IAS-Research Talk by Marc Artiga (Universitat de València): “Do Bacteria Really Talk to Each Other?”

Do Bacteria Really Talk to Each Other?

Marc Artiga (Universitat de València)

Tuesday January 14 at  at 11:30 (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)


In the last two decades, there has been a growing interest in bacteria and other microorganisms. This research has provided interested insights into the nature of life (Parke, 2013), cooperation (Lyon, 2007), individuality (Clarke, 2016), species (Franklin, 2007) and other issues in philosophy of science (O’Malley, 2014). In this talk, I will focus on the capacity of some bacteria to produce molecules that are usually classified as ‘signals’ and I would like to defend two claims. First of all, I will argue that in this context expressions such as ‘signalling’ should be taken at face value and that certain interactions between bacteria actually qualify as genuine forms of communication. The second goal is to use this case study to revise our general theories of signalling. In particular, I will argue that there are some aspects of bacterial signalling that do not fit the standard model; some features that usually included in the definition of communication are probably not necessary (e.g. response flexibility) and others that are not included are crucial (e.g. being a minimal cause). Finally, I will discuss the relationship between my proposal and other accounts, such as the ‘influence’ approach and the Organizational Approach to Biological Communication (Frick, Bich and Moreno, 2019).

IAS-Research Seminar by Enara García and Iñigo Arandia-Romero (UPV/EHU): “La patología en la filosofía de la individuación de Gilbert Simondon”

La patología en la filosofía de la individuación de Gilbert Simondon

Enara García and Iñigo Arandia-Romero (UPV/EHU)

Tuesday 19 November 2019 at 11:30  (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)

Language: Spanish


En este trabajo, proponemos mirar en la filosofía de la individuación de Gilbert Simondon para ofrecer un entendimiento de lo patológico desde una ontología procesual y relacional que diluye tanto la discontinuidad entre procesos vitales y psíquicos como la dicotomía entre individuo y sociedad. Simondon propone estudiar, no tanto los individuos ya constituidos, sino el proceso de ontogénesis del individuo que, en el caso del ser humano, está mediado por su participación en lo colectivo. En este proceso, la afectividad juega un papel central, ya que atraviesa tanto la individuación vital, como la psíquica y la colectiva, conectando el conjunto de tensiones y potencialidades existentes previas al proceso de individuación (lo pre-individual) con el individuo constituido. Este cambio de perspectiva permite entender la patología, no en términos normativos, sino como el estudio de la dinámica de la afección, con su historia previa y sus posibilidades de evolución, e influyendo también en nuestra comprensión de los procesos terapéuticos.

IAS-Research Seminar by Manuel Heras-Escribano and Miguel Aguilera (UPV/EHU): “Autopoiesis in the Game of Life”

Autopoiesis in the Game of Life

Manuel Heras-Escribano and Miguel Aguilera (UPV/EHU)

Tuesday 3 December 2019 at 11:30  (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)


In this talk, we will review a series of papers by Randall Beer. In these work he uses the Game of Life to exemplify different aspects and concepts autopoiesis and enactivism, using the model as a laboratory in which theoretical concepts can be developed to the point where they can be used to actually calculate things (autopoietic networks and operational closure, destructive/non-destructive perturbations, structural coupling…). Reviewing the work in this minimal world we will discuss 1) how different aspects of autopoiesis and autonomy can or cannot be displayed by minimal agents in a cellular automata, 2) how this type of study may be useful for concretizing ongoing debates on the foundations of enaction.

IAS-Research Seminar by Iñigo Arandia-Romero (UPV/EHU): “Enactive and Simondonian reflections on placebo phenomena”

Enactive and Simondonian reflections on placebo phenomena

Iñigo Arandia-Romero (UPV/EHU)

Tuesday 21 January 2019 at 11:30  (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)


Placebo effects have played a key role in the history of medicine, and they are still nowadays extremely useful as the gold standard to test the efficacy of many treatments through Randomized Control Trials (RCT). Despite its importance, they did not receive much research attention until the last two decades or so, and we are still far from a complete understanding of the phenomena related to the umbrella-term placebo. We will show that part of the problems and limitations to understand the placebo effects is related to theoretical assumptions that are often implicit in the current biomedical paradigm: the mind-body dualism, the predominance of individualism, the reductionist tendency to study isolated factors, and neglecting the dynamic nature of human beings (i.e, their history and evolution process). By taking advantage of the distinction between pre-reflective and reflective consciousness employed in the phenomenological tradition, the theoretical framework of the enactive perspective, and the philosophy of individuation developed by Gilbert Simondon, we will propose a novel way to analyze placebo interventions that overcomes some of the limitations of current approaches, and is able to explain part of the huge variability of placebo responses, across subjects and across conditions. Instead of offering a full account of placebo phenomena, we will provide insights to better analyze different experimental paradigms employed in placebo research considering that each subject is an embodied agent situated in a social environment with concrete problems that can be interpreted as a sense-making challenge or a search for meaning. Then, the placebo intervention can be understood as just the last step that triggers a large response but that would be impossible without the history of the subject, all her previous attempts to cope with her condition in her social context, the patient-practitioner interaction and other features that are often neglected or labelled as non-specific in the placebo literature.

