IAS-Research Talk by Bruce Clarke (Texas Tech University) “Planetary Intelligence: A Gaian Critique”


On Thursday the 1st December 2022, 16h-18h, Biblioteka Carlos Santamaría, Room 8.
This talk will be part of the two-day seminar “Gaia and Philosophy”, organised by the Outonomy project. See full program and registration form here.


Gaia now confronts us with states of operation and response that threaten long-term habitability for many species. Authored by a strong team of accomplished scholars—astrophysicist Adam Frank, planetary scientist David Grinspoon, and astrobiologist Sara Walker—the recent article “Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process” probes ideas concerning a viable planetary integration of the technosphere with the biosphere. However, to my mind, the concept of intelligence comes up short in their efforts to integrate planetary biology and technological society. The authors inherit conceptual problems rooted in early SETI discourse, which centers the search for extraterrestrial intelligence on obsolete notions of technological advancement. Also, the discourse of intelligence is not well suited to the dialects of systems theory toward which they turn their enquiry. Their description of planetary intelligence wavers between a control regime and an autonomous process. Moreover, while bringing the idea of planetary intelligence toward the discourse of autopoiesis is a promising move, in this instance it leads to an equivocal blurring of the concept of cognition. Intelligent awareness is certainly one form cognition can take, but cognition also occurs both above and below the level of thought. As I hope to explain in some detail, the conceptual strains of “Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process” indicate that the preferable, properly Gaian formulation is planetary cognition, a theoretical framing that embeds the technosphere within its biospheric conditions of possibility.


Bruce Clarke, Gaian Systems: Lynn Margulis, Neocybernetics, and the End of the Anthropocene (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, “Overcoming Autopoiesis: An Enactive Detour on the Way from Life to Society,” in Advanced Series in Management, eds. R. Magalhães and R. Sanchez (Bingley: Emerald Group, 2010), 43-68.

Adam Frank, David Grinspoon, and Sara Walker, “Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process” International Journal of Astrobiology 21 (2022): 47–61.

David Grinspoon, Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016).

Chris Otter, “Socializing the Technosphere,” Technology and Culture 63:4 (2022): 953–78.

I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1966)

IAS-Research Talk by Carl Sachs (Marymont University), “Strongly Embodied Functionalism: Between Enaction and Functionalism”

On Nov 17th, 2022, at 16:00
To participate, please contact andrea.gambarotto@uclouvain.be
On this occasion, Carl Sachs will present a novel view of functionalism (“strongly embodied functionalism”) in a talk that intersects organizational and enactive approaches, and engages with work by IAS-Research members..

Bio: Carl Sachs (Marymont University)

IAS-Research Seminar by Laura Menatti (UPV/EHU), “The relationship between health and environment: from adaptation to adaptivity”

On Dec 21st, 2021, at 13:00.

To participate, please contact: perezverdugo.marta@gmail.com

In this talk I address the relationship between health and environment which is of particular relevance in the current pandemic scenario. To do so I discuss and question the definition of health as provided by WHO (1948) and I propose an account of health which considers the role of the environment, from micro to macro level. This account is based on the concepts of adaptation used in public health and adaptivity in philosophy of biology. According to this perspective, the environment is not understood as a threat to health, but it may be characterized as a source of opportunities that require the organism to modify its activities and adopt new courses of action. I discuss two examples of adaptive mechanisms in the environment: community-based medicine and microbiologically healthier buildings.

Bio: Laura Menatti (UPV/EHU)

IAS-Research Seminars by Juli Peretó (University of Valencia) “Transmetabolism: Pushing the Limits of Biological Autonomy”

On Thursday, Dec 2nd, 2021 at 11:30

To participate, please contact: alejandra.mtz.quintero@gmail.com


Living beings are the result of a cocktail made with unknown doses of chance and necessity. Consider a thought experiment, in which we could rewind the ‘tape of life’ starting from the same initial conditions, what biochemical traits and cellular features would finally be the same as those we observe today? It is clear that what is real in biology is a subset of what is possible, and this issue has been discussed at different scales. Thus, structural and dynamic developmental constraints limit the space of solutions for animal bodies (Alberch, 1989), whereas physicochemical restrictions and historical contingencies shape the possible at the molecular level (Jacob, 1981). Meteorite analysis and many organic syntheses performed under prebiotic conditions indicate that the primitive Earth was home of a moderately complicated chemodiversity, including the most common biological building blocks – sugars, fatty acids, amino acids, nucleobases, etc. (Lazcano, 2018). In this period of chemical evolution, physicochemical constraints (i.e. thermodynamics and kinetics in a given environment) determined the origin and maintenance of the abiotic chemical landscape. The chemically possible was the scenario for the organization of the most simple and primitive biochemical systems: autocatalytic cycles for self-maintenance of a set of building blocks, self-reproduction of lipid vesicles, and self-replication of genetic templates (Peretó, 2012). Presumably, all these cycles kicked off in the absence of catalysts or with the involvement of very simple and unspecific facilitators (e.g. mineral surfaces). The emergence of optimizable catalysts through natural selection (e.g. ribozymes) was a phase transition to a period of a more efficient and creative functional screening of the possible (de Duve, 2005). Diverse lines of evidence indicate that metabolic surveys of alternative sources of matter and energy were rapid and explosive, performed by the first microbial communities. Biogeochemical closing of the recycling of bioelements was a vital step for a sustainable and long-term continuity of terrestrial life (Falkowski et al., 2008). Thus, the boundaries of the metabolically possible were expanding in parallel to the coevolution of life and the planet. For instance, after the emergence in some cyanobacterial ancestors of the enzymatic machinery able to extract electrons from water to feed the photoelectronic chain, molecular oxygen accumulated in oceans and afterwards in the atmosphere. Those microorganisms able to cope with this new-to-life compound took advantage of its reactivity and dramatically expanded the world of the metabolically possible: many new metabolites, including steroids, and processes (e.g. oxygen respiration) became available to life. Thus, recurrent patterns in actual cell metabolisms are the result of a long evolutionary exploration within the chemically constrained space of the possible solutions under specific yet changing conditions (de Lorenzo et al., 2014).

Full text: https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1751-7915.13691