IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Giorgio Airoldi (UNED): “Beyond Fitness: Robustness as measure of non-selective evolutionary phenomena “

Date: 16/06/2020, at 11:30

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


The last decades have seen the flourishing of accounts of evolutionary forces other than selection, many of which have been collected under the name of Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (ESS) (Laland et al. 2015). The range of phenomena targeted by these accounts spans from genetic mechanisms (e.g. Cherniak & Rodriguez-Esteban 2013, Kimura 1983, Wagner 2015) to developmental (e.g. Maynard Smith  et al. 1985), systemic (e.g. Kauffman 2000) and neo-Lamarckian (e.g. Koonin & Wolf 2009).

Although almost none of them denies the importance and even preponderance of selection in the history of life, and they rather aim at integrating non-selective phenomena into neo-Darwinism (a view known as ‘pluralism’), they are highly criticized by main-stream biology, that either limits or completely denies their evolutionary importance, often underling that their contribution to fitness is immaterial.

In this talk, I claim that fitness, being an intrinsically selective measure, should not be used to judge non-selective phenomena. I show how, by doing so, the theory of selection falls into the well-known pitfall of becoming a truism. To avoid the pitfall, I propose to recur to robustness as a selective-indifferent variable able to account for the contribution to evolution of non-selective forces. After defining robustness, I analyse some of the mechanisms that increase the robustness of a system and I suggest how non-selective phenomena can contribute to the appearance of such mechanisms in organisms. Finally, I propose a classification of evolutionary phenomena in terms of changes of form and function, and I show how fitness and robustness might jointly explain them in a unified, pluralistic account of evolution.


Cherniak, C.; Rodriguez-Esteban, R. (2013). Body maps on the human genome. Mol. Cytogenet. 6 (1): 61Kauffman, S., (2000). Investigations. Oxford University Press.

Kimura, M. (1983). The neutral theory of molecular evolution. Cambridge University Press

Koonin, E. V., Wolf, Y. I (2009). Is evolution Darwinian or/and Lamarckian? Biology Direct, 4:42

Laland K.N., Uller T., Feldman M.W., Sterelny K., Müller G.B., Moczek A., Jablonka E., Odling-Smee J. (2015). The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, assumptions and predictions. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20151019

Maynard Smith, J., Burian, R., Kauffman, S., Alberch, P., Campbell, J., Goodwin, B., Lande, R., Raup, D., Wolpert, L. (1985). Developmental Constraints and Evolution: A Perspective from the Mountain Lake Conference on Development and Evolution. The Quarterly Review of Biology, (60)  3: 265-287

Wagner, A., (2011), The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations, Oxford University Press

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Juan M. Loaiza: “Sandboxing: A Specification Hierarchy of Contexts of Constraint Interdependence”

Date: 09/06/2020, at 11:30

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


In this presentation I propose to bring interest to seemingly peripheral aspects of the theory of organisational closure based on constraint dependencies (Moreno & Mossio, 2015; Montévil & Mossio, 2015). In particular, I show how the theory can generate an alternative mapping of levels or hierarchies of organisation.The question I address is how contexts come about. I use Salthe’s distinction of compositional and specification hierarchies and show how the latter combined with some of the consequences of the constraint-based theory yields an interesting alternative. Compositional (or scalar) hierarchies are almost the default assumption across various disciplines (e.g. by adding parts we can go progressively from subatomic particles to populations, etc.). The alternative consists of an open-ended specification hierarchy of contexts which I call tentatively the “sandboxes” hierarchy (in reference to the metaphor of sandboxing in software development). By focusing on mapping contexts (the periphery), as a complement to the established theory of organisational closure (the centre), I point to possible integrative links across nomothetic and idiographic perspectives.   

IAS-Research Seminar (Online) by Leonardo Bich (EHU/UPV), “Multicellularity: realizing functional integration by organising the intercellular space”

Tuesday, 26/05/2020 at 11:30 (online, please contact guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus)


Paper available (open access) here:

The question addressed in this talk is how multicellular systems realise functionally integrated physiological entities by organising their intercellular space. 

From a perspective centred on physiology and integration, biological systems are often characterised as organised in such a way that they realise metabolic self-production and self-maintenance. The existence and activity of their components rely on the network they realise and on the continuous management of the exchange of matter and energy with their environment. One of the virtues of the organismic approach focused on organisation is that it can provide an understanding of how biological systems are functionally integrated into coherent wholes.

