About tvanes

Thomas van Es is a philosopher of cognitive science at the IAS Research Centre for Life, Mind and Society at the University of the Basque Country in Donostia, Spain, and the Centre for Philosophical Psychology at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. His current work focuses on enaction and dialectics. He has also published on science, autism, and the connection between enaction and the free energy principle and predictive processing.

IAS-Research Talk by Arián Ferrero: Phenotypic plasticity, heterogeneity and evolvability in the microbial world


Thursday February 29 at 18:00 in Centro Carlos Santamaria (room to be announced). The talk will be hybrid. If you want to participate, please contact

ABSTRACT Free-living microorganisms typically display a wide range of physiological and behavioral features, inhabiting very diverse environments where spontaneous mutations and strong selective pressure make rapid adaptation possible. The coexistence of different species and their interactions provide microbial populations with a great variety of properties and functions, broadening the space of possible phenotypes. Nevertheless, biological diversity can also be observed in less open conditions, where populations of genetically similar individuals thrive in much more homogeneous microenvironments, and still demonstrate a surprisingly high phenotypic variability. This phenomenon reflects the importance of individuality within a collective/multicellular context and has been extensively observed in different species and organizational contexts — not only in artificially cultured bacteria but also in more complex cases, like cancer cells grown in tissue. Microbial phenotypic heterogeneity manifests in different ways, including morphological changes, macromolecular composition, different growth rates, reproductive strategies, motility mechanisms or specific metabolic signatures. So far, analyses performed to study this variability have mostly focused on cell growth rates, which are not sufficient to develop a satisfactory (minimally comprehensive) interpretation of phenotypic heterogeneity.
My PhD project, which I will briefly introduce in this session, focuses on the theoretical modelling of microbial metabolisms, with the aim to compensate for this deficit: i.e., expanding the study of phenotypic diversity beyond growth rates, to include the choice of specific metabolic regimes (derived from fluxomics data analysis), which is at the basis of most additional biological processes. On these lines, a preliminary ‘conceptual map’ will be presented, where we distinguish between metabolic plasticity and metabolic heterogeneity, as properties to be ascribed, respectively, to an individual organism and to the population, which may include cross-feeding (ecological) as well as kinship (phylogenetic) relationships. In this context, the distinction between potential and actual (ontogenic, or developmental) plasticity/heterogeneity will be made, as a bridge to connect the issue with the problem of evolvability. It is important to emphasize here that phenotypic heterogeneity is an evolutionary trait and can, in turn, shape the phylogenetic trajectories within a population. Therefore, one of the main aims of my work would be to correlate phenotypic diversity (understood specifically in terms of metabolic plasticity/heterogeneity) with ecological and evolutionary aspects. Through this “eco-evo-meta” perspective, we will try to contribute to a better understanding of the role of individual organisms in the emergence of population phenotypes and its evolutionary implications at the most fundamental biological level: the microbial world.

IAS-Research Talk by Mikel Asteinza Arteche: Condicionantes Epistémicos De La Divulgación Científica Y Su Impacto En La Audiencia Lega: El Caso De La Des-extinción


Thursday February 15 at 18:00 in Centro Carlos Santamaria room 4. The talk will
be hybrid. If you want to participate, please contact

ABSTRACT ES: Desde sus inicios, las técnicas de des-extinción han sido objeto de numerosos debates, entre ellos, el relativo a la terminología y formas de divulgación mediante las cuales estas se presentan. En 2016, un informe de evaluación de la IUCN advertía que la terminología utilizada resultaba engañosa, pues parecía prometer, en contraste con las capacidades reales de estas técnicas, la recuperación de especies extintas originales. A su vez, conservacionistas e investigadores críticos con la des-extinción, como Campagna et al. (2017), advertían de los peligros de la terminología y de la desinformación, ideas erróneas y expectativas irreales que podía suscitar. La investigación que llevamos a cabo participa en dicho debate y examina el impacto de la divulgación científica de la des-extinción y su terminología en el público lego, así como sobre los juicios e ideas que generan, destacando las implicaciones de estas en algunos de los temas que más preocupan a conservacionistas y expertos. Para ello, llevamos a cabo un experimento que contó con la participación de 200 sujetos divididos en 3 condiciones experimentales. Se diseñaron 3 textos susceptibles de ser comparados, uno para cada condición, entre los cuales la variable principal era la terminología utilizada. Algunos de los datos obtenidos indicaron (1)- que la terminología típicamente utilizada para presentar las técnicas de des-extinción tiende a desinformar a los sujetos e (2)- influir en el apoyo a la des-extinción; también descubrimos (3)- que existe un optimismo hipertrofiado sobre la des-extinción entre el público lego si comparamos sus opiniones con las de los expertos (Valdez et al., 2019). Finalmente, interpretamos los resultados obtenidos y sus implicaciones epistemológicas y planteamos las hipótesis por las que puedan discurrir futuras investigaciones.

