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 Talk by Sergio Rubín (Earth and Life Institute, UCLouvain), “Biological Autonomy and Gaian Systems”

ABSTRACT: In this presentation it is assumed that the Earth system is autopoietically organized and that therefore the system is constituted as an autonomous system. That is assumed from chemical atmospheric and geological evidence and from how the organization of the Earth system as autopoietic satisfies relations of formal systems such as the (M,R)-system, chemical organization theory, and variational free energy minimization. This implies that the autonomy of the internal biological unities of the Gaian system, such as prokaryotes and unicellular or metacellular eukaryotes, although they are structurally coupled and therefore participate in planetary self-production, their autonomy and their ecology and evolution depend largely on the Gaian system biology of cognition and enaction with its outer solar space. This point of view, however, poses a fundamental problem. To what extent the biological unities internal to the Gaian system can or can’t affect its autonomy. This presentation will discuss this problem, but by no means will it come to a final conclusion. 

Sergio is research fellow at the Earth and Life Institute of UC Louvain (Belgium), biologist by training he now works chiefly on Gaian systems from an organizational perspective inspired by biological autonomy and (M-R)-systems.

IAS-Research Talk by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga (EHU/UPV), “La naturaleza participativa: Biología y neurología para recuperar el curso de la re-evolución”

On May 17th, 2022, at 11:30

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


Enfrentarse al neoliberalismo como un arte de gobierno fundamentado en la traslación de las lógicas económicas a las de la vida, obliga a desmontar los marcos interpretativos que desde la biología sitúan falsamente al egoísmo, la agresividad y la competencia como fundamentos de lo humano. Las ciencias naturales están mostrando desde hace dos décadas que en la naturaleza no hay un destino cerrado, que la cooperación es la base de la evolución, y quenuestro cerebro se asienta en la capacidad de ponerse en el lugar del otro, la otra y lo otro. La epigénesis, la etología y la neurología pueden aportar una mirada que muestre que estrategias como la Investigación-Acción-Participación y su apuesta por la activación de la agencia ciudadana no solo no es una “herejía” científica, como postula el positivismo. Al contrario, las propias ciencias “duras” confirman la pertinencia de un acercamiento situado en la realidad, atravesado por la empatía y orientado a la vertebración y la articulación cooperativa.

Así, los procesos participativos, y más concretamente la Investigación Acción Participación pueden interpretarse y defenderse como herramientas que permitan revertir la lógica desevolutiva actual. Encontrar en la naturaleza la ausencia de destino (frente una interpretación errónea de la genética falsamente cimentada en la lógica de la inmutabilidad, que cuestiona laepigénesis) permite negar el mantra del “no hay alternativa”. Comprender la sociabilidad desde la fragilidad de nuestra especie ayuda a trabajar desde los dolores para reconstruir el yo fragmentado por el neoliberalismo, convirtiendo la politización en el primer paso para la reconstrucción de las redes comunitarias. En fin, entender nuestra capacidad empática permite reforzar la búsqueda de un pensamiento colectivo que conforme nosotr@s con agencia.

Bio: Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga (EHU/UPV

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

IAS-Research Talk, Cristina Villegas (UCM, Madrid)

On Tuesday 30 March 2021 at 11:30. To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

“Variational tendencies: development as an ultimate cause”


The separation between ultimate and proximate causes is one of the most classical topics in the philosophy of biology. The ongoing debate over the Extension of the Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) includes a wide variety of philosophical topics, among which is a revision of such separation in the light of new evolutionary research agendas. In particular, it has been argued that some proximate causes, such as the development of organisms or their ecological interactions, play an evolutionary role in the sense that they are a necessary step in evolutionary transformations. While this has partially blurred the distinction between proximate and ultimate causes for local evolutionary changes, it has left relatively untouched the philosophical ideas about general tendencies in evolution, natural selection and chance remaining to be considered the main general driving evolutionary forces. Contrary to this view, in this paper I argue that the variational tendencies studied in evolutionary-developmental biology, or evo-devo, (evolvability, variability, modularity, robustness and plasticity) are ultimate causes in a sense that overcomes the specificities of local evolutionary changes. These properties, studied through genotype-phenotype maps, refer to structural features of how variation is produced in reproduction, and are increasingly being introduced in predictive models of evolution. I defend that these properties are better understood as propensities, analogous to how fitness and drift are usually seen in the philosophy of biology. While they are realized in particular developing systems, they refer to general features shared across taxa and affecting the production of variation in systematic ways, falling into the traditional category of ‘ultimate’ causes. I conclude with some ideas about how this consideration of variational tendencies can affect the notions of chance and contingency in evolution.

