IAS-Research Seminar by Xabier Barandiaran: “Artificial Democratic Life: re-engineering the autonomy of the social”

Date and time: January 23, Tuesday, 11:15 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Xabier Barandiaran (UPV/EHU)

Title: Artificial Democratic Life: re-engineering the autonomy of the social

Abstract: New constraints and opportunities often give rise to the
emergence of new forms of life or their radical transformation. Such
is the case of administrative institutions, the emergence and
autonomization of economic life with capitalism or the emergence of
spread of academic life through peer-review journals, conferences and,
ultimately, the internet. This last infrastructure, the internet, has
made possible a profound transformation of many human and societal
forms of life. And Democracy is waiting its turn. In the era of
Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Governance, the combination of
corporate controlled social networks, big data analytics and political
cyberwar, the issue of how to build public infrastructures for
peacefull, deliverative and privacy-aware democratic life becomes
essential. Barcelona City Council is leading the project Decidim: an
online platform for participatory democracy, with thousands of users.
The platform is rapidly extending to other cities in Europe (Spain,
Italy, Sweden, France, etc.). Its sucess depends partly on the
capacity of the development team to include algorithms that maximize
democratic rights, minimize lobby-influence and favors
self-organization and social autonomy. Instead of applying AI
techniques (deep learning, machine learning) to user profiling and
other standard (ab)uses of corporate dominated social networks, the
challenge ahead lies on defining Artificial Life models that boost
Democratic Life. The goal of this talk is to review such posibilities
and explore the way in which Artificial Life can help improve our
democracies in an era of maximal inequality on digital power. With the
lessons learned during the rise of networked multitudinous identities
during the 15M we currently face the challenge of designing the
interaction dynamics within Decidim.Barcelona (the participatory
democracry platform of Barcelona City Council) so as to make possible
the emergence of both city-scale and social autonomous identities.
Regarding city-scale identity, and inspired on the way in which cells
become autonomous (after all it is in greek cities where autonomy was
born as a concept), Decidim makes possible the interaction between
bottom-up and top-down dynamics on the constitution of global
contraints (such as Municipal Action Plan or city wide regulations).
We see institutions as channeling collective energy and matter (human,
urban and economic) to produce meso and macroscopic constraints for
the production and reproduction of city life. Citizen interactions on
the other hand are equivalent to molecular interactions. When it comes
to political decision making, planing and policy making, Decidim is
designed to generate a dialectic between bottom-up (proposal
production and voting) and top-down (selection and result
construction) dynamics. The PAM (Pla d’Actuació Municipal, Municipal
Action Plan, 4 yearly strategic planning for the city) is a good
example of city-scale “identity” production through bottom-up and
top-down interaction dynamics. The second aspect of autonomous
identity generation mechanism we want to foster will soon be available
through citizen initiatives and enhanced horizontal communication
channels within Decidim.Barcelona. The newly aproved participatory
regulation makes possible for citizens to organize and create
different king of large scale interventions that can finally end up on
a public consultation. We consider that the perceived oportunity for
citizen initiatives to be institucionally channeled will create a kind
of energy gradient (like those found at the roots of physical
self-organized processes, such as Benard cells). Decidim.Barcelona is
currently been designed to facilitate social interaction on the
creation of citizen proposal for initiatives, their interaction
through social media, and the self-organization of public discussion
and coordination of communicative action to boost the emergence of
political collective identities. How can we foster a better democratic
life making use of the tools and principles of Artificial Life?

IAS-Research Talk by Mihaela Pavlicev: “Can knowledge help overcome the biases in societal perception of female biology?”

Date and time: December 5, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Mihaela PavlicevUniversity of Cincinnati, Department of Pediatrics

Abstract: 

Societal perception, and even the perception of textbook biology and medicine, often reduces female biology to its reproductive function. This has many consequences for the attitude towards female traits, including the attitude of the women themselves, and particularly towards the female traits that have no direct function in reproduction. It is also reflected in medical vocabulary and treatment.  Intriguingly, much of this perception is not based on scientific facts, but likely originates from the way the research questions have been asked in the past, and how the results have been interpreted. I will present some of the recent research on the origin of female orgasm, as well as the physiological basis of the menstruation- examples of female traits often considered “obsolete”. I hope to elicit a discussion on how we can use research insights to re-interpret the female traits in a more accurate, and less damaging, way.

