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


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


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.

IAS-Research Talk by Nathaniel Barrett (University of Navarra): “The contrasts of feeling: Toward an integrated theory of affect and consciousness”

Date and time: November 27, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Nathaniel Barrett (“Mind-Brain Group,” Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra)

Title: The contrasts of feeling: Toward an integrated theory of affect and consciousness


What is affect and how does it relate to other qualities of experience? Affect presents special challenges to explanation that are well known to investigators of pleasure and pain but normally do not enter into philosophical and scientific discussions of consciousness. In this paper I present an attempt to integrate affect and consciousness into a single theory based on the idea that affect is not a specially discriminated quality of experience but rather a function of the way the “feeling self” expands and contracts in relation to the qualities of feeling (Arnold 1960; Frederickson 1995). The key term for the elaboration of this thesis is contrast. Drawing from theories of the nonlinear dynamics of perceptual categorization (e.g. Freeman 1999; Spivey 2007) I propose that perceptual experience is constituted by complex contrasts specified by sensorimotor dynamics within a continually evolving, high-dimensional “contrast space” (cf. the “quality space” in Clark 1993; 2000). For this approach, affect pertains to “implicit” higher-order contrasts that obtain between successive contrast spaces of perceptual dynamics. That is, the affective tone of a perceptual feeling is not determined by perceptual qualities themselves but rather by the way in which these qualities are specified within an evolving contrast space that “expands” and “contracts.” I further suggest that the evolving contrast space of experience can be thought of as a dynamically constituted “feeling self.”


IAS-Research Talk by Denis Walsh (University of Toronto) “Summoning and Sedimentation: Concepts for an agent-centred evolutionary biology”

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

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Denis Walsh (University of Toronto)

Title: Summoning and Sedimentation: Concepts for an agent-centred evolutionary biology


I attempt to motivate an agent-centred ‘contact’ theory of evolution. I draw on debates in the philosophy of mind to illustrate a distinction between ‘foundationalist theories’ and ‘contact theories’. Traditional approaches to thought, perception, knowledge, linguistic meaning, are foundationalist. They start with the separation of an ‘inner’ mental realm from an outer realm, and posit mental ‘givens’ as the foundational elements. Foundationalist theories of the mind have well-known structural problems. Two, in particular, appear to be insuperable: (i) underdetermination (skepticism), and (ii) the missing agent. I argue that gene-centred evolutionary theory is also a foundationalist theory. It too suffers from the same problems. One prominent solution in the philosophy of mind is to adopt a wholly different kind of theory, a contact theory of the agent. I argue that a contact theory can have the same salutary consequences for the understanding of evolution as it does for mental phenomena.

IAS-Research Talk by Gabriel Piedrafita: Tissue-level cell-fate coordination underpins epithelial clone competition dynamics: theoretical modeling to open a conceptual discussion

Date and time: September 25, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Gabriel Piedrafita, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (Cambridge, UK)

Title: Tissue-level cell-fate coordination underpins epithelial clone competition dynamics: theoretical modeling to open a conceptual discussion

Abstract: Epithelia are among the simplest mammalian tissues. Yet, little is known about how epithelial cells organize and orchestrate their fates (whether to divide, differentiate or die) to guarantee the turnover while preserving tissue homeostasis. Over a decade, theoretical models have been proposed according to which individual progenitor cell behavior would accommodate toautonomous, random fate choices, with remarkably good fits – at a statistical level – on lineage-tracing data from transgenic mice. It was my aim in this work to revisit these studies, and re-evaluate previous paradigms with an emphasis on bringing statistical-physics descriptions closer to the biological phenomenology at the cell level. By means of new experimental data and mathematical modeling, I will show how epithelial homeostasis can conform to simple rules where niche-sensing and collective cell-fate coordination play a predominant role. I would like to finish discussing how this domain of tissue-level communication would necessary constrain and impact on mutant clonal expansion, contributing to an internal control of tumourogenesis, letting the topic open for further debate.

Talk by Nathalie Gontier: Roots of reticulate evolutionary theories in natural philosophy

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

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Nathalie Gontier (Center for Philosophy of Sciences of the University of Lisbon)

Title: Roots of reticulate evolutionary theories in natural philosophy


Symbiosis, symbiogenesis, hybridization, virolution and infectious heredity are forms of reticulate evolution that are currently drawing the attention of philosophers of science because of the discussions they raise on the origin of life and the diversification of major cell types, the nature of biological individuality, and the limited scope of the traditional Modern Synthesis in defining and explaining all aspects of life’s evolution. Research on the innovative nature of reticulate evolution currently overshadows inquiries into the scientific and sociocultural context wherein these ideas first emerged. Hybridization theories were first formulated in relation to the ethnic mixing induced by colonialism and imperialism, with religious, political and scientific leaders speaking out against the mixing of ethnicities – an idea also endorsed by the eugenicist founders of the Modern Synthesis. Symbiosis and symbiogenesis associate with the rise of communitarian and socialist ideologies that opposed liberal ideas of free market economy that in turn associate with natural selection theory. And research on virolution and infectious heredity associates with attempts at eradicating disease. All aspects of reticulate evolution thus originally carried a negative sociocultural connotation. To understand why reticulate evolution has long been researched outside the mainstream Neodarwinian framework, it is necessary to go beyond comparing these theoretical frameworks from within science and the role they play in evolution, and to take the sociocultural, political and historical aspects into account.

