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  1. Conceptual and theoretical specifications for accuracy in medicine

    Conceptual and theoretical specifications for accuracy in medicine

    Personalized medicine in the making: Philosophical perspectives from biology to healthcare

    We question some aspects of medicine from the perspective of theoretical biology, on the one hand, and the technological and social dimension of health and disease on the other hand.


    Technological developments in genomics and other -omics originated the idea that precise measurements would lead to better therapeutic strategies. However, precision does not entail accuracy. Scientific accuracy requires a theoretical framework to understand the meaning of measurements, the nature of causal relationships, and potential intrinsic limitations of knowledge. For example, a precise measurement of initial positions in classical mechanics is useless without initial velocities; it is not an accurate measurement of the initial condition. Conceptual and theoretical accuracy is required for precision to lead to the progress of knowledge and rationality in action. In the search for accuracy in medicine, we first outline our results on a theory of organisms. Biology is distinct from physics and requires a specific epistemology. In particular, we develop the meaning of biological measurements and emphasize that variability and historicity are fundamental notions. However, medicine is not just biology; we articulate the historicity of biological norms that stems from evolution and the idea that patients and groups of patients generate new norms to overcome pathological situations. Patients then play an active role, in line with the philosophy of Georges Canguilhem. We argue that taking this dimension of medicine into account is critical for theoretical accuracy.

    Keywords: Normativity, Organization, Personalized Medicine, Technology, theoretical biology

    Montévil, Maël. 2022. “Conceptual and Theoretical Specifications for Accuracy in Medicine.” In Personalized Medicine in the Making: Philosophical Perspectives from Biology to Healthcare, edited by Chiara Beneduce and Marta Bertolaso, 47–62. Human Perspectives in Health Sciences and Technology. Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-74804-3_3
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  2. Anthropocene, exosomatization and negentropy

    Anthropocene, exosomatization and negentropy

    On transition : In response to antonio guterres

    After precursors such as Georgescu-Roegen, we maintain that political economy in the Anthropocene is a challenge that requires a fundamental reconsideration of epistemology.


    The industrial economy took shape between the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, initially in Western Europe and then in North America. Besides technical production, it involves technological production – the integration of sciences in order to produce indus-trial goods –, to the strict extent that, as Marx showed, capitalism makes knowledge and its economic valorization its primary element.
    Newton’s physics and the metaphysics that goes with it originated the epistemic (in Michel Foucault’s sense) and epistemological (in Gaston Bachelard’s sense) framework of this great transformation. In this transformation, otium (productive leisure time) submits to negotium (worldly affairs, business). All along, mathematics has been applied with ever more powerful and performative calculating machines.
    After precursors such as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, himself inspired by Alfred Lotka, we maintain that political economy in what is now called the Anthropocene (whose features were delineated by Vladimir Vernadsky in 1926) is a challenge that requires a fundamental reconsideration of these epistemic frameworks and epistemological frameworks. With Dar-win, living beings became part of a historical process of becoming. In humans, knowledge is a performative part of this process that shapes and reshapes lifestyles in order to tame the im-pact of technical novelties.

    Montévil, Maël, Bernard Stiegler, Giuseppe Longo, Ana M. Soto, and Carlos Sonnenschein. 2020. “Anthropocene, Exosomatization and Negentropy.” In On Transition : In Response to Antonio Guterres. https://internation.world/
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  3. A primer on mathematical modeling in the study of organisms and their parts

    A primer on mathematical modeling in the study of organisms and their parts

    Systems biology

    How do mathematical models convey meaning? What is required to build a model? An introduction for biologists and philosophers.


    Mathematical modeling is a very powerful tool for understanding natural phenomena. Such a tool carries its own assumptions and should always be used critically. In this chapter, we highlight the key ingredients and steps of modeling and focus on their biological interpretation. In particular, we discuss the role of theoretical principles in writing models. We also highlight the meaning and interpretation of equations. The main aim of this chapter is to facilitate the interaction between biologists and mathematical modelers. We focus on the case of cell proliferation and motility in the context of multicellular organisms.

