Tag Archives: theory

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.

Interdisciplinary Workshop on Robustness

Goal of the workshop is to rise relevant questions as well as to encourage interdisciplinary discussions surrounding the topic of Robustness.

2014, October 14 (09.30) – 16 (17.30)

Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma
Via Álvaro del Portillo, 21
00128 Roma


October 14th
09:30 – 10.30  Plenary Session – Gerald H. Pollack
11.00 – 13:30  Session 1: The methodological and conceptual foundations of robustness
S. Caianiello – Prolegomena to a history of the notion of robustness
G. Caniglia – Robustness, Integration and What We Can Do When We Cannot Observe Something
S. Mitchell – Challenges of Robustness for Causal Explanation
P. Huneman – Robustness as an explanandum and explanans in evolutionary biology and ecology
14:30 – 17:30  Session 2: Talking about robustness
G. Vitiello – Dynamical rearrangement of Symmetry, minimum stimulus and robustness
L. Di Paola, A. Giuliani – Ecological Process Design and Robustness: the Case of Biofuels
S. Filippi – Robustness and Emergent Dynamics in Noisy Biological Systems
F. Keller – Robustness and Embodiment of Higher Cognitive Functions
M. Trombetta – Tissue Engineering and Cell Driving

October 15th
09:30 – 11:00  Session 2: Talking about robustness
A. Marcos – Difference
A. Moreno – Robustness and Autonomy
14:00 – 17:45  Working Groups

October 16th
09:30 – 12:30  Results presentation
13:45 – 17:00  Roundtable
17:00 – 17.30  Conclusions

Philosophical and Scientific Steering Committee
Marta Bertolaso – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST e Facoltà di Ingegneria
Sandra D. Mitchell – University of Pittsburgh
Jane Maienschein – Arizona State University
Simonetta Filippi – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, Facoltà di Ingegneria
Flavio Keller – Università Campus  Bio-Medico di Roma, Facoltà di Medicina

Marta Bertolaso – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST e Facoltà di Ingegneria

Local Organizing Committee
Luca Valera – Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, FAST
Anna Maria Dieli – Università Tor Vergata, Roma; IHPST, Paris

Organizzato da:
Campus Bio-Medico di Roma
Con il contributo di Fondazione Cattolica Assicurazioni

Referente organizzativo:
Silvia Caianiello

Ufficio stampa:
Luca Valera
Campus Bio-Medico


More pictures on Flickr.

Venice Workshop on Explaining Development

9-10 September 2014
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere e Arti
Palazzo Loredan – Venezia
A workshop organized by Alessandro Minelli (University of Padova and Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti) and Thomas Pradeu (Paris-Sorbonne University and Institut universitaire de France)

What is development, and how should it be explained? Conceptual issues play an important role in today’s developmental biology (e.g., concerning plasticity and robustness, the periodization of development, etc.) An important, related question is to determine whether developmental biology offers theories. In a volume published by OUP in 2014 and edited by Minelli and Pradeu (Towards a theory of development), prominent biologists and philosophers have examined this question. This exploration of the theoretical aspects of developmental biology has now naturally led us to a broader and perhaps even more fundamental question, that of the explanation(s) of development.

Attendance to the workshop will be open
and free to all interested people.

Active participation to the discussion will be welcome.
Please inform the organizers of your intention to attend by sending a message to alessandro.minelli@unipd.it
not later than August 31, 2014.


9 September 2014

ALESSANDRO MINELLI & THOMAS PRADEU – Welcome and introductory remarks

Explaining what? – Putting development in context

GIUSEPPE FUSCO – Development in the context of the life cycle

JAMES R. GRIESEMER – Periodization of development

Coffee break

Explaining what? – Unconventional developmental systems

ALESSANDRO MINELLI – The development of the fruit, the seed, the moss and other chimaeric systems

ALEXANDER V. ERESKOVSKY – Problems and insights from sponge developmental biology

What is the respective role of descriptions, explanations and predictions in developmental biology?