Talk by Nathalie Gontier: Explanation in evolutionary linguistic sciences: a review of epistemological frameworks

Date and time: May 14, Monday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Nathalie Gontier (Center for Philosophy of Sciences of the University of Lisbon)

Title: Explanation in evolutionary linguistic sciences: a review of epistemological frameworks


Rather than present a theory on the origin and evolution of language, I focus on the various epistemological frameworks that have been introduced to understand and study the origin and evolution of language. Evolutionary linguistics is a relatively young field of research that originated a mere 30 years ago as an outgrowth, on the one hand of the rise of computational linguistics (itself an outgrowth of cybernetics and information theory), and on the other evolutionary psychology. Pinker & Bloom’s 1990 article published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences is often considered a first seminal paper, and the introduction of the EVOLANG conference series a direct response. Nonetheless, research on the origin and evolution of language is very old and has roots in, on the one hand, moral social contract theory, and on the other, the rise of natural history research. Such research originally included both synchronic and diachronic research into the origin of language, but synchronic research became favored, first, because of the publication ban on diachronic research by the French linguistic society in 1866; later due to the favoring of synchronic, systems theoretical approaches by early linguists and anthropologists, and finally due to the rise of biolinguistics. Nonetheless, research on the biological origins of language associates, on the one hand, with the rise of behaviorism, ethology, evolutionary epistemology and comparative psychology; on the other, with the continuation of diachronic sociocultural research and the continuous development of taxonomic and phylogenetic tools to classify the world different languages and their diaspora. And though evolutionary linguistics is a field that originated partly by opposing itself to Chomskyan and biolinguistic programs, the role of neuro- and biolinguists in reviving evolutionary research is not to be underestimated. Today, the study of language evolution is becoming devided into research on the origins of communication in primates, the origin and evolution of protolanguage, and the study of macroevolutionary language dynamics. While originally working from within a universal selectionist approach, the biggest challenge for the field today is incorporating findings associated with the extended evolutionary synthesis.

IAS-Research Talk by Gustavo Caponi: “El impacto de la Filosofía Anatómica de Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire en el desarrollo de la Historia Natural”

Date and time: February 9, Friday, 12:00 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Gustavo Caponi (Departamento de Filosofía – UFSC)

Title: El impacto de la Filosofía Anatómica de Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire en el desarrollo de la Historia Natural

Abstract: Se procurará mostrar de qué manera los trabajos y las tesis de Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire [Étampes, 1772 – Paris, 1844] impactaron en el devenir la Historia Natural anterior al advenimiento del darwinismo, creando las condiciones que propiciaron la Revolución Darwiniana. Para ello se examinarán las implicaciones de su Filosofía Anatómica en el desarrollo de la Anatomía Comparada y de la Paleontología. Ese examen estará focalizado en la teoría de los análogos y en el principio de las conexiones; dándose un énfasis especial a las diferencias entre los puntos de vista de Geoffroy y los de su colega, y rival, Georges Cuvier.

“Seminario Abierto de Filosofía” by Sandra Caponi: “Vigilar y medicar: el DSM-5 y los trastornos mentales de la infancia”

Date and time: February 8, Thursday, 13:00.

Location: .”Sala de Juntas” (Facultad de Educación, Filosofía y Antropología)

Speaker: Sandra Caponi (Departamento de Sociología & Ciencia Política – UFSC)

Title: Vigilar y medicar: el DSM-5 y los trastornos mentales de la infancia


IAS-Research Talk by Johannes Jaeger: “Structuralist perspectives on the evolution of developmental processes”

Date and time: March 1, Thursday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Johannes Jaeger. Associate Faculty, Complexity Science Hub (CSH) Vienna. Visiting Scientist, Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD)

Title: Structuralist perspectives on the evolution of developmental processes

Abstract: The organisational approach to living systems draws on the organicist movement from the 1920s and 30s. In this lecture, I will present a different line of historical influence of this research tradition. It traces through the work of Waddington and Schmalhausen to the process structuralists of the 1970s and 80s. These biologists were less concerned with the overall organisation of autonomous self-maintaining organisms. Instead, their research focus lies on the structures underlying the dynamics of evolving developmental proc.esses. These structures are expressed in terms of morphogenetic fields and their mathematical description by systems of differential equations. They not only determine the pattern-forming repertoire of a developmental process, but also its evolutionary potential, as they determine the possible phenotypic transitions such processes can or cannot produce. In this way, they directly connect to modern concepts of evolvability and the genotype-phenotype map used in current evolutionary developmental biology. I intend to illustrate this neglected history of process structuralism with numerous examples.