Organismic frameworks have been primarily developed by focusing on unicellular life. Multicellularity, however, presents additional challenges to our understanding of biological systems, related to how cells are capable to live together in higher-order entities, in such a way that some of their features and behaviours are constrained and controlled by the system they realise. Whereas most accounts of multicellularity focus on cell differentiation and increase in size as the main elements to understand biological systems at this level of organisation, these factors are insufficient to provide an understanding of how cells are physically and functionally integrated in a coherent system.

To address these issues, I present a new theoretical framework of multicellularity. The thesis is that one of the fundamental theoretical principles to understand multicellularity, which is missing or underdeveloped in current accounts, is the functional organisation of the intercellular space. From this perspective, the capability to be organised in space plays a central role in this context, as it enables (and allows to exploit all the implications of) cell differentiation and increase in size, and even specialised functions such as immunity. The extracellular matrix plays a crucial active role in this respect, together with the strategies employed by multicellular systems to exert control upon internal movement and communication. Finally, I show how the organisation of space is involved in some of the failures of multicellular organisation, such as aging and cancer.

IAS Research Seminar (Online) by Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo (EHU/UPV): “The construction of biological ‘inter-identity’ as the outcome of a complex process of protocell development in prebiotic evolution”

To participate online, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus.

Date: 12/05/2020, at 11:30

Abstract: The concept of identity is used both (i) to distinguish a system as a particular material entity that is conserved as such in a given environment (token-identity: i.e., identity as permanence or endurance over time), and (ii) to relate a system with other members of a set (type-identity: i.e., identity as an equivalence relationship). Biological systems are characterized, in a minimal and universal sense, by a highly complex and dynamic, far-from-equilibrium organization of very diverse molecular components and transformation processes (i.e., ‘genetically-instructed cellular metabolisms’) that maintain themselves in constant interaction with their corresponding environments, including other systems of similar nature. More precisely, all living entities depend on a deeply convoluted organization of molecules and processes (a naturalized von Neumann constructor architecture) that subsumes, in the form of current individuals (autonomous cells), a history of ecological and evolutionary interactions (across cell populations). So one can defend, on those grounds, that living beings have an identity of their own from both approximations: (i) and (ii). These transversal and trans-generational dimensions of biological phenomena, which unfold together with the actual process of biogenesis, must be carefully considered in order to understand the intricacies and metabolic robustness of the first living cells, their underlying uniformity (i.e., their common biochemical core) and the eradication of previous –or alternative– forms of complex natural phenomena. Therefore, a comprehensive approach to the origins of life requires conjugating the actual properties of the developing complex individuals (fusing and dividing protocells, at various stages) with other, population-level features, linked to their collective-evolutionary behaviour, under much wider and longer-term parameters. On these lines, I will argue that life, in its most basic sense, here on Earth or anywhere else, demands crossing a high complexity threshold and that the concept of ‘inter-identity’ can help us realize the different aspects involved in the process.

IAS-Research (Online) Seminar by Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo (EHU/UPV) and Nino Lauber (EHU/UPV): “On the transition from self-organization to minimal metabolism”

Tuesday 07 April at 11:30, Online (please contact Guglielmo Militello, guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus, to participate)

Abstract: In this seminar we will share some ideas about the type of non-equilibrium physico-chemical processes from which more complex, protometabolic reaction pathways and transformation cycles can develop. The concepts of self-organization and self-assembly will be discussed, describing some concrete examples to illustrate them, and explaining why we consider they are relevant but not rich enough to account for minimal forms of metabolism. Autonomy, instead, will be suggested as a more adequate theoretical construct to grasp/explore metabolic dynamics, to be distinguished from a collection of coupled chemical reactions by a set of relational criteria that we are currently working on.

IAS-Research Talk by Tim Klaassen (Tilburg University): “Enactivism and the Foundations of Ethics: Some Suggestions on How to Bring the Two Together”

Enactivism and the Foundations of Ethics: Some Suggestions on How to Bring the Two Together

Tim Klaassen (Tilburg University)

Tuesday 4 February at 11.30 Centro Carlos Santamaria (B14)


Can we utilize enactivism as a framework for understanding the foundations of normativity in the moral and political domain? In this talk I suggest a broad outline of an affirmative answer. To begin with, I show, relying on Korsgaard’s “constitutivist” account of the principles of practical reason, that normative standards within the moral domain can be shown to have their source in a moral agent’s distinct mode of autopoiesis. A moral agent is an agent endowed with a specific type of self-consciousness. Because of this, they have a certain degree of freedom in deciding which sensorimotor contingencies they shall adopt to govern their interaction with the environment. As a corollary to this, the world that such agents bring forth, and the kinds of action it affords, comes to have a distinctively moral significance. In the second part of my talk I explore the question of whether, in addition to this kind of “moral enaction” there is also something like a distinctively political form of world-enactment. That is, is there something distinctive about the manner in which institutions are enacted? Relying on the ideas of Hans-Georg Gadamer, I formulate a provisional affirmative answer to this question via the notion of tradition. On this account, tradition is a distinctive and irreducibly social form of enaction through which a world of socio-political institutions is brought forth. Even if this can be established, however, the challenge remains to see whether any normative conclusions can be drawn from it.