IAS-Research Seminar by Guglielmo Militello: “Harnessing energy production: functional integration in symbiotic relationships”

Date and time: November 14, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Guglielmo Militello

Abstract:

Functional integration is broadly defined in life sciences as the causal interdependence among the subsystems forming an organism. However, this characterisation is vague and not able to describe the different degrees of functional integration in living beings (Pradeau 2010). From an organizational perspective, functional integration is interpreted as the mutual dependence of the constitutive constraints that collectively maintain the whole organisation (Moreno and Mossio 2015; Bich 2016). Therefore, organisational closure (i.e. the closure of constitutive constraints) implies functional integration (Moreno and Mossio 2015).

This talk aims to investigate some important organisational requirements for the functional integration of two (or more) symbionts.

Two case-studies will be analysed and compared: the first one is the endosymbiotic relationship between an α-proteobacterium (the ancestor of mitochondrion) and the proto-eukaryotic cell; the second one is the set of mutualistic relationships that mixotricha paradoxa establishes with its ectosymbionts (essential for the locomotion of mixotricha) and with its endosymbionts (crucial for the bioenergetics of mixotricha).

The analysis supports the thesis that a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for integrated symbionts is the ability of harnessing energy production (namely the synthesis of ATP molecules) through a number of metabolic and genetic constraints that are mutually dependent.

IAS-Research Talk by Javier Suárez: “Stability of Traits as the Kind of Stability That Matters in a Holobiont”

Date and time: November 7, Tuesday, 12:15 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Javier Suárez (http://www.ub.edu/grc_logos/javier-suarez1) is PhD student in philosophy at the University of Barcelona and the University of Exeter.

Abstract: Holobionts are biological entities that consist of a multicellular eukaryotic host plus its symbiotic microbiota. Holobionts are supposed to be pervasive and they are supposed to bear emergent traits, resulting from the dynamic interactions between the host and its symbionts. Defenders of the holobiont have recently developed the “hologenome concept of evolution”, according to which holobionts are units of selection in evolution. This claim has been recently contested by many, who claim that holobionts cannot be units of selection because the entities that compose a holobiont are not faithfully transmitted intergenerationally and therefore their influence in the holobiont is not evolutionarily constant. In this paper, I contend their argument by distinguishing between the notions of stability of lineages and stability of traits. Stability of lineages requires the different species that integrate a holobiont to be transmitted every generation in order to have a unit of selection. Stability of traits, however, requires that the traits that are identified in every new generation of holobionts are the same, in order to have a unit of selection. I defend that the arguments that have been offered against the role of holobionts as units of selection assume the idea of stability of lineages and argue that the idea of stability of traits is more suitable for capturing the role of holobionts as units of selection.

IAS-Research Talk by Marc Canciani: “Revising the Superorganism: An Organizational Approach to the Superorganism Concept”

Date and Time: November 7, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Marc Canciani

Abstract: The superorganism, in the context of eusociality, is typically either understood as a heuristic tool used to better understand group dynamics within colonies or as a form of biological individuality, based on an evolutionary notion of individual. We argue that the concept should be understood similarly to that of its original notion, as denoting higher-level individuals, rather than heuristically. However, the definition of an evolutionary individual (a unit of selection, or alignment of fitness of the parts) is too vague and therefore there are no clear conditions for ascertaining whether a colony is a superorganism or not. We develop a synchronic, organizational approach derived from the Autonomous Perspective, which defines organisms as autonomous individuals. As opposed to the Self-Organization notion (the current mainstream synchronic approach), we argue that the organizational complexity within eusocial colonies should the basis for defining the notion of superorganism. Even though there are processes that are the result of self-organization in superorganisms, we show that there are also forms of higher-level control and regulation between distinct sub-units within the system. Therefore superorganisms are more than just the result of self-organization. Moreover, superorganisms possibly represent a unique form of autonomy: a minimal form autonomy in a multi-agent system.

IAS-Research Talk by Marc Bedau: “The meta-question about life”

Date and Time: October 25, Wednesday, 15:30 p.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Mark Bedau (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Bedau)

Abstract: The question how to define life is very controversial, with many answers proposed but no signs of any emerging consensus. This raises a second question, the meta-question about life: Why is the definition of life so difficult and so controversial? Various answers to the meta-question have been proposed, such as being limited to a sample size for life of only one (Sterelny, Cleland), or confusion over homonyms that share a core meaning (Shields), or our failure to recognize impossible to answer question about folk concepts and pointless questions about scientific concepts (Machery), or our mistake of human kinds for natural kinds (Keller). Most contemporary discussions of defining life and resolving its controversies seem to presuppose a Cartesian perspective on the problem, focused on whether we can identify necessary and sufficient conditions for individual living organism. This contrasts with an Aristotelian perspective on the problem, focused on finding the best explanation of the characteristic phenomena involving life, such as life’s hallmarks, its borderline cases, and its characteristic puzzles. I argue replacing the Cartesian perspective with the Aristotelian perspective provides more promise for answering the meta-question about life, and thereby eventually resolving how to define life.