IAS-Research Talk, Maël Montevil (Université Paris 1/IHPST)

On Tuesday 16 March 2021 at 11:30. To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

“Integrating entropy, constraints closure, and historicity to understand anthropogenic disruptions”


The term “disruption” is commonly used in the literature to describe anthropogenic damages on ecosystems and life cycles. However, this notion has not been conceptualized and theorized as such. Here we will focus on the specific case of plant-pollinators networks and their disruption by climate change. We will show that the analysis of these situations requires integrating constraints closure and historical reasoning. Moreover, entropy enters the picture in a new way: its coarse-graining is defined by constraints closure. This framework leads to an initial account of disruption in biology: disruption as a loss of historical singularity impacting constraints closure.

IAS-Research Talk, Emilio Caceres (UNED)

On Tuesday 9 March 2021, at 11:30. To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

“Autoorganización como propiedad de nivel. Una visión reduccionista no eliminativista de la perspectiva organizacional” [The presentation will be in Spanish]


El comportamiento de los sistemas complejos se ha abordado en muy diferentes disciplinas desde enfoques que apelan a la autoorganización como una propiedad clave de ciertas entidades. Una de las propuestas actuales más influyentes se basa en la idea de cierre organizacional, esto es, un tipo de organización característico de entidades como los seres vivos en el que puede identificarse un cierre de constricciones que da lugar a propiedades con poderes causales que determinan el automantenimiento. Estas propiedades son consideradas usualmente como emergentes. En este trabajo se defiende que,
aunque esta idea de cierre organizacional tiene una valiosa capacidad explicativa, no conlleva necesariamente la asunción de un emergentismo ontológico. Desde una perspectiva que parte de la noción de cuasi-descomponibilidad de Herbert Simon, en este trabajo se desarrolla una caracterización de la idea de cierre organizacional como principio explicativo compatible con una interpretación ontológica reduccionista, en tanto en cuanto no precisa de la postulación de propiedades emergentes, pero también epistemológicamente no eliminativista, pues entiende que la noción de cierre de constricciones tiene un irrenunciable valor heurístico para el discurso biológico.

IAS-Research Talk, Cristian Saborido’s (UNED) presentation of his book “Filosofía de la Medicina” (in Spanish)

On Tuesday 26 January 2021 at 11:30.

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


¿Qué es la salud? ¿Qué criterios se utilizan para identificar y clasificar las enfermedades? ¿De qué forma se debe conjugar la perspectiva de los médicos con la de los pacientes? ¿Existen realmente las enfermedades mentales? A la consciencia de que tenemos una naturaleza frágil le acompaña la esperanza de que podemos tomar medidas para combatir el sufrimiento y postergar la amenaza de la muerte. A lo largo de los siglos y en todas las culturas nos hemos esforzado por identificar, prevenir y tratar de revertir aquellos estados corporales que consideramos molestos o peligrosos, lo que ha dado lugar a esa particular síntesis de ciencia y arte a la que llamamos medicina. Con un lenguaje accesible y cercano, esta obra demuestra que la medicina es un objeto de estudio ineludible para la filosofía. A través de la descripción de casos médicos concretos, del recurso a ejemplos históricos, e incluso de la alusión a diferentes productos de la cultura popular como el arte, el cine o la televisión, se analizan críticamente las cuestiones que conforman la emergente filosofía de la medicina, al tiempo que se ofrecen herramientas conceptuales para comprender qué asunciones presupone y qué consecuencias implica la práctica médica.

IAS-Research talk (online), Matteo Mossio (CNRS & Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), “On why biological autonomy cannot live without closure”

Tuesday, the 15th of December 2020, 11:30 (Central European Time)

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


In this talk, I examine the role of organizational closure within the theory of biological autonomy. Many authors, as Piaget, Maturana, Varela, Rosen and Kauffman in the 20th century, have elaborated on closure as a distinctive feature of biological systems, notably in connection with thermodynamic openness. In essence, my claim is that there is no biological autonomy without closure, for fundamental theoretical and philosophical reasons. Autonomy cannot live without closure. Yet, substantial work is still to be done to show how organizational closure can contribute to explain crucial  biological phenomena, many of which are addressed by the Outonomy project. I discuss in a preliminary way how closure can take up the challenge.