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Argyris Arnellos: When and why should a collection of cells be considered an individual organism?

Lecture by Argyris Arnellos (Konrad Lorenz Institute , Klosterneuburg, Austria), organized by the Department of Theoretical Philosophy

Almost all multicellular (MC) systems comprise a number of different cell types and they are characterized by cell-to-cell interactions, thereby exhibiting some kind of integration, which in turn enables their maintenance and adaptation in the environment. In this respect, all MC systems, at least from a phenotypic point of view, seem to operate as individual organisms.

Notwithstanding the resulting adaptation at the global level, I will argue that the related neo-Darwinian and adaptationist explanatory frameworks: (i). do not bear any distinctive power with respect to the strikingly different characters of multicellularity; (ii). cannot fully account for the individual/organismal status of multicellular systems.

Adopting an organizational perspective, I distinguish between a constitutive dimension (CD - developmental and metabolic processes) and an interactive dimension (ID - the functional interactions that the system exerts in the environment) of a MC organization. I discuss three types of coordination of MC interaction (representing most of the cases), and I explain that their realization requires different organizational relations between the two dimensions. I suggest that, in contrast to the other two cases, the endogenous production and operation of a regulatory subsystem functionally integrating the two dimensions allows for the genuine attribution of an interaction to the whole MC system. I discuss in detail the consequences of such type of integration regarding the interdependence between constitutive and interactive processes in a MC system, and I conclude with implications for the organismal identity of different MC organizations.

When & where?

Wed 27 May 2015, 3:30 - 5 pm
Room Alfa of the Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:18 May 2015 2.23 p.m.