Category Archives: Saggi (Italian essays)

The narrative encounter: Tales and fairytales and systemic perspective on helping relationships

Riflessioni Sistemiche 12A new article on the journal Riflessioni Sistemiche, after the ones on “Visions of change in evolutionary biology and education” (2012) and “Evolutionary Biology: Processes and Patterns” (2011).

Serrelli E, Tosini F (2015). L’incontro narrativo: narrazione e fiaba nella relazione d’aiuto a orientamento sistemico. Riflessioni Sistemiche 12 (Jul 2015), “Narrazioni”, pp. 90-102 (online on ISSN 2281-3373

Narrative and systemic perspectives in caring relationships are absolutely complementary under several respects, in spite of some debates that have assumed the contrary. The article explores this topic before illustrating how systemic counseling can employ a peculiar narrative genre: fairytale.

Counseling – caring relationship – narrative therapy – pragmatics of communication – CMM Coordinated Management of Meaning – collective narrative practice


The right to science education

naturalmenteA philosophical reflection on science education taking off from the Convention on the Rights of the Child realizes that the right to education cannot but translate also into a right to scientific training. This article aims to deepen this idea and to making it concrete. First, a tradition of thought that poses the nature of science as an object of experimentation and learning is sketched out. Such tradition happily meets with the idea of scientific citizenship, establishing the priorities of a genuine science education. Major tool of an education to the nature of science is the science-themed laboratory, a not-too-much guided experience. In its apparent simplicity, all the complexity of scientific activity and its objects is played out. The example is given of a laboratory about evolution complete with the answers provided by a group of 13-years-old participants. Here, dychotomies like “continuous vs. discrete” or “branching vs. linear” are all but simplified: they are put into play to open up a science education towards responsibility, just in the spirit of the Convention.


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

Serrelli E (2012). Il diritto a una formazione scientifica. Naturalmente Website – Sezione Istruzione/Formazione, November. []

Stephen Jay Gould, Pere Alberch and evo-devo

Gould copertinaCaianiello S, ed. Da Gould a evo-devo. Percorsi storici e teorici. Roma: CNR Edizioni.

ISBN 978-88-8080-125-2

You can read the whole book online – OPEN ACCESS! It is the publisher’s policy one year after publication.


Serrelli E (2014). Stephen Jay Gould, Pere Alberch e il modello-orologio dell’eterocronia: incontro e divergenza alle origini di evo-devo. Caianiello S, ed. Da Gould a evo-devo. Percorsi storici e teorici. Roma: CNR Edizioni, pp. 97-128. ISBN 978-88-8080-125-2  []

gould clock model of heterochronyStephen Jay Gould’s book Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), recently translated into Italian, is unanimously considered as one of the founding texts of evo-devo. Pere Alberch, another pioneer of the field, was early stimulated by reading Gould’s book. In particular, he got into the “clock model”, an image devised by Gould to organize thinking and terminology about heterochrony (i.e., evolutionary change of the timing of developmental processes). Alberch engaged Gould in a formalization of the clock model, which they published in 1979. After that work, however, the two authors diverged. Alberch noticed inconsistencies in the view of development they had adopted, and moved on towards a more dynamic view. Gould didn’t follow this route, and remained largely insensitive to Alberch’s work. Reflection on this debate allows for a clarification of the assumptions of different approaches to ontogenic development. Particular attention is given to the dynamical systems approach, grasped by Alberch in the mid 1980s, and regarded as very coherent and promising in today’s evolutionary developmental biology.

More links in the Publications page.

Boundaries, foundation, and physics of Babel: the interdisciplinary study of language

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563). Source: Wikipedia. Originally from Google Art Project. Levels adjusted and uploaded by Dcoetzee.

If, by ‘Babel’, we mean the set languages that have appeared in the world, we may want to research the ‘boundaries of Babel’ by asking whether the expansion of Babel is prevented (i.e., whether unobserved languages are impossible languages), and, if so, by which factors. The boundaries of Babel are being explored by partnerships of linguists and neuroscientists. Neo-chomskian approaches find evidence of neural networks dedicated to language processing, and study how these networks constrain the space of possible grammars, whereas lexico-grammar looks at neuroscientific evidence that syntax is not a separate function in the brain. Research questions also expand beyond a tight focus on the brain-language relationship. By ‘foundations of Babel’ we refer to broader, ancient brain functions in which articulated language is embedded. Imitation can be one of those functions. ‘Physics of Babel’ refers to many extra-brain factors that are lacking in non-human species, and that together make language possible. Research on the boundaries of Babel is a fascinating and open scenario, not only interdisciplinary, but also multi-directional, beyond the language function and beyond the exclusive role of the brain.

