IAS-Research Talk by Miguel A. Sepúlveda-Pedro (Université de Montréal): “Opening the ecological dimension of the enactive approach: Umwelt, normativity, and form”


Date and time: July 16, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Miguel A. Sepúlveda-Pedro (Université de Montréal)

Title: Opening the ecological dimension of the enactive approach: Umwelt, normativity, and form


The enactive approach is an alternative approach to cognition that challenges many fundamental assumptions of mainstream cognitive science. One of the most fundamental assumptions of traditional cognitive science is that the objective World is a ready-made reality that we access via our cognitive capacities, thus cognition essentially consist in getting information about this objective reality. In this classical picture, we need to reconstruct or represent the outside world in our heads, given the limited capacities of our senses. From the beginning, the enactive approach has challenged this conception of cognition by positing that the world we live, in our cognitive lives, is enacted thanks to the interactions of a living agent and its surroundings. Therefore, it is suggested that the world that a cognitive agent experience is not an objective reality but a dimension that acquires meaning and value according to the skills and concerns of living agents. Thompson, in his Mind in Life, loosely refer to this enactment of a meaningful world as an Umwelt. Uexküll coined the concept of Umwelt to define the world as it is lived by animals, according to their biological needs. However, Uexküll statements was sometimes explicitly linked to Kant’s transcendental philosophy. One of the problems of Kant’s transcendental philosophy is that it encloses the subject in its own domain, meanwhile an objective unknowable reality remains the source of materials that acquire form thanks to the mental capacities of the subject. In this Kantian background, the enactment of an Umwelt will be analogous to the constitution of a meaningful world by the capacities of the subject alone. This interpretation of the Umwelt is deeply problematic, and it does not reflect the claims of the enactive approach. This approach, like phenomenology, offers an account that entails a deep entanglement between the body and the environment, not an enclosed form of subjectivity. Nevertheless, many criticisms on the enactive approach seems to interpret the enactment of an Umwelt in the Kantian sense, so they claim that the enactive approach entails some form of subjectivism. In my view, many of these criticism are unfounded due to misinterpretations of the claims of the enactive approach, nonetheless, their criticisms push us to have a more specific account of the Umwelt, one that remains coherent with the claims of the enactive approach, but that also avoids the problems that have been usually attributed to the enactive approach. Thus, I will suggest that conceptually the notion of interanimality and the metaphor of animal melodies, in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature, offer us a better way to understand the characteristics of the Umwelt, from the perspective of the enactive approach. Moreover, I will also suggest that an account of what I call structural emergence needs to be also explicitly added to the theory of biological autonomy, to open the domain of embodied subjectivity to a deeper ecological dimension of emplaced intercorporeality.

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.

IAS-Research Seminar by Miguel Escribano. “G.W. Leibniz y el problema del origen de los cuerpos orgánicos. Educción y preformacionismo”

Date and time: January 22, Tuesday, 14:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Miguel Escribano (UPV/EHU)

Title: “G.W. Leibniz y el problema del origen de los cuerpos orgánicos. Educción y preformacionismo”


“El problema del origen de la vida, como hoy en día se plantea, no es directamente abordado durante la modernidad filosófica. Existen, sin embargo, algunos debates que podríamos considerar al respecto por su cercanía a este problema. El caso de G.W. Leibniz es especialmente relevante. Por un lado, su Dinámica tiene la pretensión de convertirse en una ‘ontología general’ que de cuenta de todas las parcelas de lo real en términos de fuerza y forma. En este sentido, su visión de la naturaleza implica una cierta continuidad y coordinación entre las dinámicas características a los tres reinos naturales. Este programa ontológico no está exento de contradicciones. Leibniz nos aporta algunas herramientas para abordar estas contradicciones. En esta presentación haré mención a dos de ellas: por un lado, la teoría de la educción (importancia del pensamiento químico) y, por otro lado, la idea de preformación (importancia del pensamiento biológico). Considerando ambas teorías se plantea el siguiente problema: ¿existe una incompatibilidad entre la perspectiva diacrónico-embriogenética (biológica) que defiende que toda forma orgánica procede de otra forma orgánica y la perspectiva sincrónico-emergente (química) que defiende por su parte que la dinámica organizacional que caracteriza a un organismo educe a un cierto nivel de complejidad natural?”

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.

International Workshop: Conceptual Issues on ‘Life, Mind and Society’ in Dialogue with Alvaro Moreno

Date: 19-20 November 2018

Location: Faculty of Education, Philosophy and Anthropology (Salón de Grados) [Ibaeta Campus, Donostia-San Sebastián, Basque Country, Spain]

Keynote Speakers: William Bechtel (University of California San Diego), James Griesemer (University of California, Davis), Alicia Juarrero (University of Miami), Alvaro Moreno (UPV/EHU), Ana Soto (University of Tufts).

Full Program (pdf)


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.