New (6-month) post-doc position


A new position is open for a 6-month full-time post-doc contract at IAS-Research.

Deadine for application: June 11th (2021).

The contract will extend from July 1st to December 31st (2021).

Among other documents, the interested candidates should present:

  1. PhD title
  2. Updated CV
  3. Motivation letter (max. 2p.)
  4. Language titles (English & Basque) — if you have any.

More details on the application procedure (please, read carefully and follow the instructions):

In additon, please, let us know that you are applying through an e-mail message to, including the CV and the motivation letter presented.

OUTONOMY project: Fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual


We are happy to announce that the Outonomy (“Fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual”) project got officially funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The project is co-lead by Leonardo Bich and Xabier E. Barandiaran.

As part of this project we got awarded with a PhD Scholarship. Please help us find and match the best candidates by sharing this link to our pre-application call:

Project summary and main research lines

The project aims to expand theories of autonomy beyond classical conceptions of the individual by including integrative, relational, collective and environmental dimensions into it.

The concept of autonomy, understood as the capacity of a system to set up and follow the norms of its own functioning, is of central relevance to contemporary science and society. Recently, the increasing acknowledgement of the deep interconnectedness, mutual dependence and multi-scale embeddedness of several natural and social phenomena, has directly challenged the very idea of autonomy, together with those of individuality and identity, and the possibility of its applications to scientific and social challenges.Building on top of 25 years of philosophical and trans-disciplinary research at the IAS-Research Center for Life, Mind and Society of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), centred on a naturalized theory of autonomy in biological and cognitive sciences, this project aims to expand theories of autonomy beyond classical conceptions of the individual by including integrative, relational, collective and environmental dimensions into it.

To do so the project pursues 4 main goals:

1- To develop an account of integration in autonomous systems, as an organizational principle to understand how ‘physiological’ cohesiveness emerges within and across systems.

2- To understand how inter-actions between autonomous systems can give rise to supra-individual or collective forms of autonomy and how these can alter the autonomy of the former.

3- To investigate the extension of autonomous systems into their environment (from prebiotic scaffolds to technology) to achieve viability and coordinate regulatory self-governing processes.

4- To address the issue of sustainability (at different scales) of new eco and socio-ecological systems emerging from previously independent autonomous systems.

In order to achieve these trans-disciplinary goals, the methodology involves naturalist conceptual analysis and synthesis based on an active dialogue with empirical research, computational and mathematical models and scientific theories. The profiles of the 5 research team members in philosophy of science, philosophy of biology and complex systems is complemented by an international work team of 24 collaborators including social scientists, computer modellers, network and data analysts, biologists and environmental scientists.

If you want to know more about the project, we recommend you read and download our project description document by clicking on the image below:

You can follow the project updates on ResearchGate at the following link:

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:

On June 15, 2021, at 11:30.

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) and Xabier E. Barandiaran (University of Basque Country, UPV/EHU)

IAS-Research Seminar by Izar Agirresarobe-Pineda (EHU/UPV) and Iñigo R. Arandia (EHU/UPV)

To participate, please contact:

On May 18, 2021, at 11:30. This session consists of three small talks:


Izar Agirresarobe-Pineda (EHU/UPV) and Iñigo R. Arandia (EHU/UPV)

  1. “Placebo, addictions, and the interplay between pre-reflective and reflective activity”

Background: Placebo and addictive phenomena share a controversy between reflective volition and uncontrollable bodily responses. Motivated by the conscious/nonconscious divide, they also share explanations in terms of (conscious) expectations and (nonconscious) conditioning. However, this dichotomy is problematic: it assumes a passive mechanistic account of bodies difficult to extrapolate beyond controlled experimental settings, and it renders the nonconscious as an almost inaccessible black-box.

Methods: We assess empirical evidence and theoretical explanations on placebo and addictive phenomena employing the dynamic interplay between pre-reflective (more implicit and automatized) and reflective (more explicit and controllable) aspects of agency derived from embodied cognitive science. We take the intersubjective domain as constitutive of experience, following the notion of “ontological intimacy” developed by philosopher Kym Maclaren.

Results: The pre-reflective/reflective interplay allows to investigate the influence of habits and other interrelated behavioral patterns, personal narratives, and a variety of tacit interactive elements (body language, speech tone, moods, atmospheres) that are fundamental to understand placebo phenomena and addictive behavior. Social interactions, including therapeutic encounters, cannot be reduced to exchanges of information that shape expectations only in a reflective manner. Social encounters always affect (positively or negatively) the ongoing constitution of our personhood in pre-reflective and reflective ways.

Conclusions: We suggest placebo and addictive phenomena should be investigated as meaningful interactive experiences involving a dynamic interplay between pre-reflective and reflective activity. This interplay, capturing essential sensorimotor and intersubjective influences, offers more flexibility than the conscious/nonconscious dichotomy. These categories might also provide insights for other conditions such as phobias or traumas.