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

Serrelli, E (2013). I confini, le fondamenta e la fisica di Babele: lo studio interdisciplinare delle lingue e del linguaggio. Scienza & Filosofia 10, 53-67. ISSN 2036-2927 []

Cultural Diversity

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1The reflection on human cultures delivers more and more a critical and complex vision that makes it difficult to imagine ourselves counting, describe or analytically decompose cultures. Bypassing questions like “what is a culture”, “which and how many cultures are there”, and “how important is each culture”, anthropology and ethnography give scientific form to the comparative impetus that puts diversities – the many colors of a caleidoscope – in relation and dialogue. This is an open enterprise that drops any aim of completeness and systematicity, in favor of critical reflection on what does it mean to be human and to inhabit the Earth together. By the way, diversity can be studied and understood from different points of view, e.g. borrowing methods and concepts from evolutionary biology in order to reconstruct the world tree of common descent of cultures, with migrations and diasporas, where similarities (inherited or convergent) and differences among peoples got channeled. Meanwhile, however, in face of the insufficiency of analysis, the disappearance of cultural varieties is more and more evident. What’s worst, this happens in parallel to growing awareness of their importance for the survival of our species. Locating, measuring, and contrasting the loss of cultural diversity is a challenge which, for example, the UN have tried to address through the definition of “intangible cultural heritage”. Biocultural diversity, a young and promising field, promotes an integrated approach to the conservation of diversity, comprising cultural and biological aspects.

Serrelli E (2010). L’evoluzione delle culture: come fermare l’estinzione. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra vol. 1. Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 320-333. ISBN 978-88-02-08379-7 []

Linguistic Diversity, Language Extinction

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1…But the tree of languages bears two more messages. The first, universal kinship, reminds that all languages are siblings, close or far relatives, like the peoples who speak them: subgroups with uncertain boundaries in a single, global species. The second, the value of history: every language – like every biological species – is the unique outcome of an improbable series of events. The “instructions” contained in DNA – a common metaphor – aren’t but a small, insufficient, inexhaustive part of a species, just like documents and instructions will never suffice for a language to get back to life. Once a language disappears, once a species gets extinct, something unique that enriched our planet is lost forever.

Serrelli E (2010). Diversità linguistica. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 148-154. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 []

Biocultural Diversity

07---ecosphera-volumi-copertine-insieme1Biodiversity shapes cultural diversity. Culture shapes the environment. But according to the biocultural paradigm of the “inextricable link”, such bidirectional co-determination in fact prevents the analytical distinction of the two. We must, indeed, talk about a unified type of diversity: biocultural diversity. The field aims to conserve, defend rights of indigenous people, and obtain political decisions that respect them. A field explicitly “militant”, giving up the conventional academic neutrality to embrace strong ethical commitments concerning human rights, seen in intimate connection with the responsibilities about the natural and cultural heritage of humanity.

Serrelli E (2010). Diversità bioculturale. In Eldredge N, Pievani T, eds., Ecosphera. Il Futuro della Terra Atlante vol. 1 (A-L), Torino: UTET-DeAgostini, pp. 143-148. Reprinted in Aggiornamento enciclopedico 2011, Torino: UTET-DeAgostini. ISBN 978-88-02-08383-4 []

Youth in a Foreign Country


When we enter new contexts, we bring with us a nice suitcase, full of important “pieces” of the places where we have been. This is even more evident in the big passages of life, when all our luggage must be immersed in the new situation and – after some shaking – opened and poured on the new bed. Every piece can be taken as it is and put in the wardrobe, or we may also find a new place or use for it. Moreover, we may throw something away because it becomes useless – but often we don’t get rid of anything, and making a kind of show we actually hide it under the bed: after all, we are attached to it, and furthermore, you never know…

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

Serrelli E (2009). Il giovane in comunità: crescere lontano dalla propria famiglia, il rapporto con gli adulti e coi coetanei. In Colombo F, ed., Ospitalità familiare e nuovi bisogni sociali: Il Bed & Breakfast Protetto per i giovani in difficoltà. Milano: Franco Angeli, pp. 207-216. ISBN13 9788856806663 []

The Coral of Life

Charles Darwin began to draw “trees of life” in 1837 (Notebook B, sheet 26), 22 years before The Origin of Species, as soon as he got back from his voyage around the world on the Beagle. The “great mass of sparse facts” that he had been gathering and thinking for some years had convinced him that all species could be in relationship with one another, by virtue of ancestors that lived in the past…

