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)

Abstract

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

Abstract:

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”

Abstract

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”

Abstract

“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?”

IAS-Research Talk by Iñaki San Pedro: Degrees of Epistemic Opacity

Date and time: February 19, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Iñaki San Pedro (UPV/EHU)

Title: Degrees of Epistemic Opacity

Abstract:

The paper distinguishes two senses of “epistemic opacity” in computer simulations, namely a qualitative sense and a quantitative sense, and explores their relation to actual simulating and modelling practices.

From a qualitative point of view, the notion of “epistemic opacity“ in computer simulation seems to have the same significance and implications for any computer simulations. That is, from a qualitative point of view, computer simulations seem to be equally opaque —i.e. we open the black box, and find it (always) dark! In this sense “epistemic opacity” expresses the fact that when a computer simulation is performed there is an “epistemic leap” associated to it. This kind of epistemic leap is characteristic rather than of a specific model or simulation, of the fact that a simulation is performed.

On the other hand, “epistemic opacity” can also be approached from a quantitative point of view. The questions to be asked then are rather different, e.g. is the “epistemic leap” noted above always of the same size? or are all computer simulations equally opaque, i.e. when we open the back box and find it dark, is it always as dark? The paper argues that (from this quantitative point of view), computer simulations display degrees of “epistemic opacity” (with the limit of non-opacity set in analycity). I will not discuss here whether these degrees of “epistemic opacity” can be measured (i.e. exactly quantified), or attempt provide a method for doing that. I will claim nevertheless that actual degrees of “epistemic opacity” are tightly related to what we can call the “complexity of the computational process”, which is associated for instance to the particular design of the computing software at work, specific computer settings, or to hardware limitations. With this idea of complexity in mind, I will claim, the more complex a computational process is, the more (quantitatively) epistemically opaque will the simulation result.

I will note finally that a good deal of methodological decisions taken by scientist and modellers when performing computer simulations —i.e. typical tricks-of-the-trade such as parametrisation, use of expert knowledge, scaling, etc.—, which constitute an important part of current scientific practices in the field, are precisely aimed at reducing such complexity. I will conclude thus that actual scientific practices (or part of these, at least) in fact reduce (quantitative) “epistemic opacity.” This opens new and interesting questions such as whether actual scientific practices can manage to reduce “epistemic opacity” to the limit of analycity (thus eliminating “epistemic opacity” also in a qualitative sense), whether specific scientific practices can be said to reduce in some (qualitative) sense some of the uncertainties that computer simulations involve, or whether they have an impact on the reliability or confidence of specific computer simulations (possibly of the very same system).

December 18, IAS-Research Talk by Charles Wolfe (Ghent University): Philosophy of biology before biology: a methodological provocation

Date and time: December 18, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Charles Wolfe (Ghent University)

Title: “Philosophy of biology before biology”: a methodological provocation

Abstract:

Basing myself on work forthcoming in a volume entitled Philosophy of Biology before Biology (coedited w. C. Bognon-Küss), I argue for a conception I term ‘philosophy of biology before biology’, focusing on the theoretical ‘world’ or ‘context’ out of which the science ultimately called ‘biology’ emerged. This historico-philosophical approach to biology’s genesis is neither internalist study of biological doctrines, nor a reconstruction of the role philosophical concepts might have played in the constitution of biology as science; it looks more at the interplay between metaphysical and empirical issues. This study does not just have implications for understanding the relations between philosophy and biology in the mid- to late 18th century; it should also have an impact on our present understanding of philosophy of biology, given that it is necessarily conditioned by a very specific history and historiography (particularly evolution-centred). Further, ‘philosophy of biology before biology’ sheds a different light on our understanding of how biology as a science of life became unified.

International Workshop: Conceptual Issues on ‘Life, Mind and Society’ in Dialogue with Alvaro Moreno

Date: 19-20 November 2018

Location: Faculty of Education, Philosophy and Anthropology (Salón de Grados) [Ibaeta Campus, Donostia-San Sebastián, Basque Country, Spain]

Keynote Speakers: William Bechtel (University of California San Diego), James Griesemer (University of California, Davis), Alicia Juarrero (University of Miami), Alvaro Moreno (UPV/EHU), Ana Soto (University of Tufts).

Full Program (pdf)