“Evolvability as a dispositional property”


Seminar on Tuesday, 14th of February at 11:15am at the Carlos Santamaria (IAS room, B14)

Laura Nuño de la Rosa: “Evolvability as a dispositional property”

Evolvability, or the ability of biological systems to evolve, is usually taken to be a cornerstone of evo-devo and, more generally, of the so-called Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. In the last years, evolutionary biologists have made several efforts to define evolvability, and philosophers of biology have shown an increasing interest in understanding the dispositional nature of this concept. In this talk, I will explore the philosophical consequences associated to two major conceptual tensions permeating current definitions of evolvability. The first concerns the relationship between variability and adaptability. While some authors define evolvability as the capacity of biological systems to vary, evolvability is mostly seen as the capacity to vary in an adaptive way, excluding the capacity of a system for producing deleterious mutations as a part of the ability to evolve. The idea that the ability to adapt can evolve has been charged with suggesting a teleological view of evolution, insofar as natural selection cannot adapt a population for future contingencies. I will explore the existing solutions to this dilemma and will argue that evolvability can be defined in a functional sense without invoking teleology. The second conceptual tension among the existing definitions of evolvability concerns the very subject of evolvability. While most philosophers of biology agree that evolvability can only be a property of populations, I will argue that biologists are right in defining evolvability as a capacity of biological systems that apply to different levels of organization. Finally, I will explore the role of extrinsic (environmental) factors in the determination of evolvability, and argue that the context-sensitivity of evolvability does not challenge its intrinsicality.

Talk by Carissa Véliz (U. of Oxford): “In defence of habits”

Date and time: Monday Dec. 15th. 11.00 am.
Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14
Speaker: Carissa Véliz (U. of Oxford)
It is tempting to think that habitual behaviour is undesirable when it comes to morality and politics. When we think of an ideal moral agent and citizen, we tend to imagine someone whose behaviour is the result of careful rational deliberation and not habitual impulses. Kant, for example, believed that “As a rule all habits are reprehensible.” (2006, §9, 149). Habits seem particularly threatening for projects seeking social change, for habits enable people to go through their day-to-day life without conscious questioning of what they do, and partly constitute a basic resistance to doing things differently.
I argue that habits are an inevitable part of moral and political life, and that this is not necessarily negative; although habits are often instrumental to maintaining the status quo, they can also be tools for social change. I will first present five features of habitual action. I will then differentiate between habits, dispositions, and practices, and argue for the conceptual advantages of talking of habits in moral and political philosophy. Finally, I will argue against views of habits as obstacles to responsible moral and political behaviour leading to social transformation.

Dec. 1. Talk by Leonardo Bich: Biological Regulation: an organisational account

TITLE: Biological Regulation: an organisational account

LOCATION: Centro Carlos Santamaría Zentroa B14

TIME: Dec 1, 11.00

ABSTRACT; Biological systems exhibit a wide range of molecular mechanisms and behavioral strategies to ensure their survival under variable conditions. All of these mechanisms tend to be interpreted as regulatory because they contribute to the maintenance of  the system’s viability against perturbations by modulating their own basic dynamics. However, despite the widespread appeal to the notion of regulation in biology, be it for explanatory, modeling or defining purposes, the meaning of this notion is left somehow vague and its relationship with akin concepts, such as homeostasis, robustness, feedback or adaptation is hardly stated in clear terms. I will propose an organizational approach to regulation, by focusing on the mechanisms at the basis of responses to perturbations in minimal living systems. In the first place, I will analyze different forms of control in the cell, and how they can be recruited by biological organization to respond to internal or external perturbations. In doing so I will distinguish between two different classes of responses, based respectively on stability and regulatory mechanisms. I will describe the limits of stability as an adaptive response, and I will provide a definition and a basic set of organizational requirement for regulation, by pointing out the differences with similar concepts such as feedback. robustness and homeostasis.

17 Nov., Talk by Sara Murillo – Towards integrative compartmentalized chemical systems: a lipid-peptide rendez-vous


Towards integrative compartmentalized chemical systems: a lipid-peptide rendez-vous.

Sara Murillo Sanchez1,2, Damien Beaufils,3 Robert Pascal,3  Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo1,2,


1Biophysics Unit (CSIC, UPV/EHU), Leioa, Spain; 2Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, UPV, Donostia−San Sebastián, Spain; 3IBMM, CNRS – Université de Montpellier, Place E. Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

Maturana and Varela’s work on the theory of autopoiesis in the seventies and eighties led to a conception of life as a form of organization, by which each living entity recursively produces itself, including the boundary with its local environment (i.e., the cellular compartment). In more recent times, we have applied a similar idea, ‘basic autonomy’ [1], to design a research agenda in the field of origins of life, proposing it as an intermediate bridge between complex self-organizing phenomena and ‘genetically-instructed metabolisms’ – i.e., minimal but already full-fledged living organisms, capable of open-ended evolution [2].

This systems view for the origin of life is grounded on the idea that biological organization should result from the functional integration of diverse autocatalytic subsystems maintained in far-from-equilibrium conditions. The authors of this work come from two different fields of research, prebiotic peptide synthesis [3, 4] and fatty acid compartment self-assembly [5], but share the aim of investigating the relevance of coupled processes that could connect both fields.

