Category Archives: Academic talks

International Meeting “Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective”

Presentation of:

Eldredge N, Pievani T, Serrelli E, Tëmkin I, eds. (2016). Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

With Telmo Pievani, Ilya Tëmkin, Warren D. Allmon, Gregory Cooper, T. Ryan Gregory, Stefan Linquist, William Miller III, Mihaela Pavlicev, Andrea Parravicini, Francesco Suman, Alejandro Fabregas Tejeda.

Organized by: The Hierarchy Group

Venues: National Academy of Sciences and NOVA Northern Virginia Community College

See event program on Academia.

Structures of Deep Time in the Anthropocene

Emanuele Serrelli presents:

2016, Jun 10 (h.16-19) – 6th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference, University of Bergamo, Italy: Structures of deep time in the Anthropocene. With Elena Bougleux organizer of the session “Diffracting ethnography in the anthropocene”. Conference talk. [Ac]

Talk abstract “Structures of deep time in the Anthropocene”

Anthropocene puts incommensurable time scales in contact with each other, to show the relevance of what humanity has been realizing in historical times, and to emphasize the impact of our everyday behaviours and choices. To enable cross-referencing of geologic formations and events from different places on the planet, geologists have subdivided the Earth’s history in periods and eras. Among the concluded periods, the shortest one, Neogene, lasted for more than 20 million years, while the longest periods amounts to over 200 million years. The enormity of these time intervals is hard to imagine, yet necessary to capture and define all the phenomena that are meaningful for the history of such a huge and old system as the Earth.

A different logic – the logic of “deep time” and “macroevolution” – is necessary to reflect on a time scale where the history of not only species, but whole Families and Groups, is nothing but the blink of an eye. The current period, Holocene, has started only 11.700 thousand years ago, at the end of the last glacial Age, but a serious scientific proposal was advanced to consider that a different period, the Anthropocene, has already taken over from the Holocene. What are the dilemmas, paradoxes, challenges, and implications of this mental operation, that implies the contaction of temporal scales, and the comparison of everyday life time with deep evolutionary time? Continue reading Structures of Deep Time in the Anthropocene

From everyday life to deep evolutionary time: Anthropocene and contacting temporal scales

New forthcoming talk:

2015, Dec 19 (h.11-13) – III Convegno Nazionale SIAA Società Italiana di Antropologia Applicata, Polo Universitario Città di Prato: From everyday life to deep evolutionary time: Anthropocene and contacting temporal scales (Session “Mitigation, Adaptation, Vulnerability. Analisi di strategie, pratiche e retoriche delle comunità nel contesto dell’Antropocene”). With Enrico Giustiniano Micheli, Elena Bougleux, Nadia Breda et al. Conference Talk. [Ac]

To enable cross-referencing of geologic formations and events from different places on the planet, geologists have subdivided the Earth’s history in periods and eras. Among the concluded periods, the shortest one, Neogene, lasted for more than 20 million years (My), while the longest periods amount to 200+ My. The enormity of these time intervals is hard to imagine, yet necessary to capture and define all the phenomena that are meaningful for the history of such a huge and old system as the Earth. A different logic – the logic of “deep time” and “macroevolution” – is necessary to reflect on a time scale where the history of not only species, but whole Families and Groups, is nothing but the blink of an eye. The current period, Holocene, has started only 11.700 thousand years (Ky) ago, at the end of the last glacial Age, but a serious scientific proposal was advanced to consider that a different period, the Anthropocene, has already taken over from the Holocene. Homo Sapiens as a biological species is 200 to 150 Ky old. The beginning of cognitively modern humans and their diffusion on global scale is even more recent: 80 to 60 Kya (the period traditionally described as the Palaeolithic Revolution or the “great leap forward”). Rhetorically, Anthropocene puts incommensurable time scales in contact with each other, to show the relevance of what humanity has been realizing in historical times, and even of our everyday behaviors and choices. What are the dilemmas, paradoxes, challenges, and implications of this mental operation?

Empathy towards the “living planet”: a knowledge paradox in the Anthropocene?

