International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  17:30 - 19:00  /  DS-1540
Individual papers
Animal Sensing, Neuronal Plasticity and Imagination in Practice

Kin selection, multi-level selection, and the truth: Why kin selection may be the better account of the evolution of cooperation despite (sometimes) being false

Armin Schulz (University of Kansas, United States)

A number of prominent evolutionary biologists have recently argued that, while not strictly speaking wrong, accounting for the evolution of a trait such as social cooperation in terms of multi-level selection (MLS) theory is predictively and explanatorily useless, and might even engender confusions (West et al., 2007, 2008). Instead, they propose appealing to kin selection (KS) theory. In response, defenders of MLS theory note that, while MLS theory and KS theory may indeed often be formally equivalent, it is still true that, in some contexts, only the former gives a correct account of the evolution of social cooperation (Okasha, 2006; Sober & Wilson, 1998; Wilson, 2008). What I want to argue in this paper is that all sides of this dispute may be right in their own ways. In particular, I want to show that it may sometimes be true that (a) only MLS theory gives a completely true account of the evolution of social cooperation, but also that (b) for pragmatic reasons, KS theory remains explanatorily and predictively favored nonetheless.

Early nervous systems and animal sensing

Fred Keijzer (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Netherlands)

Nervous systems are standardly thought to operate as input-output devices that transmit information received by sensors, process it in some way and use the result to regulate effectors. A recent alternative proposal, the Skin Brain Thesis (SBT), challenges this idea for early nervous system organization (Keijzer et al., 2013). The SBT stresses the key role of nervous systems and their epithelial precursors in solving coordination problems faced by multicellular animals that first developed motility through by muscle contraction: Nervous systems arose as a source and coordinator of patterned activity across extensive areas of contractile tissue in a way that was only loosely constrained by sensor activity. However, instead of neglecting sensory aspects, the SBT brings into focus several important issues for the origins of animal sensing. (a) The transition from cell-based sensitivity to the origins of useful multicellular sensor arrays, in particular given the soft-bodied nature of early metazoans. (b) The transition from a multicellular clusters of cells to integrated animal bodies that can specifically react to extended surface structures. (c) The relevance of self-initiated activity as a prerequisite for animal sensing (e.g. Hurley, 2001; O’Regan & Noë, 2001). (d) The integration of the various sensory modalities into a common framework. In this talk, I will discuss how the SBT bears on these issues and opens up new theoretical options for understanding animal sensing.

Neuronal plasticity, language and free will

Bernard Feltz (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium)

Recent works in neurosciences show that connections between neurons in the brain are marked by a great plasticity. I would like to analyze philosophical consequences of such a phenomenon. I would like first to refer to the works of Eric Kandel and Gerald Edelman to describe different modes of neuronal plasticity. Working on the question of language learning, I afterwards would like to show that specific language logic in relation with the brain conducts to a new conception of a downward influence which can be different from downward causation. Language epiphenomenalism as Wegner's can be avoid.