Pievani T, Serrelli E (2009). Il corallo della vita. In Charles Darwin: L’evoluzione della vita, monografia de Il Calendario del Popolo, anno 65, n. 741. Milano: Teti Editore pp. 3-4. ISSN 0393-3741 []

Knowing what, Knowing how

saperisaporiIt could be nice, in a writing on the flavours of education, “putting on our plate” the fruit of Actinidia chinensis, a tropical plant from China, recently diffused in New Zealand, and today part of our diet. But this is not the kiwi I want to talk about – and the “flavour” we’ll discover by knowing our knowing will be quite different. […] From ad educational point of view, we must stress this epistemological pluralism […] valuing different ways of looking and paths, compatible with one another, in an entanglement of processes, levels, and hierarchies, to be more aware and ready, to have more possibility when we will encounter new quirky things to explain.


William A. CALDER III, 1979, “The Kiwi”, in Scientific American, luglio; trad. it. di G. Frassinetti, “Il kivi”, in Le Scienze, 121, settembre pp. 96-106.
William A. CALDER III, 1979, “The Kiwi and Egg Design: Evolution as Package Deal”, in Bioscience, 29:8, pp. 461-467.
William A. CALDER III, 1984, Size, Function and Life History, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Elisa FARAVELLI, Eloisa CIANCI, Emanuele SERRELLI, Daniela SUMAN, 2006 (a cura di), L’evoluzionismo dopo il secolo del gene. Atti degli incontri internazionali del laboratorio di Filosofia della Biologia del GRICO 2002-2004, Mimesis Edizioni, Milano. Contributi di: Luigi Luca CAVALLI SFORZA, Niles ELDREDGE, Steve OLSON, Susan OYAMA, John SKOYLES, Ian TATTERSALL.
Stephen Jay GOULD, 1980, The Panda’s Thumb, W. W. Norton, New York; trad. it. Il pollice del panda, Il Saggiatore, Milano, 2001.
Stephen Jay GOULD, 1992, “L’uovo del kiwi e la campana della libertà”, in Bravo Brontosauro, Feltrinelli, cap. 7.
Stephen Jay GOULD, 2002, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Belknap Harvard, New York; trad. it. La struttura della teoria dell’evoluzione, Codice Edizioni, Torino, 2003.
Stephen Jay GOULD e Richard C. LEWONTIN, 1979, “The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: A critique of the adaptationist Programme”, Proc. R. Soc. London, B, 205:581-98. Trad. it. di M. Ferraguti, I pennacchi di San Marco e il paradigma di Pangloss, Einaudi, 2001.
Stephen Jay GOULD e Elizabeth S. VRBA, 1982, “Exaptation, a Missing Term in the Science of Form”, Paleobiology, 8(1):4-15.
Donata FABBRI, 1994, La memoria della regina. Pensiero, complessità, formazione, seconda edizione, Guerini e Associati, Milano, 2004.
Donata FABBRI, Alberto MUNARI, 1984, Strategie del sapere. Verso una psicologia culturale, Dedago, Bari.
Humberto MATURANA, Francisco VARELA, 1980, Autopoiesis and Cognition, D. Reidel, Dodrecht; trad. it. Autopoiesi e cognizione, Marsilio, Venezia, 1985.
Humberto MATURANA, Francisco VARELA, 1987, The Tree of Knowledge, Shambhala, Boston; trad. it. L’albero della conoscenza, Garzanti, Milano, 1987.
Adolfo NAVARRO, Hesiquio BENÌTEZ, 1995, El Dominio del Aire, Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico (
Telmo PIEVANI, 2004, Introduzione alla filosofia della biologia, Laterza.
Telmo PIEVANI, 2006, La teoria dell’evoluzione, Il Mulino, Bologna.
Stephen M. RUSSELL, 2003, “In memoriam: William Alexander Calder III, 1934-2002”, in The Auk.
Michele SARÀ, 2005, L’evoluzione costruttiva. I fattori di interazione, cooperazione e organizzazione, UTET, Torino.
James SALES, 2005, “The endangered kiwi: a review”, Folia Zool. 54(1-2): 1-20.

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

Serrelli E (2008). Conoscere cosa, conoscere come, come conosciamo… un kiwi: un laboratorio epistemologico. In Meloni E, Beretta V, eds., Saperi e sapori. Idee e pratiche per umanizzare le organizzazioni. Saronno (VA): Monti, pp. 201-226. ISBN 888477151X []