THOMAS PRADEU – Description, explanation, and prediction in developmental biology

LUCIE LAPLANE – Contrasting notions of theory and their relevance for developmental biology

Coffee break


Plenary discussion I – The problem agenda(s)

10 September 2014

On the causality of development
WALLACE ARTHUR – Topology of causal links in development

JOHANNES JAEGER – The role of dynamical systems theory in a mechanistic theory of development

Coffee break

GERD B. MÜLLER – Do theories of evolution affect theories of development?

What does it exactly mean to give an explanation of development?

ALAN C. LOVE – The concept of potentiality in developmental reasoning

MICHEL VERVOORT – The importance to compare convergent developmental processes in trying to establish some principles of development

Coffee break

Plenary discussion II – Connections and broader issues

What next? General discussion on research, meetings and editorial plans



The landscape metaphor in development

“It seems that thtowards-theory-developmente landscape metaphor will continue to stay with us, at least for a while”.

We start defining a landscape as a function of multiple variables and show how this can be interpreted as a dynamical system. From the perspective of dynamical systems modelling, we move to analyze Waddington’s ‘epigenetic landscape’ and landscape representations in current developmental biology literature. Then we delve into the problem of models and metaphorical representations in science, which stands out as a crux for assessing the use of landscapes in development, and analyze the somehow parallel stories of Wright’s and Waddington’s landscapes. We conclude with some ideas on developmental landscapes in the context of visualization in science, with a focus on theoretical work in developmental biology.

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

Fusco G, Carrer R, Serrelli E (2014). The landscape metaphor in development. In Minelli A, Pradeu T, eds., Towards a theory of development, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 114-128. ISBN 978-0-19-967142-7 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/48518]

Evolutionary explanation and bucket thinking

sloshing bucket evolutionary explanationThe hierarchical interplay between ecology and genealogy is a fundamental ingredient for the most compelling current explanations in evolutionary biology. Yet philosophy of biology has hardly welcomed a classic fundamental intuition by palaeontologist Niles Eldredge, i.e. the non-coincidence and interrelation between ecology and genealogy, and their interaction in a Sloshing Bucket fashion. Hierarchy Theory and the Sloshing Bucket need to be made precise, developed and updated in light of an explosion of new discoveries and fields and philosophical issues. They also suggests re-thinking concepts such as natural selection, species, and speciation that have always been part of evolutionary theory.

contrastes coverWhen philosophers, theorists, and working scientists think about evolution, they often do so by means of models based on inheritance. Natural selection, for example, is quantified as selective pressures, intended as coefficients directly influencing reproductive outputs, or summaries of the influences on reproductive outputs. Ecology therein is often seen as the circumstancy of evolution, a source of perturbations and influences which is accurately reflected, translated into units of reproductive output. Yet contemporary explanatory models of biological evolution, for example those that are emerging for Homo sapiens, show that a much much better understanding of the constructive interaction between two independent domains – the ecological and the genealogical – is required not only to account for quintessentially macroevolutionary events such as mass extinctions, but also for smaller-scale happenings such as speciations and intra-specific evolutionary innovations. The huge frequency of utterly inheritance-centric philosophical works on natural selection seems, in this light, an unmistakable symptom of theoretical inertia. Bucket Thinking could reflect the way in which the best evolutionary explanations are built today, and at the same time aid the explanation by laying down and relating the researches that are being conducted in different fields (e.g. from population genetics to palaeontology, from ecosystem ecology to developmental biology). Bucket Thinking is also a way of reframing many classical problems, such as multi-level selection, individuality, or even reductionism or emergence. This doesn’t mean that Hierarchy and the Bucket are free of their own epistemological and methodological problems. On the contrary, what we suggest is precisely a critical philosophical discussion more deep than the one that has been deserved until now to these potentially fruitful ideas. Hierarchy Theory asks to be developed and updated in light of an explosion of new discoveries and fields, e.g., EvoDevo, lateral gene transfer and the charge of zoo-centrism pending on evolutionary theory (O’Malley 2010), network theory, genomics. But the dual Hierarchy Theory is also a way of re-thinking and re-framing concepts that have ever been present in evolutionary theory, like natural selection itself, or species and speciation, as we have seen here.