I paradossi di Gaia [Gaia’s paradoxes]

The paradoxes of Gaia for education in the anthropocene
Gaia – EARTH DAY by Alice Popkorn
Starting picture + Goddess by Marcus Ranum

Abstract: Empathy towards planet Earth seems to be the crux of an education paradox in the anthropocene, well exemplified by the story of “Gaia” in the scientific community and in the global society. The image of the world as a living being is probably as old as our species. Ancient views based on Mother Earth have been providing the narrative framework for education in many cultures for thousands years, and some aspects are somehow retraced in today’s sustainability education, although with different nuances and metaphysical assumptions. Around 1970, the idea of Earth as an organism was named “Gaia” and filled with scientific content by James Lovelock. He pointed out signatures of global processes thereby, he argued, the biosphere participates into planetary self-regulation around optimal conditions, just like in the physiology of a giant organism. In the scientific community Gaia would have troubled fortune: as a “hypothesis” or “theory” it was afflicted by serious and insistent objections, and it never got to be acknowledged. At the same time, for the public Gaia never ceased to be terribly attractive. Indeed, its communication effectiveness was emphasized by its advocates, who pointed out its educational potential in sensitizing people to care for the planet. But these aspects, too, were seen negatively by critics: the ‘homeostatic’ properties of Gaia would rather play in favor of passive attitudes and of economic interests of impacting and polluting companies; moreover, the organismal nature of Gaia would stimulate mystical views, ‘pagan religions’, and ultimately an anti-scientific mindset. The solution to this paradox should perhaps be sought in the double direction of reconsidering some human dimensions of scientific work and of setting up scientific education more coherent with the “Nature of Science” in the Anthropocene.

Event: Biodiversità ed estensione dell’empatia [Biodiversity and empathy extension]

The meeting aims to contribute to probe the foundations of an ethical approach to biodiversity and of human responsibility upon the non-human, through a reflection on those long-term transformations of science, society, and philosophical self-representation that have modified the horizon of human relations.
Since the 1960s, the ecological urgency has strongly pushed towards an assumption of responsibility towards the environment. In those years, science itself had warned about climate change and vertiginous biodiversity reduction that are now seen to characterize the current epoch, the “anthropocene”. An integrated reflection on biodiversity arose, capable of overcoming the boundaries of Modern philosophical anthropology, and situating humans into a system of relationships and interdependencies embracing non-human forms–from other living beings to abiotic environmental factors. The peculiar ability of broadening the horizon of empathic experience beyond mirroring seems to be rooted in massive developments of neuroscientific knowledge and technology, as well as in the cognitive and affective construction of our species. A discussion on evolution (natural and socio-cultural) and a renewed reflection on the very concept of human nature are therefore necessary. Just at the peak of science and technology’s manipulative power upon living nature, some authors glimpse the rise of a new opportunity: that of an empathic “age” or “civilization” (Rifkin 2010, De Waal 2010), where relatioships with different forms of “otherness” are managed in an inclusive and relational way.

Other speakers: S. Caianiello (chair), A. Minelli, L. Fogassi, C. Morabito & G. Galloni, G. Fiorito, U. Leone.

Organization: L’evento è organizzato con i fondi del Progetto PRIN 2010-2011 “Ethos e Natura. Modelli storici, problemi teorici e questioni metodologiche”, cofinanziato dal MIUR. Coordinatore nazionale: Prof. Franco Biasutti (Unità di ricerca di Catania, coordinata da G. Bentivegna, su “L’agire morale tra natura e cultura. Lineamenti storiografici e riflessioni teoriche”). Con la collaborazione dell’Istituto per la storia del pensiero filosofico e scientifico moderno del C.N.R., (nel contesto del ciclo “Osservatorio sui saperi umanistici”) e del Centro Interuniversitario “Res Viva”. Inserita nel programma del Dottorato di Filosofia della Federico II (in particolare curriculum di bioetica).


Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2015, Feb 4 (h.9:00) – “Biodiversità ed estensione dell’empatia”, org. by Istituto per la Storia del Pensiero Filosofico e Scientifico Moderno (ISPF), C.N.R., Sezione di Filosofia del Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici dell’Università di Napoli “Federico II”, Naples, IT: I paradossi di Gaia. Conference talk.

