1. Inheritance of acquired characters: past and present controversy – and the way forward
How do living organisms transmit their characteristics to the next generation? The textbook answer is: by passing on their DNA, which encodes all heritable traits. In recent years, however, biologists have discovered that this is not the whole story. Evidence is accumulating that environmental influences during the lifetime of an individual, such as nutrition or stress, can influence the phenotype of their progeny across several generations. This phenomenon reminds us of the concept of ‘inheritance of acquired characters’, already formulated in 1809 by the French naturalist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck in his Philosophie Zoologique. Lamarck’s ideas have often met with skepticism, but recent developments in molecular genetics, such as epi-genetics, have inspired a re-evaluation of his legacy. Indeed, we seem to witness a renaissance of Lamarckian thought (West-Eberhard 2007, Wang et al. 2017).
In this project, we aim explore the Lamarckian nature of recent discoveries in the transmission of inherited traits, and in this way to explore what modern biology can, or cannot, learn from the original ideas of Lamarck, whether or not the works of Lamarck offer lessons that change the way we think about evolution (Weiss 2015). This project will contribute to that debate by bringing together the disciplines of evolutionary biology, and the history of science and philosophy.
2. The compassionate robot
As our world becomes more interconnected, we need to work together, which depends on balancing altruism and self-interest (such that individual agents do not burn out). How does altruism and its precursor, compassion, shape team interactions? Compassion is the mental state that can motivate people to transcend selfishness and act altruistically (Saslow et al., 2013) . As robots assume more and more important roles in society, we need to ensure that those robots are compassionate. To do so, we first need to know how to measure compassion and altruism in people and how compassion training changes behavior.
This project aims to further our understanding of how altruism works and then translate these results to models of robot-robot interactions to help to build compassionate AI robots, crucial for modern society.
3. Overcoming the robustness crisis in science—a cross-disciplinary approach
There is widespread consensus that the social sciences are in a crisis of lacking robustness. For example, many of the most prominent claimed findings in social psychology of the past few decades fail to replicate when subjected to renewed empirical scrutiny (Open Science Collaboration 2015). These worrying patterns extend to other fields of science such as economics (Ioannidis et al. 2017) and medicine (Ioannidis 2016). It is unclear if and to what extent the responsible causes of the robustness crises in different disciplines are the same or rather different. These worrying patterns extend to other fields of science such as economics (Ioannidis et al. 2017) and medicine (Ioannidis 2016). It is unclear if and to what extent the responsible causes of the robustness crises in different disciplines are the same or rather different. Robustness failure can be attributed to two causes, ambiguities in measurements of theoretical constructs and bias shaping research questions and the interpretation of results .
The proposed research will investigate cross-disciplinary causes of the current robustness crisis and find ways to overcome the robustness crisis in a sustainable manner at the levels of individual scientists, departments, and faculties (discipline-specific) as well as at the levels of universities and science policy (discipline-exceeding).
4. PhD Project that crosses the disciplines of two Young Academy Groningen members
If you have a project idea that you would like to submit that crosses the disciplines of two Young Academy members, please contact members to discuss your ideas and the possibilities of submitting a joint proposal.
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