ABSTRACT EN: Since their inception, de-extinction techniques have been the subject of much debate, including the terminology and forms of communication through which they are presented. In 2016, an IUCN report warned that the terminology used was misleading, as it seemed to promise, in contrast to the actual capabilities of these techniques, that the recovery of the original extinct species was possible. At the same time, some conservationists and researchers critical of de-extinction, as Campagna et al. (2017), warned of the dangers of this form of communication and the misinformation, misconceptions and unrealistic expectations it could lead to. The research we are carrying out engages in this debate and examines the impact of scientific communication about de-extinction and its terminology on the lay public, as well as on the judgements they generate, highlighting and examining its epistemological aspects. To this end, we conducted a survey in which 200 subjects were divided into 3 experimental conditions and required to read a text about de-extinction and then answer a questionnaire. We designed 3 similar texts, one for each condition, among which the principal variable was the terminology used. Some of the data obtained indicated (1)- that terminology typically used to present de-extinction techniques tends to misinform subjects and (2)- encourage support for de-extinction; we also found out (3)- that there is a hypertrophied optimism about de-extinction among the lay public if we compare their opinions with those of the experts (Valdez et al., 2019). We will present these results and analyze their epistemological consequences.

IAS-Research Talk by Ulises Rodríguez Jordá: Minds, bodies and languages: linguistic relativity from an enactive perspective

Thursday February 8 at 18:00 in Centro Carlos Santamaria room 5. The talk will be hybrid. If you want to participate, please contact

ABSTRACT: The idea that the languages we speak exert a differential influence on our cognition and behaviour, also known as the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis, has experienced a remarkable resurgence in the last thirty years. There are compelling reasons to expect a theoretical convergence between these new findings and the enactive approach. However, some important theoretical obstacles remain. The argument explores these points of contact and divergence along the two premises into which linguistic relativity (LR) is usually divided: (a) the claim that language affects cognition and (b) the claim that the world’s languages differ in non-trivial ways. On the one hand, the enactive approach articulates an explicit theory of the first claim that goes beyond most contemporary research on LR, which remains highly tentative on this premise and anchored in classical cognitivist assumptions. On the other hand, the enactive approach is still to fully engage with the second claim of LR. Two difficulties are identified: the concept of ‘languaging’, central to post-cognitivist accounts of language, is in tension with the foundations of LR. At the same time, the bodily aspects of cognition have often been regarded as an antirelativistic constraint that seemingly diminishes the import of LR. Our proposal identifies the trade-offs required of both fields to further the interdisciplinary dialogue between them.

IAS-Research Talk by Inês Hipólito: “Cognition on the Edge of Chaos: The Free Energy Principle”


Thursday 18 January at 09:00. The event will be online. If you want to participate, please contact


Cognition stands as one of the most formidable challenges in scientific inquiry. Living organisms exhibit behaviour teetering on the precipice of chaos. The Free Energy Principle (FEP) has been proposed as a pertinent approach to apprehending cognition. Conventional discourse on the FEP characterises the brain as a predictive apparatus. Instead, I posit that while predictive coding is a valuable tool for deciphering the conduct of complex systems, living systems do not function as detached computational prognosticators. Given their dual status as operationally closed and open systems, they exist in a state of delicacy, fostering an unbroken and pivotal interplay with their surroundings. This state of affairs, amenable to scientific explication through the FEP, provides a nuanced understanding of cognition within living systems.

IAS Workshop on the Free Energy Principle by Thomas van Es and Miguel Aguilera

Thursday January 11 starting at 11:00 in Centro Carlos Santamaria room 5. The workshop will be hybrid. If you want to participate, please contact

The Free Energy Principle (FEP) and associated approaches such as predictive coding/processing and active inference have grown immensely in popularity in the last decade or so. With a grand unifying ambition, the FEP is said to underlie quantum and classical mechanics, biology, cognitive science, and sociology. But its statistical method and dense mathematics make the philosophical implications often difficult to follow for outsiders. To bring people up to speed on the basics, Thomas van Es and Miguel Aguilera will be presenting introductory materials.

11.00 – 13.00 Philosophical introduction to the FEP by Thomas van Es

13.00 – 15.00 lunch break

15.00 – 17.00 Critical examination of the mathematics of the FEP by Miguel Aguilera

IAS-Research Talk by David Cortés García: “La evolución de las relaciones reproductivas: una aproximación organísmica”

Thursday 14 December at 17:30 in Centro Carlos Santamaría, room 3. The talk will be hybrid. If you want to participate, please contact


Este seminario se adentra en la filosofía de la biología reproductiva, presentando un marco organísmico y relacional. Específicamente, se trata el concepto de rasgo reproductivo, discutiendo su relevancia para las ciencias biológicas, los criterios empleados para su individuación y las posibilidades epistémicas que permite. Se expone la conceptualización adaptacionista y funcional de los rasgos reproductivos, entendidas como estrategias reproductivas para incrementar el fitness, señalando algunas de sus problemas y limitaciones a la hora de clasificar y explicar la diversidad en la reproducción. Proponemos, después, el concepto de carácter reproductivo organísmico y relacional, que pone el foco en las relaciones y da cuenta de la dimensión material y de desarrollo al tiempo que integra una visión funcional y reconoce rasgos no meramente morfológicos. Se explora cómo estos caracteres están integrados y su interacción, no solo dentro de un organismo, sino entre organismos, brindando una comprensión más profunda de los procesos reproductivos y sus conexiones en la naturaleza. Finalmente se esbozan los aspectos operacionales de esta propuesta para clasificar y explicar la evolución de los rasgos reproductivos y se discute por qué esta aproximación no es reducible a las anteriormente presentadas.