Federico Boem (Milan), “Out of our Skull, in our Skin: The Gut-Microbiota-Brain axis and the Extended Cognition Thesis”

Federico Boem is a philosopher of science who focuses on the life sciences and biomedicine. His current research interests include scientific reasoning and its public dimension, especially science-based policies, and the host-microbiota interaction with a focus on cognitive functions and ecological dimension.
Please find his article below :
“Out of our Skull, in our Skin: The Gut-Microbiota-Brain axis and the Extended Cognition Thesis”
by Federico Boem, Gabriel Ferretti & Silvano Zipoli Caiani
Please find the video below :

André Ariew (Professor or Philosophy, University of Missouri, USA), Darwin’s use of statistics to develop his theory of evolution

André Ariew is Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Missouri (USA).
When Karl Pearson asked Francis and Leonard Darwin whether their father was aware that the theory of natural selection is applicable to statistical analysis, they responded that their father had a ‘non-statistical’ mind. Ever since, commentators and biographers have perpetuated this false impression of Darwin’s shortcomings. In fact, Darwin applied various forms of statistical analyses to develop his theory of natural selection. In the first instance (1850s) Darwin applied a unique form of botanical arithmetic (developed in correspondence with his neighbor John Lubbock) to find evidence of speciation in action. As a result, Darwin overturned his previous convictions about the nature of adaptations, the dynamics of natural selection, and the origin of species and other higher taxa. In Darwin’s second instance (1873) Darwin applied the normal distribution to explain how rudimentary features could possibly evolve, (in particular the evolution of complimentary males in certain cirripedes). Darwin’s use of the normal distribution to explain the workings of evolution by natural selection predates by decades the development of the Modern Synthesis statistical formulations of evolutionary theory. In light of these works we ought to cede to a completely revised view of Darwin’s statistical abilities.

Jonathan Birch (Associate Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK), The Search for Invertebrate Consciousness

Jonathan Birch is Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, specializing in the philosophy of the biological sciences. He is working on evolution of social behaviour, the evolution of norms, animal sentience, and the relation between sentience and welfare.

Video of the talk

There is no agreement on whether any invertebrates (e.g. insects, spiders, worms, octopuses, crabs) are conscious and no agreement on a methodology that could settle the issue. How can the debate move forward? I distinguish three broad types of approach: theory-heavy, theory-neutral and theory-light. I argue that the theory-heavy and theory-neutral approaches face serious problems, motivating a middle path: the theory-light approach. At the core of the theory-light approach is a minimal theoretical commitment about the relation between consciousness and cognition that is compatible with many specific theories of consciousness: the hypothesis that conscious perception of a stimulus facilitates, relative to unconscious perception, a cluster of cognitive abilities in relation to that stimulus. This “facilitation hypothesis” can productively guide inquiry into invertebrate consciousness. What’s needed? At this stage, not more theory, and not more undirected data gathering. What’s needed is a systematic search for consciousness-linked cognitive abilities, their relationships to each other, and their sensitivity to masking. I illustrate the “theory-light” approach using the example of bees.

Jerome Wakefield (Professor of Social Work & Conceptual Foundations of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, USA) (postponed)

Jerome C. Wakefield is University Professor; Professor of Social Work; Professor of the Conceptual Foundations of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; Affiliate Faculty, InSPIRES (Institute for Social and Psychiatric Initiatives: Research, Education and Service), Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine; Affiliate Faculty, NYU Center for Bioethics; Affiliate Faculty, NYU Center for Ancient Studies; Honorary Faculty, Institute for Psychoanalytic Education, NYU Medical Center, Director, Clinical Theory in Paris Program, NYU

Carl Craver (Washington University, USA), Episodic Memory and Time: Beyond the Mnemic Necessity Hypothesis


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this was a virtual seminar.