IAS-Research Talk by Silvia de Cesare (Université de Genève): “The idea of organic “progress” and evolutionary theory: an epistemological perspective”

The idea of organic “progress” and evolutionary theory: an epistemological perspective

Silvia de Cesare (Université de Genève)

Tuesday 28 January at 11.30 Centro Carlos Santamaria (B14)


The notion of “progress” can be defined as a directional change towards the better, implying a descriptive and an axiological element. “Organic progress” is the idea that, in the history of life, there has been a change towards organic forms which are “better” than the ancient forms. Several scholars have shown that this idea can be found in Charles Darwin’s thought and continues to provoke debate today. My presentation aims to disentangle conceptual questions about the notion of organic progress. Can we identify a precise notion of progress that would be implied by evolutionary theory? To answer this, it is necessary to make explicit how this notion is related to two concepts: adaptation and function. Following the reasoning of Darwin, Richard Dawkins and George G. Simpson, I clarify the concept of functional improvement of organic traits. I argue that there is an analogy between organic traits and technological objects, explicit in the notion of “arms race” proposed by Dawkins. Analyzing this analogy, I propose a distinction between two levels of axiology, often neglected both in organic and technological domain. I also suggest the hypothesis that the technological analogy may influence the significance that evolutionary biologists attribute to functional improvement.

IAS-Research Talk by Marc Artiga (Universitat de València): “Do Bacteria Really Talk to Each Other?”

Do Bacteria Really Talk to Each Other?

Marc Artiga (Universitat de València)

Tuesday January 14 at  at 11:30 (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)


In the last two decades, there has been a growing interest in bacteria and other microorganisms. This research has provided interested insights into the nature of life (Parke, 2013), cooperation (Lyon, 2007), individuality (Clarke, 2016), species (Franklin, 2007) and other issues in philosophy of science (O’Malley, 2014). In this talk, I will focus on the capacity of some bacteria to produce molecules that are usually classified as ‘signals’ and I would like to defend two claims. First of all, I will argue that in this context expressions such as ‘signalling’ should be taken at face value and that certain interactions between bacteria actually qualify as genuine forms of communication. The second goal is to use this case study to revise our general theories of signalling. In particular, I will argue that there are some aspects of bacterial signalling that do not fit the standard model; some features that usually included in the definition of communication are probably not necessary (e.g. response flexibility) and others that are not included are crucial (e.g. being a minimal cause). Finally, I will discuss the relationship between my proposal and other accounts, such as the ‘influence’ approach and the Organizational Approach to Biological Communication (Frick, Bich and Moreno, 2019).

IAS-Research Seminar by Enara García and Iñigo Arandia-Romero (UPV/EHU): “La patología en la filosofía de la individuación de Gilbert Simondon”

La patología en la filosofía de la individuación de Gilbert Simondon

Enara García and Iñigo Arandia-Romero (UPV/EHU)

Tuesday 19 November 2019 at 11:30  (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)

Language: Spanish


En este trabajo, proponemos mirar en la filosofía de la individuación de Gilbert Simondon para ofrecer un entendimiento de lo patológico desde una ontología procesual y relacional que diluye tanto la discontinuidad entre procesos vitales y psíquicos como la dicotomía entre individuo y sociedad. Simondon propone estudiar, no tanto los individuos ya constituidos, sino el proceso de ontogénesis del individuo que, en el caso del ser humano, está mediado por su participación en lo colectivo. En este proceso, la afectividad juega un papel central, ya que atraviesa tanto la individuación vital, como la psíquica y la colectiva, conectando el conjunto de tensiones y potencialidades existentes previas al proceso de individuación (lo pre-individual) con el individuo constituido. Este cambio de perspectiva permite entender la patología, no en términos normativos, sino como el estudio de la dinámica de la afección, con su historia previa y sus posibilidades de evolución, e influyendo también en nuestra comprensión de los procesos terapéuticos.