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Hi, I'm Maël Montévil.

I am a theoretical biologist working at the crossroads of experimental biology, mathematics, and philosophy. I also work on the Anthropocene, among many other interests.

I am a researcher (Chargé de recherche) in CNRS, working in Centre Cavaillès République des Savoirs USR 3608, École Normale Supérieure.

Key concepts: historicity, organization as closure of constraints, anti-entropy, symmetry changes, biological measurement, disruption


Latest Publications

  1. Computational empiricism : the reigning épistémè of the sciences

    Computational empiricism : the reigning épistémè of the sciences

    Philosophy World Democracy


    What do mainstream scientists acknowledge as original scientific contributions, that is, what is the current épistémè in natural sciences?

    Abstract

    What do mainstream scientists acknowledge as original scientific contributions? In other words, what is the current épistémè in natural sciences? This essay attempts to characterize this épistémè as computational empiricism. Scientific works are primarily empirical, generating data and computational, to analyze them and reproduce them with models. This épistémè values primarily the investigation of specific phenomena and thus leads to the fragmentation of sciences. It also promotes attention-catching results showing limits of earlier theories. However, it consumes these theories since it does not renew them, leading more and more fields to be in a state of theory disruption.

    Keywords: theory, statistical tests, empiricism, models, computation

  2. Il faut qu’il y ait en informatique théorique un symbole tel qu’il empêche de calculer

    Prendre Soin de l’informatique et Des Générations


    Pour progresser sur la question du rapport entre l’informatique et le calculable, je propose de réinterpréter l’objet de l’informatique théorique.

    Abstract

    Pour progresser sur la question du rapport entre l’informatique et le calculable, je propose de réinterpréter l’objet de l’informatique théorique puis de faire un détour par la biologie théorique où la question d’un symbole qui empêche de calculer se pose. Enfin, je reviens vers l’informatique en transférant de manière critique certains concepts issus de mes travaux en biologie théorique.

    Citation
    Montévil, Maël. n.d. “Il Faut Qu’il y Ait En Informatique Théorique Un Symbole Tel Qu’il Empêche de Calculer.” In Prendre Soin de l’informatique et Des Générations, edited by Anne Alombert, Victor Chaix, and Maël Montévil. Fip
    Manuscript Citation Full text
  3. Entropies and the Anthropocene crisis

    Entropies and the Anthropocene crisis

    AI and society


    Entropy is a transversal notion to understand the Anthropocene, from physics to biology and social organizations. For the living, it requires a counterpart: anti-entropy.

    Abstract

    The Anthropocene crisis is frequently described as the rarefaction of resources or resources per capita. However, both energy and minerals correspond to fundamentally conserved quantities from the perspective of physics. A specific concept is required to understand the rarefaction of available resources. This concept, entropy, pertains to energy and matter configurations and not just to their sheer amount.
    However, the physics concept of entropy is insufficient to understand biological and social organizations. Biological phenomena display both historicity and systemic properties. A biological organization, the ability of a specific living being to last over time, results from history, expresses itself by systemic properties, and may require generating novelties The concept of anti-entropy stems from the combination of these features. We propose that Anthropocene changes disrupt biological organizations by randomizing them, that is, decreasing anti-entropy. Moreover, second-order disruptions correspond to the decline of the ability to produce functional novelties, that is, to produce anti-entropy.

    Keywords: entropy, anti-entropy, resources, organization, disruption, Anthropocene

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Popular Publications

  1. Biological organisation as closure of constraints

    Biological organisation as closure of constraints

    Journal of Theoretical Biology


    We characterize biological organization as a closure of constraints, where constraints are defined at a given time scale and are interdependent.

    Abstract

    We propose a conceptual and formal characterisation of biological organisation as a closure of constraints. We first establish a distinction between two causal regimes at work in biological systems: processes, which refer to the whole set of changes occurring in non-equilibrium open thermodynamic conditions; and constraints, those entities which, while acting upon the processes, exhibit some form of conservation (symmetry) at the relevant time scales. We then argue that, in biological systems, constraints realise closure, i.e. mutual dependence such that they both depend on and contribute to maintaining each other. With this characterisation in hand, we discuss how organisational closure can provide an operational tool for marking the boundaries between interacting biological systems. We conclude by focusing on the original conception of the relationship between stability and variation which emerges from this framework.