The Mnemic Necessity Hypothesis, that memory is necessary for one to have or form the concept of time and its passing, is older than the distinction between psychology and philosophy. It has been embraced by diverse thinkers. Among British empiricists, such as Lock and Hume, Russell perhaps said it most clearly: In his view, the word “past” would be as meaningless to us as the word “light is to a person born blind”. Wittgenstein offered a developmental hypothesis: that one “learns he concept of the past by remembering.” Psychologists, Suddendorf and Corballis hypothesize that “the mental reconstruction of past events… may have been responsible for the concept of time itself.” Philospher Craig Callendar follows their lead making the empirical case: “Memory is absolutely critical to our experience of time.” I shall argue on empirical grounds that these hypotheses are false. Reflecting on this fact forces us to confront both the limits of our conception of episodic memory and the complexity of our sense of time and its passing. The baldly inaccurate metaphor that amnesics are stuck in time has outlived its usefulness and must be replaced by a more accurate (if less tidy) account of how our capacity to remember, which presupposes and so cannot underwrite our concept of the past, figures in our lives as persons. 

Carl F. Craver is a philosopher of neuroscience with interests in the history and philosophy of biology, general philosophy of science, metaphysics, and naturalized approaches to the philosophy of mind. His 2007 book, Explaining the Brain, develops a framework for thinking about the norms of scientific explanation in physiological sciences such as neuroscience.
His 2013 book (with Lindley Darden), Searching for Mechanisms: Discoveries Across the Life Sciences, develops a mechanistic view of discovery in biology. He is working with Shayna Rosenbaum (York University), among others, to study deficits in agency and moral reasoning in people with amnesia. A book in progress explores the distinctive contribution that episodic memory makes to our lives as persons.
Craver also maintains an active research interest in technology-driven forms of scientific progress, with particular emphasis on neurimaging, optogenetics, and GWAS.

Phyllis Illari (Senior Lecturer, University College London, UK), Why do we need evidence of mechanisms?

Phyllis Illari is a Senior Lecturer at University College London (Dept of Science & Technology Studies; Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences) in the UK. She works in the philosophy of science, with particular expertise in causality, mechanisms and information.
I will present a view of evidence of mechanisms as evidence of the activities, entities, their organization, and the phenomena they explain, using the idea of ‘minimal mechanism’ (Glennan and Illari, 2018).  I will argue that this view allows us to theoretically organize an incredibly diverse array of forms of evidence and empirical practices.  I will then home in on a specific way in which evidence of mechanism is crucial, arguing that it is important even for solid evidence of correlation.  Any clinical study, even a well-conducted RCT, which is still one of our best methods of establishing a reliable correlation, needs decent answers to two questions: (i) what are the variables for disease, treatment and outcome? and (ii) how and when are they measured and why?
I will use the case of ‘vitamin D deficiency’ to show how important these questions are, even when they are not explicitly addressed in published results, because they are regarded as sufficiently standardised to be unimportant. Until recently, vitamin D deficiency was regarded as well-understood, reliably measurable in standardised ways, and linked to diseases such as rickets by well understood mechanisms.  However, recent research has linked vitamin D deficiency to other diseases, in ways that expose the fact that different measuring techniques measure slightly different forms of Vitamin D.  Those differences are now relevant.
Considering the case shows how deeply integrative our evidential pluralism needs to be, and therefore how complex our practices of reasoning about evidence are.  Philosophical accounts need to be responsive to this.

Federica Russo, What can technology do for you? Opportunities & challenges of health technologies in medicine and everyday life

Federica Russo is Assistant Professor at the Universiteit van Amstardam, where she carries out research and teaches philosophy of science (social sciences, techno-science, …).
She is interested in causality and probability in the social, biomedical and policy sciences, and in the relations between science and technology.

