre-adaptations that emerge in a complex body capable for sensing and moving in a macroscopic environment. Specifically, I will discuss how an epithelial organization and its properties can be cast as the key enabling factor for the emergence and evolution of the animal sensorimotor interaction, and also how a focus on the epithelial organization integrates animal sensing and moving with the physiology and development of its MC body; all essential features of the organizational basis of MC agents (Arnellos & Moreno, 2015; 2016).

The talk is partially based on recent work:

  • Arnellos A, Moreno A (2015) Multicellular agency: an organizational view. Biology and Philosophy 30(3): 333-357. doi: 10.1007/s10539-015-9484-0 
  • Arnellos A, Moreno A (2016) Integrating constitution and interaction in the transition from unicellular to multicellular organisms. In: Niklas K, Newman S (eds) Multicellularity: origins and evolution. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, pp 249-275

IAS-Research Seminar by Michael Beaton (UPV-EHU & Sussex): “Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World”

Date and Time: June 13, Monday, 11:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Michael Beaton (UPV-EHU & Sussex)

Title: Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World

Abstract: 

Direct realism is a non-reductive, anti-representationalist theory of perception which is currently generating a lot of interest within mainstream analytic philosophy. For all that, it is widely held to be both controversial and anti-scientific. The sensorimotor theory of perception, on the other hand, initially generated a lot of interest within mainstream cognitive science, but has not yet delivered on its early promise of changing fundamentally the way in which cognitive scientists think about perception. Here I will argue that sensorimotor theory and direct realism complement each other very well, and that the resultant theory – sensorimotor direct realism – is a scientifically tractable alternative to the dominant, mainstream, representationalist approach within cognitive science. I will argue for the apparently philosophically radical claim that we directly perceive objects themselves, showing how this claim can be understood in a way which makes it amenable to normal scientific study. Objects are analysed as a kind of collaboration between the world and the perceiver. On this account, whilst we never perceive outside the categories of our own understanding, we do, literally, perceive outside our own heads, with no intermediary representations required.

Presentation based on three pieces recently published in Constructivist Foundations.

IAS-Research Seminar by Laura Menatti and Antonio Casado da Rocha: “Landscape and Health: Connecting Psychology, Aesthetics, and Philosophy through the Concept of Affordance”

Date and Time: June 13, Monday, 10:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speakers: Laura Menatti (Chile) and Antonio Casado da Rocha (UPV/EHU)

Title: Landscape and Health: Connecting Psychology, Aesthetics, and Philosophy through the Concept of Affordance

Abstract: 

In this paper we address a frontier topic in the humanities, namely how the cultural and natural construction that we call landscape affects well-being and health. Following an updated review of evidence-based literature in the fields of medicine, psychology, and architecture, we propose a new theoretical framework called “processual landscape,” which is able to explain both the health-landscape and the medical agency-structure binomial pairs. We provide a twofold analysis of landscape, from both the cultural and naturalist points of view: in order to take into account its relationship with health, the definition of landscape as a cultural product needs to be broadened through naturalization, grounding it in the scientific domain. Landscape cannot be distinguished from the ecological environment. For this reason, we naturalize the idea of landscape through the notion of affordance and Gibson’s ecological psychology. In doing so, we stress the role of agency in the theory of perception and the health-landscape relationship. Since it is the result of continuous and co-creational interaction between the cultural agent, the biological agent and the affordances offered to the landscape perceiver, the processual landscape is, in our opinion, the most comprehensive framework for explaining the health-landscape relationship. The consequences of our framework are not only theoretical, but ethical also: insofar as health is greatly affected by landscape, this construction represents something more than just part of our heritage or a place to be preserved for the aesthetic pleasure it provides. Rather, we can talk about the right to landscape as something intrinsically linked to the well-being of present and future generations.

Presentation based on paper recently published in Frontiers Psychology (see online).

IAS-Research Talk by Sébastien Lerique: “The Epidemiology of Representations paradigm for the enquiry of cognition-with-culture: how online experiments surface problematic assumptions”

Date and Time: June 7, Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Sébastien Lerique

Centre d’Analyse et de Mathématique Sociales (EHESS / CNRS, Paris).                     Centre Marc Bloch (CNRS / Humboldt Universität / MAEE / BMBF, Berlin) 

Title: The Epidemiology of Representations paradigm for the enquiry of cognition-with-culture: how online experiments surface problematic assumptions

Abstract:

