“Our view of interdisciplinarity takes very seriously the long training any specialist has to undertake in order to acquire the huge knowledge and the tuned epistemological attitudes necessary to master his or her research methods and protocols. Indeed, we think that a successful interdisciplinary project would educate its participants into this respectful view of anyone else’s training, getting rid of the naïve idea that others’ jobs are useless or easy to do. For sure, the expected result is not that one researcher ‘absorbs’ the others who become superfluous.”
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.
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.
I present the initiatives, papers, and ideas of Pigliucci, Müller, and others, who are proposing an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES). I then advance some reasons for concern raised by those claims, including uncertainties in timing, historical inaccuracies, lack of a theoretical structure, arbitrariness and instability of the included concepts, stereotypical characterization of the Modern Synthesis, and dissent among evolutionary biologists. Then I mention the studies by historian of the Modern Synthesis, Joe Cain, who is very detailed and careful in explaining that Mayr, Dobzhansky, Huxley & co. who claimed they were part of a Modern Synthesis, they did also for strategic and political reasons, related to their own careers and to more general cultural battles of the time. What I want to argue is not that the Modern Synthesis was an invented product of a marketing operation; rather, it is that the social and interactive dynamics of science are very important in understanding what is going on. The same could be true for the EES in our years. I maintain the primary importance of understanding how biology is today, how it has changed, what future expects us. Pigliucci’s question, “Do we need an EES?”, thus suggests very important issues. But I propose that we shouldn’t take at face value what the protagonists of evolutionary biology see and say. The ‘expert review’ or the ‘small group of architects’ methods cannot work. No solution either comes from a traditional philosophical approach of ‘describing the structure of evolutionary theory’, because scientists don’t work ‘inside’ theories; they use them in different ways. Correct methods for answering could be developed, with the help of advanced technology for analyzing the scientific literature, the ways of doing science, the ‘hot topics’, the birth and death of fields, etc., through time. This would mean to look seriously at the scientific community, avoiding, on t he one hand, the authority principle, and, on the other hand, the surrender to an ‘all flows, everything ever changes’ perspective. In the context of such an endeavour, I suggest a specific look at the Italian evolutionary biology community as important for the future prospects of this science in our country.
Look for it in the Publications page (with additional links):
Serrelli E (2013). A new look at the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. 5th congress of the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology (SIBE). Trento, Faculty of Lettere and MUSE Museum, Italy, August 28-31. [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/46363]