IAS-Research Seminar (Online) by Leonardo Bich (EHU/UPV), “Multicellularity: realizing functional integration by organising the intercellular space”


Tuesday, 26/05/2020 at 11:30 (online, please contact guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus)


Paper available (open access) here:

The question addressed in this talk is how multicellular systems realise functionally integrated physiological entities by organising their intercellular space. 

From a perspective centred on physiology and integration, biological systems are often characterised as organised in such a way that they realise metabolic self-production and self-maintenance. The existence and activity of their components rely on the network they realise and on the continuous management of the exchange of matter and energy with their environment. One of the virtues of the organismic approach focused on organisation is that it can provide an understanding of how biological systems are functionally integrated into coherent wholes.

Organismic frameworks have been primarily developed by focusing on unicellular life. Multicellularity, however, presents additional challenges to our understanding of biological systems, related to how cells are capable to live together in higher-order entities, in such a way that some of their features and behaviours are constrained and controlled by the system they realise. Whereas most accounts of multicellularity focus on cell differentiation and increase in size as the main elements to understand biological systems at this level of organisation, these factors are insufficient to provide an understanding of how cells are physically and functionally integrated in a coherent system.

To address these issues, I present a new theoretical framework of multicellularity. The thesis is that one of the fundamental theoretical principles to understand multicellularity, which is missing or underdeveloped in current accounts, is the functional organisation of the intercellular space. From this perspective, the capability to be organised in space plays a central role in this context, as it enables (and allows to exploit all the implications of) cell differentiation and increase in size, and even specialised functions such as immunity. The extracellular matrix plays a crucial active role in this respect, together with the strategies employed by multicellular systems to exert control upon internal movement and communication. Finally, I show how the organisation of space is involved in some of the failures of multicellular organisation, such as aging and cancer.

IAS Research Seminar (Online) by Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo (EHU/UPV): “The construction of biological ‘inter-identity’ as the outcome of a complex process of protocell development in prebiotic evolution”

To participate online, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus.

Date: 12/05/2020, at 11:30

Abstract: The concept of identity is used both (i) to distinguish a system as a particular material entity that is conserved as such in a given environment (token-identity: i.e., identity as permanence or endurance over time), and (ii) to relate a system with other members of a set (type-identity: i.e., identity as an equivalence relationship). Biological systems are characterized, in a minimal and universal sense, by a highly complex and dynamic, far-from-equilibrium organization of very diverse molecular components and transformation processes (i.e., ‘genetically-instructed cellular metabolisms’) that maintain themselves in constant interaction with their corresponding environments, including other systems of similar nature. More precisely, all living entities depend on a deeply convoluted organization of molecules and processes (a naturalized von Neumann constructor architecture) that subsumes, in the form of current individuals (autonomous cells), a history of ecological and evolutionary interactions (across cell populations). So one can defend, on those grounds, that living beings have an identity of their own from both approximations: (i) and (ii). These transversal and trans-generational dimensions of biological phenomena, which unfold together with the actual process of biogenesis, must be carefully considered in order to understand the intricacies and metabolic robustness of the first living cells, their underlying uniformity (i.e., their common biochemical core) and the eradication of previous –or alternative– forms of complex natural phenomena. Therefore, a comprehensive approach to the origins of life requires conjugating the actual properties of the developing complex individuals (fusing and dividing protocells, at various stages) with other, population-level features, linked to their collective-evolutionary behaviour, under much wider and longer-term parameters. On these lines, I will argue that life, in its most basic sense, here on Earth or anywhere else, demands crossing a high complexity threshold and that the concept of ‘inter-identity’ can help us realize the different aspects involved in the process.

IAS-Research (Online) Seminar by Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo (EHU/UPV) and Nino Lauber (EHU/UPV): “On the transition from self-organization to minimal metabolism”

Tuesday 07 April at 11:30, Online (please contact Guglielmo Militello, guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus, to participate)

Abstract: In this seminar we will share some ideas about the type of non-equilibrium physico-chemical processes from which more complex, protometabolic reaction pathways and transformation cycles can develop. The concepts of self-organization and self-assembly will be discussed, describing some concrete examples to illustrate them, and explaining why we consider they are relevant but not rich enough to account for minimal forms of metabolism. Autonomy, instead, will be suggested as a more adequate theoretical construct to grasp/explore metabolic dynamics, to be distinguished from a collection of coupled chemical reactions by a set of relational criteria that we are currently working on.

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 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.