Tracing traits in linguistics, economics, and evolutionary biology. An interdisciplinary workshop

CISEPS – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Economics, Psychology and Social Sciences

Tracing traits in linguistics, economics, and evolutionary biology. An interdisciplinary workshop

  • Federica Da Milano, Linguist, University of Milano Bicocca
  • Nicoletta Puddu, Linguist, University of Cagliari
  • Fabrizio Panebianco, Economist, University of Milano Bicocca
  • Emanuele Serrelli, Philosopher of Biology, University of Milano Bicocca

Thursday, December 13, 2012, h 14:00
Room U6/367, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, Milano

networks-cisepsAbstract: The seminar will present and compare the methods used in linguistics, economics, and evolutionary biology to study traits in their different domains: language features, behaviors and beliefs, genes and phenotypic characteristics. Federica Da Milano and Nicoletta Puddu will present phylogenetic models of language change and illustrate them with the particular geo-linguistic case of Sardegna. Fabrizio Panebianco will outline evolutionary kinds of models in economics. Emanuele Serrelli will explain tree and network analyses used to study shared traits and contacts between organisms. The open discussion will bring some reflections on the transfer of models and ideas between different fields, bringing about productive interchange with the participants and the audience of different specializations.

The seminar is part of the CISEPS project The diffusion of cultural traits, whose goal is to trigger interdiciplinary debates, emphasizing common problems and peculiarities among economics, philosophy, anthropology, geography, history, biology and many more fields. Thinking in terms of cultural traits – i.e., characters depending in some way on social learning – doesn’t imply exhaustion of cultural processes; rather, it means thinking critically to scientific models and metaphors for studying culture.

University of Sydney HPS Research Seminar Series

For 80 years now, a famous and influent picture have been around in evolutionary biology: it is the adaptive landscape, a hilly or rugged surface with peaks and valleys onto which combinations of traits are mapped, the elevation representing the fitness value of these combinations. As a communication and heuristic tool, the adaptive landscape well conveyed several ideas, e.g., adaptation seen as peak climbing. It also set research questions, e.g., how can a population cross a low-fitness valley.
In the mid 1990s, with a certain non-chalance, Princeton mathematician and population geneticist Sergey Gavrilets began to propose an idea which soon several evolutionists regarded as potentially explosive. Gavrilet’s “holey landscapes” were about fitness distribution in the genotype space of a population with realistic number of loci and alleles: backed by newly introduced mathematical methods and empirical evidence, they depicted fitness distribution by means of flat or nearly-flat surfaces drilled with large holes.
The explicit reference and, at the same time, the striking differences between holey landscapes and the adaptive landscape fueled a reflection on crucial themes like the role of adaptation, the extent of neutralism, the meaning of speciation, and even the possibility of non-gradual evolution. Reconsiderations and revisions of the history of adaptive landscapes, since its first introduction by Sewall Wright in 1932, flourished. More deeply, holey landscapes are offering an occasion of rethinking the nature of evolutionary biology as a scientific enterprise.


Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2012, Sep 17 (h.6-8 PM) – Unit for the History and Philosophy of Science, HPS Research Seminar Series Semester Two, University of Sydney, Faculty of Science: Holey landscapes and rethinking evolutionary biology. Seminar.

http://www.mail-archive.com/sydphil@arts.usyd.edu.au/index.html

EGENIS – The ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, University of Exeter

Ankeny & Leonelli (2011) recently spelled out a number of epistemological characteristics of model organisms which, they think, make them special in the more general category of experimental organisms. In this seminar I show how some similar epistemological characteristics apply to a theoretical model, i.e. the Mendelian population, making it special in respect to other theoretical constructs (equations). Both cases seem to suggest restrictions in the usage of the term “model” to the advantage of a defined model notion. Here I aim to refine and broaden such notion of a model, and explore the epistemological issues it raises.

Ankeny & Leonelli define model organisms as “non-human species that are extensively studied in order to understand a range of biological phenomena, with the hope that data and theories generated through use of the model will be applicable to other organisms, particularly those that are in some way more complex than the original model” (p. 313).

Mathematical population genetics – a major pillar of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory – is often referred to as a great set or family of models, where “models” mean, arguably, equations of gene frequencies or phenotypic change.

The glaring discrepancy between organisms and equations seems to characterize experimental biology and population genetics by two irreducibly different “modeling strategies”: the material and the empirical (cf. Leonelli 2006). By diverting the attention away from equations, in this seminar I challenge such classical distinction.

I present population genetics in a uncommon way: I dismiss the term “model” for equations, and save it for the Mendelian population, i.e. the fundamental formal combination space population genetics equations are about.