Technology is pervasive in science and everyday life. Health and disease are no exception in this respect. On the one hand, technologies are becoming increasingly essential to studying the phenomena of health and disease, whether as aids to data analysis or as machines able to analyse biological specimens, or other. On the other hand, technologies can be used by individuals, e.g., for daily health care or for monitoring body performance. Examples abound, but two will be of particular interest in this talk. The first example is the use of omics technologies in cancer research; these technologies allow researchers to shed light on some mechanisms explaining cancer development at the molecular level and that are responses to environmental exposures. This line of research also led to the conceptualisation of ‘allostatic load’, which is in some way related to the biological age of an individual. The second is example are technologies for healthy ageing, which include numerous devices for ‘telemedicine’ in order to promote ‘healthy ageing’.  I explore opportunities and challenges that technologies offer to us in the context of health and disease, as scientists studying these phenomena and as individuals caring for our health. I as hope to show, technologies open – and re-open – an array of questions that go from the epistemological and ontological conceptualisation of health and disease, to methodological questions about data and modelling, to normative questions about autonomy, privacy, and ethics of research.

Matt Haber (Chair of Philosophy Department, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA), Positively Misleading Errors

Matt Haber is a Professor and Department Chair at the University of Utah (USA). His area of specialty is Philosophy of Biology and Philosophy of Science. He is interested in the philosophical and conceptual issues in systematics, particularly those stemming from a commitment to phylogenetic thinking. His current projects include elucidating the nature of phylogenetic inference, tracking conceptual debates in biological classification and nomenclature, examining the use of models in phylogenetics, the ontology of biological objects, and accounting for how (and why) scientists shift from one set of theoretical and conceptual commitments to another. Other topics of interest are research ethics, including a project on the ethics of research involving crossing species boundaries (especially the human/non-human boundary).

One way that philosophers of science may contribute to the scientific enterprise is through interdisciplinary research on ‘good science’.  A philosopher of science might, for example, identify an interesting, useful, or salient methodological approach in a particular science, and proceed to look broadly across the sciences for other examples.  That is, they might treat different scientific traditions and fields as their system of study, asking whether features of good scientific practice are found across disciplines.  This can take on both a normative and descriptive approach, and help scientists import good methodology from other fields.
Here, I propose just such a case, identifying ‘Positively Misleading Errors’ as a significant methodological discovery that may be usefully applied across the sciences.  Positively misleading errors (PMEs) are cases in which adding data to an analysis systematically and reliably strengthens support for an erroneous hypothesis over a correct one. This pattern distinguishes them from other errors of inference and pattern recognition.  Though well known in some fields of biology (i.e., phylogenetic systematics), PMEs are likely widespread and deserve to be brought to the attention of the wider research and clinical communities.  I offer a general account of PMEs by describing exemplar cases from biology and candidate cases from clinical medicine (treatment of septic lactic acidosis).  This facilitates a better understanding of PMEs, and sharpens our ability to identify when they are present.  Better understanding PMEs positions us to identify the conditions under which these fallacies may occur, and enhance our reasoning about complex systems.

Kim Sterelny (Philosophy, Australian National University, Australia), Demography and Cultural Complexity

Kim Sterelny is Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Arts and Social Sciences. He is a central figure in philosophy of biology and philosophy of science more generally. His areas of expertise include History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Cognition, Palaeoecology, Evolutionary Biology, Cognitive Sciences and Philosophy. Among many other publications, he is the author of Thought in a Hostile World: the Evolution of Human Cognition, Blackwell Publishing Ltd (2003), which won the Lakatos Award, and ofThe evolved apprentice: how evolution made humans unique, MIT Press (2012).

There is a lively debate in archaeology and evolutionary anthropology about the connections between social scale, cultural learning, and cultural complexity, as it is reflected in the material record. The idea is that material culture, and especially innovation and accumulation of material culture is sensitive to the social and demographic environment, not just the native cognitive capacities of individual agents. Innovation and its uptake is more reliable in larger social worlds.  This paper distinguishes three different versions of the view that increases in social scale support increases in the complexity of material culture, in ways that explain the mis-match between the biological evolution of the human lineage and the record of change in material culture. Those are: (i) cultural selection is more efficient in larger social worlds; (ii) larger social worlds support more specialisation, which in turn supports a more complex material culture; (iii) cultural learning is more efficient in larger social worlds. The paper argues that the first two of these pathways are probably more important than the third in explaining otherwise puzzling features of the archaeological and ethnographic record.