    Keywords: Equations, Mathematical modeling, Parameters, Proliferation, Theory

    Montévil, Maël. 2018. “A Primer on Mathematical Modeling in the Study of Organisms and Their Parts.” In Systems Biology, edited by Mariano Bizzarri, 41–55. Methods in Molecular Biology. New York, NY: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-7456-6_4
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  4. Comparing symmetries in models and simulations

    Comparing symmetries in models and simulations

    Springer handbook of model-based science

    We distinguish mathematical modeling, computer implementations of these models and purely computational approaches by their symmetries and by randomness.


    Computer simulations brought remarkable novelties to knowledge construction. In this chapter, we first distinguish between mathematical modeling, computer implementations of these models and purely computational approaches. In all three cases, different answers are provided to the questions the observer may have concerning the processes under investigation. These differences will be highlighted by looking at the different theoretical symmetries of each frame. In the latter case, the peculiarities of agent-based or object oriented languages allow to discuss the role of phase spaces in mathematical analyses of physical versus biological dynamics. Symmetry breaking and randomness are finally correlated in the various contexts where they may be observed.

    Keywords: Phase Space, Symmetry Breaking, Chaotic Dynamic, Object Oriented Programming, Genetically Modify Organism

    Longo, G., and Maël Montévil. 2018. “Comparing Symmetries in Models and Simulations.” In Springer Handbook of Model-Based Science, edited by M. Dorato, L. Magnani, and T. Bertolotti, 843–56. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-30526-4
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  5. From the century of the gene to that of the organism: Introduction to new theoretical perspectives

    From the century of the gene to that of the organism: Introduction to new theoretical perspectives

    Life sciences, information sciences

    Our group proposes three main principles for a theory of organisms, namely: the default state, the principle of variation and the principle of organization.


    Summary This chapter briefly presents and describes the three main principles that the group proposes for a theory of organisms, namely: the default state, proliferation with variation and motility, the principle of variation and the principle of organization. It is crucial to critique the philosophical and theoretical position on which the biological research feeding into the program is based and which has dominated biomedical research for the last 70 years. Physical theories are founded on stable mathematical structures, based onregularities and especially on theoretical symmetries. At the time of cell theory formulation and still today, cell theory plays a federating role between evolution biology and organism biology. Finally, analysis of the differences between the physics of inanimate and living matter leads to the proposal of three principles that provide aviable perspective for the construction of a necessary theory of organisms.

    Keywords: cell theory, evolution biology, mathematical structures, organism biology, philosophical position, physical theories, theoretical symmetries

    Montévil, Maël, Giuseppe Longo, and Ana M. Soto. 2018. “From the Century of the Gene to That of the Organism: Introduction to New Theoretical Perspectives.” In Life Sciences, Information Sciences, edited by T. Gaudin, D. Lacroix, M.‐C. Maurel, and J.‐C. Pomerol, 81–97. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119452713.ch9
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  6. Big data and biological knowledge

    Big data and biological knowledge

    Predictability and the unpredictable. Life, evolution and behaviour

    Can big data replace theoretical thinking? How should these technics be used? A critical discussion on the use of big data in biology.


    Some authors assert that the analysis of huge databases could replace the scientific method. On the contrary, we argue that the best way to make these new technologies bear fruits is to frame them with theories concerning the phenomena of interest. Such theories hint to the observable that should be taken into account and the mathematical structures that may link them. In biology, we argue that the community urgently needs an overarching theory of organisms that would provide a precise framework to understand lifecycles. Among other benefits, such a theory should make explicit what we can and cannot predict in principle.

    Keywords: Big Data, biological variation, cancer biology, knowledge, theory

    Montévil, Maël, and G. Longo. 2018. “Big Data and Biological Knowledge.” In Predictability and the Unpredictable. Life, Evolution and Behaviour, edited by Giulia Frezza and David Ceccarelli, 133–44. Roma: CNR Edizioni
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  7. Repetition and reversibility in evolution: Theoretical population genetics

    Repetition and reversibility in evolution: Theoretical population genetics

    Time of nature and the nature of time: Philosophical perspectives of time in natural sciences

    We analyze repetitiveness, reversibility and irreversibility in theoretical population genetics and disentangle concepts that are often confused.