One interesting result of my approach is to liken a formal system to an organic system – at least for some “key epistemological characteristics” (cf. Ankeny & Leonelli, cit.). I explore the notion of a model as a stable target of explanation (cf. Keller 2002) that I think captures both objects, and the related epistemological problems about representation, explanation, and prediction. Models as stable targets of explanation are systems selected for intensive research, yielding their stability and a cost-effective apparatus of experimental resources; they feature some degree of artificiality, and are never exhaustively known, even in case of complete artificiality.

Ankeny, R. a & Leonelli, S., 2011. What’s so special about model organisms? Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 42(2):313-323.

Keller, E. F. (2002). Making sense of life: Explaining biological development with models, metaphors and machines. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Look for it in the Talks page (with additional links):

2012, Jan 23 (h.3:00-4:30 PM) – The ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis), University of Exeter: Model as a “stable target of explanation”: Mendelian population like model organisms?. Seminar.

Announcement

Perspectives on the evolution of evolutionary theory: towards an Extended Synthesis?

CISEPS – Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Economics, Psychology and Social Sciences

PRIN 2007 “The Adaptive Behaviour of Biological Systems and the Scientific Method”

“Riccardo Massa” Department of  Human Sciences Sciences

University of Milano Bicocca

Perspectives on the evolution of evolutionary theory: towards an Extended Synthesis?

Workshop with:

  • Keynote speaker: Gerd B. Müller Professor for Zoology, Department of Theoretical Biology, University of Vienna; Chairman of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg
  • Discussant: Giuseppe Fusco Professor of Zoology, Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Padova
  • Discussant: Maurizio Casiraghi Researcher of Zoology, Dipartimento di Biotecnologie e Bioscienze, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca
  • Discussant: Luigino Bruni Professor of Political Economics, Dipartimento di Economia, Università di Milano Bicocca; CISEPS
  • Chair: Telmo Pievani Professor of Philosophy of Science, Dipartimento di Scienze Umane per la Formazione “Riccardo Massa”, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca; national coordinator of the Research Program “The Adaptive Behaviour of Biological Systems”
  • Chair: Emanuele Serrelli Dipartimento di Scienze Umane per la Formazione “Riccardo Massa”, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca; Researcher in the Research Program “The Adaptive Behaviour of Biological Systems”

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 h 9.30-12.30
Auditorium – Building U12 – Via Vizzola 5, Milano

The roundtable will put into discussion a particular perspective on todayʼs evolutionary biology, that is the persuasion that a growing body of discoveries and fields of studies is demanding an extension of the Modern Synthesis (MS), which was realized in the 1930s and 1940s around the development of population genetics. Massimo Pigliucci, one of the main advocates of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES), lamented in 2007 that for many evolutionsists «the MS provides the framework for current and future evolutionary biology, with no need to revisit the fundamentals», despite many novelties such as evolvability, phenotypic plasticity, epigenetic inheritance, complexity theory and more, which were unknown at the time of MS. On the other hand, there is a more “continuist” perspective that sees evolutionary theory as already grown, although perhaps in ways different from the establishment of a new synthesis. Furthermore, some researchers are not yet persuaded that the the newly described phenomena have sufficient relevance and empirical support to justify a broad theoretical revision. There are also, although lying completely outside the scientific field of evolutionary biology, perspectives that see the same biological mechanisms as symptoms of the need for an entirely new theory to supplant the neo-Darwinian synthesis (e.g. Fodor & Piattelli Palmarini, 2010). We invited Gerd B. Müller, editor with Massimo Pigliucci of the book Evolution: The Extended Synthesis (MIT Press, 2010) and author of an essay on “Epigenetic Innovation” therein, to present the open project of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. Different perspectives will surely emerge and interact thanks to the discussion with two affirmed Italian biologists with an interest in the theoretical reflection on the development of evolutionary theory: Giuseppe Fusco and Maurizio Casiraghi. Economist and CISEPS member Luigino Bruni will bring the debate on suggestions and possible implications for evolution-inspired modeling of social and cultural processes: a field which is more and more known as “cultural evolution”, although still in need of much conceptual development. Moderators of the roundtable will be Telmo Pievani and Emanuele Serrelli who will present and put into productive discussion the results of the biennial research program “The Adaptive Behaviour of Biological Systems”, co-funded by the Italian Ministero dellʼIstruzione, dellʼUniversità e della Ricerca Scientifica (framework PRIN 2007).

Gerd Müller’s keynote address

Giuseppe Fusco’s commentary

Maurizio Casiraghi’s commentary

Luigino Bruni’s commentary