IAS-Research Seminar by Arantza Etxeberria (UPV/EHU): “Revisiting the “organism/environment interaction” category”

Revisiting the “organism/environment interaction” category

Arantza Etxeberria (UPV/EHU)

Tuesday 12 November 2019 at 11:30  (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)


The “organism/environment interaction” has been an important category in biomedical sciences since the end of the 19th century. It brings forward the view of the organism as an autonomous biological entity, with an internally controlled and regulated physiology, interacting with an environment providing opportunities and viability constraints for its living activities. It is often remarked that organisms can transform or construct these environments according to their needs (dialectical views of development and evolution; niche construction; technologies), or that they need to accommodate their lives and norms to restricted environments in case of disease. This presentation will introduce work in progress intending to examine and discuss the current scientific role of this category in biomedicine. On the grounds of some conceptual and empirical challenges, proposals tending to privilege deeper interconnectivities will be considered. This research is integrated within the Inter-identity Project (Mineco FFI2014-52173-P Research Project on Identities in interaction).

IAS-Research Seminar by Guglielmo Militello: Motility Control of Symbionts and Organelles by the Eukaryotic Cell

Motility Control of Symbionts and Organelles by the Eukaryotic Cell

Guglielmo Militello

Tuesday 29 at 11:30 (Centro Carlos Santamaria B14)


Motility occupies a decisive role in an organism’s ability to autonomously interact with its environment. However, collective biological organizations exhibit individual parts, which have temporally or definitively lost their motor capacities, but still able to autonomously interact with their host. Indeed, although the flagella of bacterial symbionts of eukaryotic cells are usually inhibited or lost, they autonomously modify the environment provided by their host. Furthermore, the eukaryotic organelles of endosymbiotic origin (i.e., mitochondria and plastids) are no longer able to move autonomously; nonetheless, they make a cytoskeletal-driven motion that allows them to communicate with other eukaryotic cells and to perform a considerable number of physiological functions. The purpose of this article is twofold: first, to investigate how changes in the motile capacities of the parts of a nested biological organization affect their interactive autonomy; second, to examine how the modification of the interactive autonomy of the individual parts influences the constitutive autonomy of the collective association as a whole. The article argues that the emergence and maintenance of collective biological identities involves a strict control of the motile abilities of their constituting members. This entails a restriction, but not necessarily a complete loss, of the agential capacities of the individual parts.


IAS-Research Talk by Matthew Egbert (University of Auckland): Autonomous & Self-Sensitive Organisms, Behaviours and Ecological Systems

Date and time: October 15, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Matthew Egbert (University of Auckland)

Title: Autonomous & Self-Sensitive Organisms, Behaviours and Ecological Systems

Abstract. The enactive concept of autonomy refers to a precarious, “operationally closed” network of interdependent components, where each constitutive component both depends upon and enables other components. Originally formulated as a description of the basic organization of living systems, the idea has been applied in a variety of domains.

In this talk, I will touch on three of these domains. First I will briefly review previous work that shows how autonomous biological individuals (such as bacterial cells) can respond to indicators of their own viability.

I will then present some recent investigations of autonomous sensorimotor dynamics, and highlight an open challenge concerning how autonomous patterns of sensorimotor behaviour might similarly adapt to their own viability.

Finally, I will consider autonomy in the context of ecological systems, and how these systems might be able to respond adaptively to their own viability. This final section of the talk outlines some very early-stage research I am engaged in that relates to Lovelock’s Gaia theory.

IAS-Research Talk by Miguel A. Sepúlveda-Pedro (Université de Montréal): “Opening the ecological dimension of the enactive approach: Umwelt, normativity, and form”

Date and time: July 16, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Miguel A. Sepúlveda-Pedro (Université de Montréal)

Title: Opening the ecological dimension of the enactive approach: Umwelt, normativity, and form