Iñigo R. Arandia (UPV/EHU)

2. “Placebo from an Enactive Perspective”

Background: A set of problematic assumptions pervades research into placebo effects. These include various kinds of dualisms (physiology/psychology, object/subject, known/knower), and tendencies towards reductive explanations based on passive individuals and mechanistic conceptions of the body.
Methods: We review an alternative theoretical framework in embodied cognitive science that rejects these assumptions—the enactive approach to life and mind—and evaluate the conceptual tools it offers for placebo research. We overview enactive concepts such as dimensions of embodiment, agency, and sense-making. We also introduce the ontology of individuation developed by Gilbert Simondon to offer a processual account of placebo phenomena.
Results: Based on empirical evidence, we interpret placebo interventions not as originating causal chains, but as triggers in the regulation of existing tensions between bodily and interpersonal processes. These processes involve looping effects through three intertwined dimensions of embodiment: organic, sensorimotor, and intersubjective. From this perspective, placebo responses are individuation processes triggered to regulate ongoing tensions in biopsychosocial processes. We defend the need to investigate therapeutic interactions in terms of participatory sense-making, going beyond the identification of individual social traits that modulate placebo effects to the investigation of patterns and kinds of social interaction.
Conclusions: We offer enactive proposals to overcome limiting assumptions common in placebo research and clinical practice, and discuss their resonances and differences with traditional explanations in terms of expectations and conditioning, and other approaches based on meaning responses and phenomenological/ecological ideas.

Iñigo R. Arandia (UPV/EHU)

3. “Social Interaction and Not Just Social Skills Affect Placebo Phenomena”

Background: Placebo effects are not predictable nor easily manipulable at an individual level. We suggest that a poor understanding of individual experiences and of social interactions contributes to discrepancies between placebo as robust group effects, and individual variability. Social influences on placebo are considered as external factors to be controlled for. The focus is on individual social traits, reducing the complex interactive experience to personal expectations, personality traits, motivational goals, or beliefs, downplaying interactive aspects such as patterns of coordination, asymmetries, and dissonances.
Methods: Following the enactive concept of participatory sense-making, we propose that a kind of interactive autonomy emerges in the therapeutic encounter, constituting a third element that depends on both patient and practitioner but is not controllable by either. Social interaction cannot be reduced to information transmission shaped by individual characteristics (empathy, trust, warmth).
Results: A successful encounter demands the capacity of relatedness from both sides in order to construct shared meaning and adequately modulate hopes and expectations. The few studies that gather data about interaction dynamics support the hypothesis that engaged forms of participation correlate with placebo effects. This perspective is compatible with the ‘placebo by proxy’ hypothesis and can account for evidence showing the impact of parental expectations on placebo effects in children.
Conclusions: Looking at phenomenological, anthropological and biomedical research, we show the necessity to investigate concrete situated and interactive experiences to gain generalization ability. Enactive theory bridges the gap between placebo effects measured at the group level and variability at the individual level.

Bio: Izar Agirresarobe-Pineda (EHU/UPV) and Iñigo R. Arandia (EHU/UPV)

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:

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 Talk Jo Bervoets (University of Antwerp), “Making sense of Tourettic sensibility (the joy of being let be?) “

On April 27, 2021, at 11:30.

To participate, please contact:

Abstract: Tourettic tics are typically socially received as problematic and nonsensical. But there is a tension between this fact, and how individuals with Tourette’s make sense of their world. I resolve this tension by bridging phenomenological and post-phenomenological thinking via the concept of participatory sense-making. In doing so, I interpret Gilbert Simondon’s becoming of the individual being as participatory sense-making between the human and the non-human. I propose to view the Tourettic difference as an example of a particular way of being that becomes problematic only if it is not ‘let be,’ and as a prototype of playfulness when it is ‘let be’. In line with Simondon, the ethical primacy of our relational openness to such difference is seen as prerequisite of knowledge creation. In fact, I – provocatively – argue that ‘being human entails being mentally ill’ insofar as a deviation from social norms forms the precondition for the continued becoming of human knowledge. I tie dogmatic blocking of this becoming to ‘arrogant perception’ as elaborated by María Lugones. My talk is an outcome of a ‘virtual’ research visit with Hanne De Jaegher & Diana Beljaars, specialists in enaction/participatory sense-making and in post-phenomenolog/Tourette’s respectively.

Bio: Jo Bervoets holds Masters in Philosophy, in Cognitive Sciences and in Sciences (Electronic Engineering). He worked for 25 years in the technology sector. After a burn-out, Jo was diagnosed with autism in 2017. To get back on track he pursued his lifelong obsession with philosophy graduating in ’18. Jo wrote his master’s thesis, published as “Going beyond the Catch-22 of autism diagnosis and research”, on the moral implications of asking “What is autism?”. He is currently a PhD researcher in the ERC project NeuroEpigenEthics with a specific focus on Tourette’s.

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

On Tuesday 30 March 2021 at 11:30. To participate, please contact:

“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:

“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:

“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


¿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:


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.