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

Pievani T, Serrelli E (2013). Bucket thinking: the future framework for evolutionary explanation. Contrastes. Revista internacional de filosofia – Suplementos 18: 389-405. ISSN 1139-9922 [http://hdl.handle.net/10281/44944]

Voglia di Evoluzione Series

In academic year 2011-2012 Emanuele Serrelli is advisor and chair of the conference series “Voglia di evoluzione” organized by student representatives in the Department of Biology, University of Milan. The series aims to deepen some “hot” topics in contemporary evolutionary biology (EvoDevo, phenotypic plasticity, epigenetics) that are nonetheless rarely explained in normal biology curricula. Authoritative researchers are invited to present their researches and discuss with students. An original aspect is the coupling of animal and plant models, usually confined to being examples of either one or the other phenomenon.


  • Evo-Devo, or evolutionary developmental biology, has been presented by Dott. Giuseppe Fusco and Prof. Alessandro Minelli (Università degli Studi di Padova) and Dott. Fabio Fornara dell’Università degli Studi di Milano (November 23, 2011). Video available on Youtube.
  • Phenotypic plasticity, or the property of a genotype to give rise to different phenotypes in varying environmental conditions, has been exposed by Dott. Walter Salzburger (University of Basilea) and Dott. Marco Caccianiga (Università degli Studi di Milano) (January 26, 2012). Video available on Youtube.
  • Epigenetics or “weak inheritance” (or, the heritability of phenotypic modifications) has been presented by Prof. Marcello Buiatti (Università degli Studi di Firenze) (April 17, 2012).

The series ended with a roundtable with Prof. Marco Ferraguti (Università degli Studi di Milano), Prof.ssa Eva Jablonka (University of Tel Aviv) and Prof. Telmo Pievani (Università degli Studi Milano-Bicocca) (May 17, 2012) on “Evolution in 4 dimensions” and the extension of the Modern Synthesis. Article and video on Pikaia.

View on Academia.

Hierarchy Theory in Salt Lake City

In 2010 Emanuele Serrelli co-organized the session “Hierarchy Theory of Evolution” inviting Niles Eldredge and 10 other scholars on Hierarchy Theory at the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology Sunday, July 10, 2011 ‐ Friday, July 15, 2011, University of Utah Salt Lake City, Utah United States. Hierarchy Theory assumes that the evolutionary disciplines have an ontological basis for their existence, i.e. systems with peculiar spatiotemporal dimensions, origins, histories, demises, and internal dynamics leading to stability and change through time. The theory is developing around Eldredge’s recognition of at least two main distinct evolutionary hierarchies – the genealogical and the ecological – and around a general vision of evolution as a process of interactions at various scales. E.g., macro-evolutionary patterns are explained by a “sloshing bucket” model, where ecological events reverberate in the evolutionary hierarchy.


  • BROOKS, Dan – Metaphors for the Extended Synthesis: Something Old, Something New.
  • CAIANIELLO, Silvia – Modularity and Hierarchy Theory.
  • CAPORAEL, Linnda – Grounding Human Social Cognition in Hierarchical Group Structure.


  • DIETL, Gregory – Toward a Unified Ecology in Macroevolution.
  • ELDREDGE, Niles – A Matter of Individuality: Hierarchy Theory at the Dawn of Evolutionary Biology.
  • MILLER, William – Macroevolutionary Consonance and expansion of the Modern Synthesis.


See full session abstracts on Academia.


The Ecology of Evolution

Serrelli E (2003). L’ecologia dell’evoluzione: il pluralismo evolutivo letto attraverso un caso di radiazione adattativa. Master Degree Dissertation in Educational Sciences, University of Milano Bicocca, Milan, Italy. [DOI 10.13140/2.1.3863.5525]


This is an epistemological research, concerning knowledge processes. The choice of African Cichlids as a subject has been stimulated mainly by the fact that these fishes are targeted by remarkably different observers: fishermen, ecologists, biologists, geneticists, evolutionists with different approaches, hobbyists and aquarists – beginners and experts. The great epistemological interest of this crowd of observers lies not only in the comparison of different knowing processes applied to the same object, but also in their multiple and complex reciprocal interactions…