    Keywords: Biological organisation, Closure, Constraints, Symmetries, Time scales

    Citation
    Montévil, Maël, and Matteo Mossio. 2015. “Biological Organisation as Closure of Constraints.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 372 (May): 179–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2015.02.029
    Manuscript Citation Publisher Full text
  2. No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere

    No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere

    Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference


    The evolution of life marks the end of a physics world view of law entailed dynamics. We discuss the notions of causation and of enablement.

    Abstract

    Biological evolution is a complex blend of ever changing structural stability, variability and emergence of new phe- notypes, niches, ecosystems. We wish to argue that the evo- lution of life marks the end of a physics world view of law entailed dynamics. Our considerations depend upon dis- cussing the variability of the very ”contexts of life”: the in- teractions between organisms, biological niches and ecosys- tems. These are ever changing, intrinsically indeterminate and even unprestatable: we do not know ahead of time the ”niches” which constitute the boundary conditions on selec- tion. More generally, by the mathematical unprestatability of the ”phase space” (space of possibilities), no laws of mo- tion can be formulated for evolution. We call this radical emergence, from life to life. The purpose of this paper is the integration of variation and diversity in a sound concep- tual frame and situate unpredictability at a novel theoretical level, that of the very phase space. Our argument will be carried on in close comparisons with physics and the mathematical constructions of phase spaces in that discipline. The role of (theoretical) symmetries as invariant preserving transformations will allow us to under- stand the nature of physical phase spaces and to stress the differences required for a sound biological theoretizing. In this frame, we discuss the novel notion of ”enablement”. Life lives in a web of enablement and radical emergence. This will restrict causal analyses to differential cases (a difference that causes a difference). Mutations or other causal differ- ences will allow us to stress that ”non conservation princi- ples” are at the core of evolution, in contrast to physical dynamics, largely based on conservation principles as sym- metries. Critical transitions, the main locus of symmetry changes in physics, will be discussed, and lead to ”extended criticality” as a conceptual frame for a better understanding of the living state of matter.

    Keywords: conservation properties, symmetries, biological causality

    Citation
    Longo, G., Maël Montévil, and S. Kauffman. 2012. “No Entailing Laws, but Enablement in the Evolution of the Biosphere.” In Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference, GECCO’12. New York, NY, USA: GECCO’12; ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2330784.2330946
    Manuscript Citation Publisher Full text
  3. Entropies and the Anthropocene crisis

    Entropies and the Anthropocene crisis

    AI and society


    Entropy is a transversal notion to understand the Anthropocene, from physics to biology and social organizations. For the living, it requires a counterpart: anti-entropy.

    Abstract

    The Anthropocene crisis is frequently described as the rarefaction of resources or resources per capita. However, both energy and minerals correspond to fundamentally conserved quantities from the perspective of physics. A specific concept is required to understand the rarefaction of available resources. This concept, entropy, pertains to energy and matter configurations and not just to their sheer amount.
    However, the physics concept of entropy is insufficient to understand biological and social organizations. Biological phenomena display both historicity and systemic properties. A biological organization, the ability of a specific living being to last over time, results from history, expresses itself by systemic properties, and may require generating novelties The concept of anti-entropy stems from the combination of these features. We propose that Anthropocene changes disrupt biological organizations by randomizing them, that is, decreasing anti-entropy. Moreover, second-order disruptions correspond to the decline of the ability to produce functional novelties, that is, to produce anti-entropy.

    Keywords: entropy, anti-entropy, resources, organization, disruption, Anthropocene

Read all publications


Latest videos

  1. Theoretical biology: some strategic perspectives


    There is a lack of theoretical elaboration in biology, particularly in the study of organisms' life cycles. The underlying problem is the emergence of an episteme that structurally neglects these questions. In the case of biology, certain issues need to be addressed with precision, notably the articulation…

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    Cardano

    Groupe cardano


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