The enactive approach is an alternative approach to cognition that challenges many fundamental assumptions of mainstream cognitive science. One of the most fundamental assumptions of traditional cognitive science is that the objective World is a ready-made reality that we access via our cognitive capacities, thus cognition essentially consist in getting information about this objective reality. In this classical picture, we need to reconstruct or represent the outside world in our heads, given the limited capacities of our senses. From the beginning, the enactive approach has challenged this conception of cognition by positing that the world we live, in our cognitive lives, is enacted thanks to the interactions of a living agent and its surroundings. Therefore, it is suggested that the world that a cognitive agent experience is not an objective reality but a dimension that acquires meaning and value according to the skills and concerns of living agents. Thompson, in his Mind in Life, loosely refer to this enactment of a meaningful world as an Umwelt. Uexküll coined the concept of Umwelt to define the world as it is lived by animals, according to their biological needs. However, Uexküll statements was sometimes explicitly linked to Kant’s transcendental philosophy. One of the problems of Kant’s transcendental philosophy is that it encloses the subject in its own domain, meanwhile an objective unknowable reality remains the source of materials that acquire form thanks to the mental capacities of the subject. In this Kantian background, the enactment of an Umwelt will be analogous to the constitution of a meaningful world by the capacities of the subject alone. This interpretation of the Umwelt is deeply problematic, and it does not reflect the claims of the enactive approach. This approach, like phenomenology, offers an account that entails a deep entanglement between the body and the environment, not an enclosed form of subjectivity. Nevertheless, many criticisms on the enactive approach seems to interpret the enactment of an Umwelt in the Kantian sense, so they claim that the enactive approach entails some form of subjectivism. In my view, many of these criticism are unfounded due to misinterpretations of the claims of the enactive approach, nonetheless, their criticisms push us to have a more specific account of the Umwelt, one that remains coherent with the claims of the enactive approach, but that also avoids the problems that have been usually attributed to the enactive approach. Thus, I will suggest that conceptually the notion of interanimality and the metaphor of animal melodies, in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature, offer us a better way to understand the characteristics of the Umwelt, from the perspective of the enactive approach. Moreover, I will also suggest that an account of what I call structural emergence needs to be also explicitly added to the theory of biological autonomy, to open the domain of embodied subjectivity to a deeper ecological dimension of emplaced intercorporeality.

IAS-Research Seminar by Iñigo Arandia. “Epistemic entanglement in the macroscopic world”

Date and time: April 9th, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Iñigo Arandia (UPV/EHU)

Title: “Epistemic entanglement in the macroscopic world”


Scientific non-reductionism emphasizes that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Beyond metaphor, such holistic idea can be made concrete (namely, mathematically formulated and empirically testable) via the notion of entanglement, which is a foundational concept and an established phenomenon in quantum mechanics related to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (a fundamental limit to the precision of simultaneously measuring two complementary variables, like the position and momentum of an electron, which is not a consequence of experimental limitations). Here we present a classical analog of entanglement, where uncertainty relations arise from experimental commitments, like the selection of variables and/or subsystems, or ignorance about the context. Inspired by a theoretical work offering a definition of entanglement in a model of macroscopic brownian particles (Allahverdyan et al., 2005), we propose a general sufficient condition for epistemic entanglement that is valid for any underlying dynamics and any pair of macroscopic stochastic observables. Our bound reflects a trade-off between inter-vs-intra particle correlations, and only requires estimating dispersions. This makes it empirically accessible and also somewhat intuitive. We explored the origin of epistemic entanglement by taking advantage of analytical results available in brownian models and simulations of stochastic systems. Then, we applied our sufficient condition to behavioral data of fly courtship, and found entanglement between position and coarse-grained velocity. This result implies the existence of macroscopic correlations that cannot be effectively explained in causal terms, thus limiting the common cause principle. Our work also challenges the idea of pure objectivity, as our choice of measurement variables induced epistemic correlations that cannot be adjudicated to the observed system but that, through coarse-graining, belong to the observer.

IAS-Research Seminar by Miguel Escribano. “G.W. Leibniz y el problema del origen de los cuerpos orgánicos. Educción y preformacionismo”

Date and time: January 22, Tuesday, 14:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Miguel Escribano (UPV/EHU)

Title: “G.W. Leibniz y el problema del origen de los cuerpos orgánicos. Educción y preformacionismo”


“El problema del origen de la vida, como hoy en día se plantea, no es directamente abordado durante la modernidad filosófica. Existen, sin embargo, algunos debates que podríamos considerar al respecto por su cercanía a este problema. El caso de G.W. Leibniz es especialmente relevante. Por un lado, su Dinámica tiene la pretensión de convertirse en una ‘ontología general’ que de cuenta de todas las parcelas de lo real en términos de fuerza y forma. En este sentido, su visión de la naturaleza implica una cierta continuidad y coordinación entre las dinámicas características a los tres reinos naturales. Este programa ontológico no está exento de contradicciones. Leibniz nos aporta algunas herramientas para abordar estas contradicciones. En esta presentación haré mención a dos de ellas: por un lado, la teoría de la educción (importancia del pensamiento químico) y, por otro lado, la idea de preformación (importancia del pensamiento biológico). Considerando ambas teorías se plantea el siguiente problema: ¿existe una incompatibilidad entre la perspectiva diacrónico-embriogenética (biológica) que defiende que toda forma orgánica procede de otra forma orgánica y la perspectiva sincrónico-emergente (química) que defiende por su parte que la dinámica organizacional que caracteriza a un organismo educe a un cierto nivel de complejidad natural?”