The membrane-assisted formation of oligo-peptides [6,7] or more recent endogenous synthesis of a hydrophobic peptide that gets inserted in the lipid bilayer of a protocell  [8] have opened new research pathways into the possibility that peptides could be helpful for the growth and stability of lipid vesicles.

We present here the first results of a collaborative work in which the presence of fatty acid vesicles has been demonstrated to favor the peptide bond formation, potentially leading to a prebiotic process of selection and amplification of peptide residues. In turn, the insertion of the type of peptides synthesized here into fatty acid membranes could also contribute to their stability, representing a positive feedback for vesicle self-assembly and potential growth and reproduction.


[1] K. Ruiz-Mirazo, A. Moreno, 2004, Artificial Life, 10(3), 235–2597

[2] K. Ruiz-Mirazo, J. Umerez & A. Moreno, 2008, Biology and Philosophy, 23(1), 67–85

[3] D. Beaufils, G. Danger, L. Boiteau, R. Pascal, 2014. Chem. Commun, 50 :3100–3102

[4] G. Danger, R. Plasson, R. Pascal, 2012, Chemical Society Reviews, 41:5416–29.

[5] A. Rendón, D. Gil Carton, J. Sot, M. García-Palacios, R. Montes, M. Valle, J-L. Arrondo, F.M. Goñi, K. Ruiz-Mirazo, 2012, Biophysical Journal, 102: 278-286.

[6] M. Blocher, D. Liu, P. L. Luisi, 2000, Macromolecules, 33:5787-5796

[7] H. H. Zepik, S. Rajamani, M.-C. Maurel, D. Deamer, 2007, Orig. Life Evol. Biosph. 37, 495-505.

[8] K. Adamala, J. W. Szostak, 2013, Nat. Chem. 5, 495–501


10th Nov., talk by Oier Etxeberria: AITA LABURU Imágenes y palabras sobre magia y locura en el País Vasco (1933-1935)

TITLE: AITA LABURU Imágenes y palabras sobre magia y locura en el País Vasco (1933-1935)

LOCATION: Centro Carlos Santamaría Zentro B14

DATE: 10th Nov., 11:00

ABSTRACT: El padre Laburu fue uno de los primeros documentalistas del
cine vasco. Sus filmes en torno a los ritos mágicos en la medicina
popular, los experimentos perceptivos realizados con los animales, su
interes por los zoológicos y los centros de internamiento
psiquiátrico, constituyen un legado sustancial para la llamada
antropología visual y sin duda muestran a un intelectual (teologo,
medico) interesado en indagar en las zonas oscuras del pensamiento
racional y cientifico. La inclusion de estos materiales en el contexto
de Pure Data, un proyecto a la que recientemente he dedicado una
exposición[1], la presentación en el 33º festival de cine de NAFA y
ahora esta presentación ante un publico universitario constituye una
oportunidad para tratar de analizar hasta que punto la progresiva
tecnificación medica de la sociedad y su poder empirico-instumental
convive con la sacralizacion con la que paulatinamente se nos muestra
la gestión de la salud.

Prof. Alvaro Moreno: The Limits of Science as Biological Limits of Human Beings – CSM B14, 3 Nov., 11am


Alvaro Moreno

In this talk I will analyze the nature of Science considered as a specific form of human action. I will first analyze the epistemic dimension of science, its limits, and the role that philosophy could play in this domain. Second, I will consider science from a broader perspective, as a system embedded in the development of human society. From this perspective, science has caused an accelerated process of economic growth. But this process, which lacks a global regulatory control, is potentially self-destructive because it undermines the ecological logic, which is based on building sustainable cycles among species. As I will explain, a clash between the specific expansion of the human niche (as driven by science) and the induced transformations in the global ecosystem seems inevitable because the change in the forms of human interaction with other species is cultural, not genetic, and therefore its speed makes it virtually impossible a re-adaptation by most of the biological species.

Nicole Rossmanith talk: Karl Bühler meets Enactive Cognitive Science – Towards a Science of Social Co-regulation and Making Sense

Nicole Rossmanith talk:
Karl Bühler meets Enactive Cognitive Science – Towards a Science of Social Co-regulation and Making Sense

Centro Carlos Santamaría Zentroa, B14
11h00 6th October

This talk sets out to explore points of contact between the approach of early 20th century psychologist Karl Bühler and some recent developments in cognitive science such as enactivism, sensorimotor accounts of cognition or second person approaches…

During the 1920ies – times of proliferation and crisis – in Vienna (the heyday of the Vienna Circle, Freud, as well as the “biologische Versuchsanstalt Vivarium”) Bühler writes a productive critique of the competing schools of psychology (“Crisis in Psychology”), opening up the question of the proper “subject matter of psychology” and in the following years goes on to sketch a programme for a Psychology, firmly grounded in (systems) biology and aiming to address all areas of “meaningful life” including the behaviour of unicellular organisms as well as products of human culture.