    Repetitiveness and reversibility have long been considered as characteristic features of scientific knowledge. In theoretical population genetics, repetitiveness is illustrated by a number of genetic equilibria realized under specific conditions. Since these equilibria are maintained despite a continual flux of changes in the course of generations (reshuffling of genes, reproduction…), it can legitimately be said that population genetics reveals important properties of invariance through transformation. Time-reversibility is a more controversial subject. Here, the parallel with classical mechanics is much weaker. Time-reversibility is unquestionable in some stochastic models, but at the cost of a special, probabilistic concept of reversibility. But it does not seem to be a property of the most basic deterministic models describing the dynamics of evolutionary change at the level of populations and genes. Furthermore, various meanings of “reversibility” are distinguished. In particular, time-reversibility should not be confused with retrodictability.

    Keywords: population genetics, repetition, retrodiction, reversibility

    Gayon, Jean, and Maël Montévil. 2017. “Repetition and Reversibility in Evolution: Theoretical Population Genetics.” In Time of Nature and the Nature of Time: Philosophical Perspectives of Time in Natural Sciences, edited by Christophe Bouton and Philippe Huneman, 275–314. Cham: Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-53725-2_13
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  8. Introduction to new perspectives in biology

    Introduction to new perspectives in biology

    Essays for the luca cardelli fest

    This note introduces work in Theoretical Biology in the book: Perspectives on Organisms: Biological Time, Symmetries and Singularities.


    This note introduces recent work in Theoretical Biology by borrowing from the Introduction (chapter 1) of the book by the authors: "Perspectives on Organisms: Biological Time, Symmetries and Singularities", Springer, 2014. The idea is to work towards a Theory of Organisms analogue and along the Theory of Evolution, where ontogenesis could be considered as part of phylogenesis. As a matter of fact, the latter is made out of "segments" of the first: phylogenesis is the "sum" of ontogenetic paths and they should be made intelligible by similar principles. To this aim, we look at ontogenesis from different perspectives. By this, we shed light on the unity of the organism from different points of view, yet constantly keeping that unity as a core invariant. The analysis of invariance, as the result of theoretical symmetries, and of symmetry changes, is a key theme of the approach in the book and in the discussion in this note.

    Longo, G., and Maël Montévil. 2014. “Introduction to New Perspectives in Biology.” In Essays for the Luca Cardelli Fest, edited by Martin Abadi, Philippa Gardner, Andrew D. Gordon, and Radu Mardare, 187–201. MSR-TR-2014-104. Microsoft Research. http://research.microsoft.com/apps/pubs/default.aspx?id=226237
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  9. 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.


    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

    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
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  10. Randomness increases order in biological evolution

    Randomness increases order in biological evolution

    Computation, physics and beyond

    We revisit the analysis of anti-entropy. In particular, we analyze how randomness stemming from variability leads to the growth of biological organization.


    In this text, we revisit part of the analysis of anti-entropy in [4] and develop further theoretical reflections. In particular, we analyze how randomness, an essential component of biological variability, is associated to the growth of biological organization, both in ontogenesis and in evolution. This approach, in particular, focuses on the role of global entropy production and provides a tool for a mathematical understanding of some fundamental observations by Gould on the increasing phenotypic complexity along evolution. Lastly, we analyze the situation in terms of theoretical symmetries, in order to further specify the biological meaning of anti-entropy as well as its strong link with randomness.

    Keywords: Entropy Production, Biological Evolution, Irreversible Process, Combinatorial Complexity, Biological Organization

    Longo, Giuseppe, and Maël Montévil. 2012. “Randomness Increases Order in Biological Evolution.” In Computation, Physics and Beyond, edited by Michael J. Dinneen, Bakhadyr Khoussainov, and André Nies, 7160:289–308. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27654-5_22
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