Since the very beginning of social sciences and that of psychology and later cognitive science, several authors have attempted to unify the study of cognition and culture (or social) in meaningful ways. While the question already existed in Durkheim’s initial works [5], it was only later tackled in earnest by Mauss’ Techniques of the Body [10], Giddens’ Structuration Theory[7] or Bourdieu’s Sens Pratique [1].
          Today’s debate, however, is more defined by proponents from cognitive science. There is, on one side, a theory allying neo-darwinism and cognitive representationalism that is best summed up in Sperber’s Epidemiology of Representations [11] and Boyd and Richerson’s Gene-Culture Co-Evolution [2]. On the other side an enactive proposition which anthropologists like Ingold, in line with Mauss’ initial intuitions, are calling for [9], is being developed by Froese, Di Paolo, and De Jaegher among others [3] [6]. The whole debate is now being fuelled by the accumulation of discoveries in evo-devo and non-genetic inheritance, which do not fit in the modern synthesis’ account of life evolution [8]; this is creating a need for new unifying paradigms and creative empirical methods to test them [4], need which will likely challenge Sperber, Boyd, and Richerson’s dominant theory.
           Testing this theory, however, and especially its macroscopic cultural aspect, has been a real challenge for the field in the last two decades. My goal in this presentation is to show how online and web-based experiments, which offer openings to rise to that challenge, run into the philosophical problems that critiques like Ingold have identified in Sperber’s works. I will begin by presenting Sperber’s Epidemiology of Representations in more detail, fleshing out what it aims for and what underlying principles it bases itself on. I will then briefly present the method and results of one finished and one ongoing experiment studying transmission chains of short sentences (like a written broken telephone game), both inspired by the availability of large datasets of recorded online interactions and by the possibilities offered by modern browsers and the web. I will then try to show how those experiments run into the problem of interpretation and meaning, and how this is the manifestation of problems in the philosophical basis of the theory. I will conclude by evoking what web-based experiments can bring to the enactive approach of unifying the different levels of the study of life.
References

[1] Bourdieu, Pierre. 1980. “Le Sens pratique.” Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, coll. « Le sens commun ».

[2] Boyd, Robert, and Peter J. Richerson. 1988. “Culture and the evolutionary process.” University of Chicago Press.

[3] Cuffari, Elena Clare, Ezequiel Di Paolo, and Hanne De Jaegher. 2015. “From participatory sense-making to language: there and back again.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14.4 (2015): 1089-1125.

[4] Day, Troy and Russell Bonduriansky. 2011. “A Unified Approach to the Evolutionary Consequences of Genetic and Nongenetic Inheritance.” The American Naturalist 2011 178:2, E18-E36.

[5] Durkheim, Émile. 1976 [1915]. “The elementary forms of the religious life.” Trans. J. W Swain (2nd ed.). London: Allen & Unwin.

[6] Froese, Tom and Ezequiel Di Paolo. 2011. “The enactive approach: Theoretical sketches from cell to society.” Pragmatics & Cognition 19:1 (2011), 1–36.

[7] Giddens, Anthony. 1984. “The constitution of society: outline of the theory of structuration.” Cambridge : Polity Press.

[8] Gilbert, Scott F., Thomas C. G. Bosch, and Cristina Ledón-Rettig. 2015. “Eco-Evo-Devo: developmental symbiosis and developmental plasticity as evolutionary agents.” Nature Reviews Genetics 16, 611–622.

[9] Ingold, Tim. 1999. “Three in one: on dissolving the distinctions between body, mind and culture.”

[10] Mauss, Marcel. 1936. “Les techniques du corps.” Journal de Psychologie, XXXII, ne, 3-4. Communication présentée à la Société de Psychologie le 17 mai 1934.

[11] Sperber, Dan. 1996. “Explaining Culture.” Blackwell.

IAS-Research Seminar by Xabier Barandiaran: “Collective identities in interaction networks: exploring the technopolitical autonomy of the 15M through neurodynamic analogies”

Date and Time: February 26, Friday, 15.00 pm

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Xabier Barandiaran (UPV-EHU)

Title: Collective identities in interaction networks: exploring the technopolitical autonomy of the 15M through neurodynamic analogies

Abstract: 

The emergence of network-movements since 2011 has opened the debate around the way in which social media and networked practices make possible innovative forms of collective identity. We briefly review the literature on social movements and ‘collective identity’, and show the tension between different positions stressing either organization or culture, the personal or the collective, aggregative or networking logics. We argue that the 15M (indignados) network-movement in Spain demands conceptual and methodological innovations. Its rapid emergence, endurance, diversity, multifaceted development and adaptive capacity, posit numerous theoretical and methodological challenges. We show how the use of structural and dynamic analysis of interaction networks (in combination with qualitative data) is a valuable tool to track the shape and change of what we term the ‘systemic dimension ’ of collective identities in network-movements. In particular, we introduce a novel method for synchrony detection in Facebook activity to identify the distributed, yet integrated, coordinated activity behind collective identities. Applying this analytical strategy to the 15M movement, we show how it displays a specific form of systemic collective identity we call ‘ multitudinous identity ’ , characterized by social transversality and internal heterogeneity, as well as a transient and distributed leadership driven by action initiatives. Our approach attends to the role of distributed interaction and transient leadership at a mesoscale level of organizational dynamics, which may contribute to contemporary discussions of collective identity in network-movements.

Barandiaran, X. E., & Aguilera, M. (2015). Neurociencia y tecnopolítica: hacia un marco analógico para comprender la mente colectiva del 15M. En J. Toret (Ed.), Tecnopolítica y 15M. La potencia de las multitudes conectadas (pp. 163-211). Barcelona: Editorial UOC.
https://xabierbarandiaran.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/arnau_etal_-_2015_multitudinous_identities_15_-_infocomsoc.pdf

Monterde, A., Calleja-López, A., Aguilera, M., Barandiaran, X. E., & Postill, J. (2015). Multitudinous identities: a qualitative and network analysis of the 15M collective identity. Information, Communication and Society, doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1043315 https://xabierbarandiaran.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/barandiaran_n_aguilera_-_2015_-_neurociencia_y_tecnopolitica_15m_-_tecnopolitica15m_cap.pdf