IAS-Research Talk by Mark Bedau: “A defense of cultural Darwinism”

Date and Time: October 24, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Mark Bedau (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Bedau)

Abstract: Darwin showed that biological populations evolve by natural selection., Some have suggested that natural selection also applies to the evolution of human cultures. Let us call the thesis that there are some populations of cultural entities that evolve by natural selection “cultural Darwinism.” This thesis is controversial today, with avid supporters and adamant critics. The main criticisms lodged against cultural Darwinism are (i) that it is not operational, (ii) that, if operational, it is false, (iii) that, if true, it is fruitless and uninteresting, and (iv) that it presupposes a false atomism about culture. This talk defends the thesis of cultural Darwinism by showing that natural selection shapes at least one population of cultural items–specifically, patented technology–and that the four criticisms of cultural Darwinism all can all be addressed in this context.

Sensorimotor Life: An Enactive Proposal, OUP 2017

Sensorimotor Life: An Enactive Proposal

By Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Thomas Buhrmann, Xabier E. Barandiaran, 2017, Oxford University Press.

How accurate is the picture of the human mind that has emerged from studies in neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science? Anybody with an interest in how minds work – how we learn about the world and how we remember people and events – may feel dissatisfied with the answers contemporary science has to offer.

Sensorimotor Life draws on current theoretical developments in the enactive approach to life and mind. It examines and expands the premises of the sciences of the human mind, while developing an alternative picture closer to people’s daily experiences. Enactive ideas are applied and extended, providing a theoretically rich, naturalistic account of meaning and agency. The book includes a dynamical systems description of different types of sensorimotor regularities or sensorimotor contingencies; a dynamical interpretation of Piaget’s theory of equilibration to ground the concept of sensorimotor mastery; and a theory of agency as organized networks of sensorimotor schemes, as well as its implications for embodied subjectivity.

Written for students and researchers of cognitive science, the authors offer a fuller view of the mind, a view better attuned to the experiences of people who live, work, love, struggle, and age, thrown into a world of meaningful relations they help create. Additionally, the book is of interest to neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and philosophers of science.

 

IAS-Research Talk by Mª José Ferreira: “Disentangling causation and information: informational parity at issue”

Date and Time: May 16, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Mª José Ferreira, Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) y Conicet

Abstract: 

The notion of an informational parity between genes and non-genetic
factors appears in two ways in the literature. On the one hand, it is
claimed to follow from an information-theoretic approach to account
for the notion of information in biology. This consequence, as we
shall explain, is considered to be unacceptable for some authors
which, therefore, took a different approach in order to save the
informational exclusiveness of genes. On the other hand, informational
parity is one of the many versions of the causal parity thesis,
according to which genes and other developmental factors are causally
on a par. According to this view, causal parity is an actual feature
of living systems and the concept of information needs to be congruent
to this fact. We will argue that in both cases there is a deep
conflation between the concepts of information and causation (as
concepts undisputedly related) that has not been sufficiently
addressed, especially with respect to the quarrel over parity. Such a
conflation has a twofold origin: (i) a rough understanding of
causation and (ii) a misreading of information theory.

Seminar on “The history and theory of vitalism, from Descartes to Canguilhem” by Charles Wolfe (University of Ghent)

Date and Time: May 8, 11 & 12 (11:00 a.m.)

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14

Speaker: Charles T. Wolfe, Ghent, ctwolfe1@gmail.com

Title: The history and theory of vitalism, from Descartes to Canguilhem

Abstract: In this series of talks I try to reconstruct something like a vitalist conceptual tradition, present both in a subterranean form in the Scientific Revolution period, despite the fact that, as I suggest in the “Life” paper (text 1), there can be no ontology of Life in this period, and increasingly with the emergence of a science of biology in the late 18th century (and here I ask: what do we do with the growing obsession with ‘life science’ from the 1740s onwards, with people like Buffon and Diderot – Diderot who in his 1753 Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature dismisses the mathematical sciences as somehow ‘done’ and asserts that ‘life science’ is a new revolutionary area (*)). In the late 19th century vitalism becomes something of a dogmatic concept, with people like Hans Driesch (**), but in the 20th century there is a new, less metaphysical form of theory of organism, sometimes with vitalist ambitions, culminating perhaps in the idiosyncratic theory of Georges Canguilhem, himself influenced by Kurt Goldstein (text 5 and see Ferrario and Bianco’s papers – on Goldstein and Canguilhem respectively, in Normandin and Wolfe eds., 2013, and Wolfe 2015). And in recent years it is possible to see a new kind of ‘organizational’ concept emerging in theoretical biology, eg in the work of Moreno and collaborators (***), discussed by the philosopher William Bechtel (text 6), which is light years removed from metaphysical vitalism, but is perhaps closer to what I have called the ‘functional vitalism’ of the 18th century Montpellier medical vitalists, with references to concepts such as the ‘animal economy’ (texts 2, 3, 4). I do not argue here that we need to be vitalists, or that mechanistic science (whatever that means) is bad, indeed there has been much good work on mechanistic explanations in recent years, sometimes with reference to biology (****). And perhaps we should reflect on ‘words’ themselves (text 7) and the problem of how vitalism has been treated and defined (texts 8, 9). But nevertheless, I believe a historico-philosophical investigation and evaluation of these episodes – are they are a tradition? a discontinuous tradition ? – helps us have a more diverse, less stubborn and dogmatic conception of the philosophy of biology and its orthodoxies and heterodoxies.

