IAS-Research Seminar (Online) by Tiago Rama (UAB) and Xabier Barandiaran (UPV/EHU), “An organismic path for teleosemantics: from biological to cognitive autonomy”

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

On June 15, 2021, at 11:30.

ABSTRACT
The most widespread attempt to explain cognitive norms in naturalistic terms is etiological teleosemantics (Millikan, 1989; Neander, 1991). However, the neo-Darwinian bases on which etiology is hosted have been severely challenged in the philosophy of biology,  confronting the teleological account that departs from orthodox natural selection adaptationism. Organismic Biology (Camazine, 2003; Etxeberria & Umerez, 2006; Gilbert & Sarkar, 2000; Goodwin, 2001; Kauffman, 1995, 1995; Müller & Newman, 2003; Walsh, 2015) is an increasingly widespread alternative to this evolutionary adaptationist framework. There is, however, still little development of how organicism can contribute to teleosemantics and to transit from biological to cognitive norms. A prominent area to approach natural normativity within organismal biology is Autonomous System Theory (Barandiaran, 2008; Bechtel, 2007; Bickhard, 2000; Moreno et al., 2008; Moreno & Mossio, 2015; Ruiz-Mirazo et al., 2004). Within this approach normative behaviour has been conceptualized as that which operates in accordance with the viability conditions of a recursively self-sustaining system (Barandiaran et al., 2009; Barandiaran & Egbert, 2013; W. D. Christensen & Bickhard, 2002). Departing from different works on sensorimotor theory and the autonomy of cognition (Barandiaran, 2008; Barandiaran & Di Paolo, 2014; Barandiaran & Egbert, 2013; W. Christensen, 2012; W. D. Christensen & Bickhard, 2002; Di Paolo et al., 2017; Egbert & Barandiaran, 2014) we extend and discuss the notion of cognitive normativity from an organismic perspective that understands cognitive norms as emerging from interdependencies between sensorimotor habits. We attempt to refine the different sensorimotor layers that build cognitive norms, from the intrinsic normativity of a single habit to that of networks of habits up to the emergence of social habits. We identify minimal requirements for a system to be teleosemantic: 1. That its behaviour is goal directed (minimally pre-intentional), 2.  That its behaviour must potentially be judged (naturalistically) as erroneous, and 3. That its behaviour be (at least potentially) corrected by the organism as a result of it being detected as erroneous. Next we apply the organismic approach to cognitive normativity to a simple example of sensorimotor behavior that satisfies the minimal teleosemantic requirements. Finally, we discuss the advantages of an organismic path to teleosemantics by addressing core challenges in the literature: a) the Swampman scenario (and the Swampfrog variant we will suggest); b) the relation between normal and natural normativity c) the plasticity of cognitive norms.

Bio: Tiago Rama (Autonomous University of Barcelona, UAB) trama.folco@gmail.com and Xabier E. Barandiaran (University of Basque Country, UPV/EHU)

IAS-Research Seminar (Online) by Alejandro Merlo (EHU/UPV), “Life and thermodynamics: the contribution of Earth system science”

On May 11, 2021, at 11:30.

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

Abstract: The classic thermodynamic account of life describes organisms as open systems, which compensate their internal low entropy by an increased dissipation in their surroundings. An intuitive consequence of this account is that complex living systems would seem to necessarily decrease the potential for life in their environment by their increased entropy production.

Within this framework, some accounts have attempted to explain biological organisation as a manifestation of the second law and the tendency to increase entropy; others have rejected this position as reductionist and moved to an account of biological organisation in non-thermodynamic terms. However, even if thermodynamics cannnot give a full account of biological organisation, there is in all cases a thermodynamic background to biological phenomena which needs to be accounted for in an understanding of the materiality of life.

In this context, James Lovelock’s idea, according to which a planet with life could be distinguished because of a thermodynamic disequilibrium in its atmospheric composition, shifts the discussion to the planetary scale, where the presence of Life becomes the explanans of a certain thermodynamic configuration. This observation, which corresponds to the Gaïan principle according to which Life modifies its physical environment to improve and maintain its own conditions of existence, has been recently developed in a systematic way by German physicist Axel Kleidon.

From this planetary standpoint, it is Life together with its physical environment that has to be considered as the primordial open, far from equilibrium dissipative system. So, while individual organisms or complex organisations within the Earth can be described as dissipative systems if considered separately from the whole, a full thermodynamic account needs to integrate them in the planetary scale, where they might (or might not) function as part of the global material organisation that sustains a low entropy environment.

Bio: Alejandro Merlo Ote (EHU/UPV)

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)

Abstract

Paper available (open access) here:
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01170/full

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, Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo’s talk, “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.