PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Immunity, DEvelopment and the Microbiota (IDEM): Understanding the Continuous Construction of Biological Identity

This poster will give an overview of the ERC-funded project (2015-2020, for a total of €1.5 million) Immunity, DEvelopment and the Microbiota (IDEM), located at the interface of philosophy of biology and biology. The poster will highlight the major research projects that are a part of IDEM as well as related educational, professional development and outreach activities. It will also present collaborative possibilities for interested researchers.

IDEM focuses on the problem of biological identity, which asks what counts as one individual organism, and what makes each individual organism the “same” while it constantly changes through time. This problem has a long history both in philosophy and in science. Yet data coming from immunology, microbiology and developmental biology of the last ten years may revolutionize our conception of the construction of biological identity through time, by showing that this construction, in all animals and plants, depends crucially on environmental factors and, most importantly, on a constant dialogue with resident microorganisms integrated into the organism (the “microbiota”). The IDEM project intends to determine what is at stake in what is heralded by many as a revolution in biology, and to explore in detail its conceptual and historical foundations. The ultimate question underlying this project is to determine whether a new conception is now emerging of what an individual is in the living world and of the way it is continuously constructed through time by its interactions with its environment. IDEM will thus gather biologists and philosophers and incorporate cutting edge biological data to address a question that is fundamentally philosophical in nature, namely, what is an individual, and how to characterize its ‘sameness’ through time?

Interestingly, even though philosophers of biology have explored at great length the issue of biological identity and individuality in the context of evolutionary biology, they have neglected the contributions of immunology, developmental biology and microbiology to this question. Yet it can be shown that these fields may shed a crucial light on this debate. This project investigates this debate through four sub-projects: (1) Identity, internalism and externalism in the biological sciences; (2) Disentangling the causes of development; (3) The “holobiont” and its construction through the integration of microbes; (4) The role of the immune system in the maintenance and construction of the organism.

The poster will give a short overview of upcoming events associated with the project, including yearly workshops, an international conference, and a summer school. Finally, the poster will list current collaborating institutions, scientists, medical doctors and philosophers.

Author Information:

Derek Skillings    
University of Bordeaux/CNRS

Lynn Chiu    
University of Bordeaux/CNRS

Leonardo Bich    
University of Bordeaux/CNRS

Thomas Pradeu    
University of Bordeaux/CNRS


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