IAS Research Talk by Mitchell Ryan Distin: “Evolution in Space and Time: The Second Synthesis between Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and the Philosophy of Biology”

Abstract: Change is the fundamental idea of evolution. Explaining the extraordinary biological change we see written in the history of genomes and fossil beds is the primary occupation of the evolutionary biologist. Yet it is a surprising fact that for the majority of evolutionary research, we have rarely studied how evolution typically unfolds in nature, in changing ecological environments, over space and time. While ecology played a major role in the eventual acceptance of the population genetic viewpoint of evolution in the synthetic era (circa 1918-1956), it held a lesser role in the development of evolutionary theory until the 1980s, when we began to systematically study the evolutionary dynamics of natural populations in space and time. As a result, early evolutionary theory was initially constructed in an abstract vacuum that was unrepresentative of evolution in nature. The subtle synthesis between ecology with evolutionary biology (eco-evo synthesis) over the past 40 years has progressed our knowledge of natural selection dynamics as they are found in nature, thus revealing how natural selection varies in strength, direction, form, and, more surprisingly, level of biological organization. Natural selection can no longer be reduced to lower levels of biological organization (i.e., individuals, selfish genes) over shorter timescales but should be expanded to include adaptation at higher levels and over longer timescales. Long-term and/or emergent evolutionary phenomena, such as multilevel selection or evolvability, have thus become tenable concepts within an evolutionary biology that embraces ecological and spatiotemporal change. As a result, evolutionary biology is currently suspended at an intermediate stage of scientific progress that calls for the organization of all the recent knowledge revealed by the eco-evo synthesis into a coherent and unified theoretical framework. This is where recent advancements in the philosophy of biology can be of particular use, acting as a bridge between the subdisciplines of biology and inventing new theoretical strategies to organize and accommodate the recent knowledge. Philosophers have recommended transitioning away from outdated philosophies that were originally derived from physics within the philosophical zeitgeist of logical positivism (i.e., monism, reductionism, and monocausation) and toward a distinct philosophy of biology that can capture the natural complexity of multifaceted biological systems within diverse ecosystems—one that embraces the emerging philosophies of pluralismemergence, and multicausality. Therefore, I see recent advances in ecology, evolutionary biology, and the philosophy of biology as laying the groundwork for another major biological synthesis, what I refer to as the Second Synthesis because, in many respects, it is analogous to the aims and outcomes of the first major biological synthesis (but is notably distinct from the inorganic movement known as the extended evolutionary synthesis). With the general development of a distinctive philosophy of science, biology has rightfully emerged as an autonomous science. Thus, while the first synthesis legitimized biology, the Second Synthesis autonomized biology and afforded biology its own philosophy.

Event is hybrid. To receive event link contact: andrea.gambarotto@gmail.com

IAS-Research Talk by Gillian Barker (University of Pittsburgh) “Geofunctions: A pragmatic approach to purposes, norms and agency at the planetary scale”

As a follow up to the Gaia and Philosophy Seminar, Dr. Gillian Barker will give an online talk on Thursday the 12th January, at 16h, for the first IAS-Research Talk of 2023.

To participate, please contact Andrea Gambarotto andrea.gambarotto@gmail.com

Many scientists working on global environmental patterns and their disruption are caught in a conceptual double-bind: they find that they need to see Earth as a functional system with normative and teleological dimensions, but long-standing assumptions about science, values, and purposes imply that such thinking is scientifically illegitimate. As a result, functional thinking about global-scale phenomena is expressed vaguely and inconsistently in the form of metaphors and applied frameworks. Similar problems affect thinking that draws on concepts of agency. The costs of this impasse may be high. Where there are patterns in the phenomena that are effectively captured using concepts of function or agency, failure to apply those concepts may lead to avoidable errors in prediction. A pragmatic reorientation, supported by recent developments in philosophy, could enable scientists to overcome this impasse and develop a useful conceptual framework for global-scale functions and agency.

Bio: Gillian Barker (University of Pittsburgh)

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 Eduardo Apodaka Ostaikoetxea (EHU/UPV) “Itinerarios del Sujeto: encarnación subjetiva, objetivación institucional, disolución y rearticulación relacional”.

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

June, 14th 2022, at 11:30


El Sujeto como protagonista de la filosofía moderna. La encarnación –cuerpo e individuo– teórica y práctica del sujeto: filosofías del yo creador y dispositivos de subjetivación del yo. La institucionalización del sujeto colectivo –estado y nación–: el nosotros, de substancia a utopía. El sujeto relacional: de la filosofía a las ciencias sociales, de la intersubjetividad a las subjetividades trans-individuales, de garantía del yo-sujeto a la liquidación de la deuda humanista.

IAS-Research Talk by Daniele De Martino (Biofisika Institutua, EHU/UPV), “Searching for principles ruling cell metabolism”

On May 31st, 2022, at 11:30
To participate, please contact perezverdugo.marta@gmail.com

Are there basic principles ruling cell metabolism beyond known physical laws? Is it possible to test them quantitatively? In this talk I will consider two of them: (1) the fact that cell metabolism could work in a “critical” state and (2) the notion that cell metabolism maximizes growth and/or in general has “objective functions” that are optimized under constrained resources. I will criticize these putative principles on the basis of my own work on the inference and measurements of metabolic fluxes. While the first is in contradiction with plain thermodynamics, the other is a useful working hypothesis that shall be revised in the light of unavoidable phenotypic heterogeneity within which a trade-off is established. Heterogeneity in fact endows inter-cellular interactions and in turn, means to control the environment. I will provide the experimental example of lactate shuttles among human cells in this respect.

Bio: Daniele De Martino (Biofisika Institutua, Ikerbasque, EHU/UPV)

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 by Manuel Heras-Escribano (University of Granada) “Social normativity, fields of promoted action, and affordances: An integrative view”

On Nov 23rd, 2021, at 11:30.

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


In this talk, I will show how social normativity, the field of promoted action, and canonical affordances are related. The field of promoted action is a concept proposed by Reed (1996), which is based on the idea that there are affordances emphasized by other people (Reed 1996: 130). Although proposed for the field of developmental psychology and experimentation, I think it is a rich concept to be applied to other fields (like philosophy of mind) to make sense of our everyday experience. But how could we articulate this idea? I propose that my ideas on social normativity (Heras-Escribano 2019) could serve as a framework for showing how the field of promoted action is constituted and present in everyone’s cognitive life. Also, I think the combination of the ideas of social normativity and the field of promoted action can help articulating the origins and nature of canonical affordances from a social perspective.

Bio: Manuel Heras-Escribano (University of Granada)