Texts discussed

(There will be a folder with readings available in dropbox)

1. Charles Wolfe, “Why was there no controversy over Life in the Scientific Revolution?”, in V. Boantza & M. Dascal, eds., Controversies in the Scientific Revolution (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2011), pp. 187-219

2. Jean-Joseph Ménuret de Chambaud, ‘Œconomie Animale (Médecine)’, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des arts et des métiers, eds. Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, 35 vols. (Paris: Briasson, David, Le Breton & Durand, 1751-1780; reprint, Stuttgart/Bad Cannstatt, 1966), vol. 9, 1765, 360-366.

3. Charles Wolfe and Motoichi Terada, “The animal economy as object and program in Montpellier vitalism,” Science in Context 21:4 (2008), 537-579

4. Charles Wolfe, “Models of organic organization in Montpellier vitalism,” Early Science and Medicine (2017)

5. Georges Canguilhem, “Aspects of vitalism.” In Canguilhem, Knowledge of Life, translated by Stefanos Geroulanos and Daniela Ginsburg (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 59-74. (First published 1952)

6. William Bechtel “Biological mechanisms: Organized to maintain autonomy.” In F. Boogerd et al., eds., Systems Biology: Philosophical Foundations (New York: Elsevier, 2007). PDF online : <http://mechanism.ucsd.edu/~bill/research/bechtel.biologicalmechanismsorganization.pdf>

7. Susan Oyama, “Biologists behaving badly: Vitalism and the language of language,” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 32 (2010): 401-423.

8. Scott F. Gilbert and Sahotra Sarkar, “Embracing Complexity: Organicism for the 21st Century.” Developmental Dynamics 219 (2000): 1–9

9. Charles Wolfe, “Vitalism without Metaphysics?”, introduction to Vitalism Without Metaphysics? Medical Vitalism in the Enlightenment, special issue of Science in Context 21:4 (2008), 461-463

General background

Sebastian Normandin and Charles Wolfe, eds., Vitalism and the scientific image in post-Enlightenment life science, 1800-2010 (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013)

Additional (optional)

Roselyne Rey, Naissance et développement du vitalisme en France de la deuxième moitié du 18e siècle à la fin du Premier Empire (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000) (originally a PhD dissertation in 3 volumes, University of Paris, 1987)

Kurt Goldstein, The Organism: a holistic approach to biology derived from pathological data in man (1934) (translation reprint, New York: Zone Books / MIT Press, 1995)

Moritz Schlick, “Philosophy of organic life.” In H. Feigl & M. Brodbeck, eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1953), 523-536.

Pascal Nouvel, ed., Repenser le vitalisme – Histoire et philosophie du vitalisme (Paris: PUF, 2011)

Charles Wolfe, “Was Canguilhem a biochauvinist? Goldstein, Canguilhem and the project of ‘biophilosophy’,” in Darian Meacham, ed., Medicine and Society, New Continental Perspectives (Springer, Philosophy and Medicine Series, 2015), 197-212

(*) Diderot, Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature, § IV, in Diderot, Œuvres complètes, DPV, IX, 30-31. See for discussion Charles Wolfe, “Epigenesis as Spinozism in Diderot’s biological project,” in Ohad Nachtomy and Justin E.H. Smith, eds., The Life Sciences in Early Modern Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 181-201.

(**) see the papers in F. Burwick & P. Douglass, eds.,The crisis in modernism. Bergson and the vitalist controversy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), including on Bakhtin’s critique of Driesch.

(***) see the many excellent papers by Moreno, Etxeberria, Ruiz-Mirazo et al., and also A. Moreno and M. Mossio, Biological Autonomy. A Philosophical and theoretical enquiry (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014).

(****) P.A. Braillard, C. Malaterre, Explanation in Biology (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)