This talk will explore (1) how Bühler’s systematic critique based on an analysis of different (and complementary) ways of approaching the mind (experience, behaviour, and structure approaches) can be instrumental for understanding some of the problems inherent in modern cognitive science and how they came about. And I will explore (2) some of the untapped potential of his positive framework and how it might open up a new road for cognitive science not yet travelled.
Bühler’s approach is very much in line with recent developments in cognitive science (action turn, social turn, semiotic turn). His systems view of organisms, taking purposeful action as the basic unit of analysis, his emphasis on social co-regulation being constitutive for society and “higher cognitive functions” such as language, and in particular his cyber-semiotic theory of communication and cognition/interaction (combining his notion of “Steuerung/regulation” with an elaborated theory sign processes) are strikingly similar to concerns and concepts of enactivism and sensory-motor accounts of cognition (such as (participatory) sense-making and “active perception”…), and might in some aspects even point beyond them.

Body-Oriented Psychotherapy for Persons with Schizophrenia: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Participants’ Experience. IAS Research Seminar by Laura Galbusera.

Centro Carlos Santamaría, Room B14. 11:15-13:00, 3rd Jun 2014.

Laura Galbusera M. Sc. (Psych.)
TESIS Marie Curie Fellow, Clinic for General Psychiatry, University of Heidelberg

According to different models, schizophrenia is a disorder that disrupts the Self, even at the implicit and bodily level of basic self-awareness. Consistently, specific body-oriented psychotherapy interventions for schizophrenia have been developed to access firstly the implicit and bodily level of experience. The aim of this study is to explore participants’ experience of body-oriented psychotherapy in order to understand the helpful factors in the process of therapeutic change. After a 10 weeks program of body-oriented group psychotherapy (Roericht et al., 2000) 6 adults with schizophrenia participated to a semi-structured interview (Change Interview; Elliott, 2001) exploring their experience of change and helpful/hindering aspects of therapy. Data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith et al., 2009). The preliminary results showed six super-ordinate themes related to therapeutic change: 1) Being a whole: body-mind connection 2) Being unique and worthy: feeling accepted for who one is 3) Being part of a group: feeling of social belonging 4) Being agentic, being able 5) Hoping and investing in the future. These core themes share the underlying idea of a recovery of a sense of Self at different levels. The relevance of these results and their implications for treatment approaches to schizophrenia will be addressed.

Evolutionary Innovations by Symbiogenesis – From Ancient to Modern (Geological) Times. Visiting research seminar by Professor Juli Peretó.

Centro Carlos Santamaría, Room B1. 11:15-13:00, 30th May 2014.

Professor Juli Peretó

Institut Cavanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva, Departament de Bioquímica i Biologia Molecular, Universitat de València <pereto@uv.es>

Over a hundred years after the classic debates on the individuality of lichens, the role of symbiosis in the emergence of innovations is a significant part of the canon of contemporary evolutionary biology. The theory of symbiogenesis, proposed by Boris Kozo-Polyansky (1890-1957) and deployed in all its explanatory power by Lynn Margulis (1938-2011), allows the study of the emergence of new structures, metabolisms and behaviors from the association of different species. Thus, we are convinced that mitochondria and chloroplasts have common ancestors with modern free-living bacteria and that eukaryotic complexity began out of prokaryotic consortia more than 1 billion years ago. But the link between symbiosis and evolution does not end here. Associations with prokaryotic organisms have been present and repeated throughout the evolutionary history of eukaryotes. One of the best studied cases are the metabolic symbiogenesis between insects and bacteria, which have occurred independently many times during the last 300 million years, producing numerous mergers of the branches of the tree of life. The vertically inherited endosymbionts and the intestinal microbiota have sculpted the metabolic capabilities of the largest animal group. If the association between prokaryotes was essential for the emergence of the eukaryotic cell, we must also recognize that the symbiotic associations with prokaryotes, explored during eukaryotic diversification, have been crucial in the evolution of eukaryotic metabolism. The eukaryotes are really metabolic mosaics.

Grouping Practices from a “Naturalistic” Point of View: A Meta-Theoretical Comment

IAS Talk by Alba Amilburu
Centro Carlos Santamaría B14, 13th May, 11:15

It is said (Boyd 1991, Reydon 2010) that the notion of ‘natural kind’ plays an important role in philosophy of science for understanding grouping practices, what science is and how it works because it allows and facilitates a comparison of different classificatory strategies. In order to investigate the contribution of this philosophical concept, we need first to clarify what makes a kind natural. In this paper I argue that the notion of “natural kind” is ambiguous: a fundamental disagreement concerns how philosophers understand the ideas of “natural”, “real” and “objective”. Thus, a meta-theoretical analysis –i.e., an interpretation of the different theoretical accounts of natural kinds that conform the current debate– is a necessary step to clarify the uses and meanings of the “natural kind” concept.
I argue that this analysis explains in what sense the notion of “natural kind” is ambiguous, and it serves as a useful tool for understanding the relations, controversies, peculiarities and differences among theoretical approaches in the current philosophical discussion on grouping strategies and concepts.