Dook Shepherd at the Egenis Research Exchange – 1st Oct. 2-3pm, Byrne House

To begin this semester, we were very pleased to have Dook Shepherd visiting from the University of Adelaide, and discussing a drafted part of his doctoral research. The draft was entitled “Of Windows & Worlds: Foundational Concepts & Their Roles in the Study of Honeybee (Apis Mellifera) Cognition”. His research is part of a larger overarching research project ‘Organisms & Us: how living things help us understand our world’ (with professors Rachel Ankeny, Sabina Leonelli & Michael Dietrich). Dook’s PhD research is a philosophical analysis of the use of foundational concepts, albeit intellectually or theoretically vexed, which are utilised in the service of cognitive explanation for biological models.

In order to undertake this project, a large part of Dook’s research involves ethnographic fieldwork and lab observation with researchers conducting cognitive research with honeybees, as a central case study. Honeybees are chosen for this because they provide a rich natural concrete model from which to analyse how researchers deploy notions such as ‘representation’, ‘information/processing’, and ‘computation’ in order to investigate and understand their cognitive capacities. His analysis utilises bees to interface between philosophical considerations and empirical work/findings which make use of these cognitive concepts, in order to determine possible implications for: (i) our theoretical frameworks (e.g. anthropogenic/biogenic approaches to cognition); (ii) implications for foundational cognitive concepts themselves including ‘cognition’; and (iii) the explanatory utility and epistemic status of their use.

The reading concerns the first three sections of Dook’s thesis: (§1) ‘Introducing the cognitive bee’, which examines some of the history of scientific research with honeybees; (§2) ‘Bees waxing lyrically’, where Dook reviews the legacy of Frisch’s symbolic dance language, explores Karl von Frisch’s seminal work with bees as well as his analysis of one of their central cognitive capacities, namely communication as a symbolic system; and (§3) ‘Bees in the “Cognition Wars”’, where he discusses honeybee cognitive capacities and situates them between two competing cognitive frameworks, i.e. the anthropogenic framework and the biogenic framework.

Dook intends to research and draft the next four sections during his time here at Exeter. He will also pursue further ethnographic field work at a number of key cognitive insect laboratories in and around the United Kingdom during his time in Exeter An overview of the themes and aims of these developing sections are presented below. Get in contact with Dook to extend the discussion: <>


Section 4. A dance-language or a buzz-word?

In this section, Dook will investigate the behaviour/concept of dance-as-language by: analysing bee communication (i.e. “a rule governed system”); representational properties (e.g. non-arbitrary [iconic] form); vehicle structure (e.g. second order resemblance); expressive power (e.g. indexical reference, spatio/temporal separation); semantic content (questions of translation and equivalent expressions); conditions of accuracy; and plausibility of truth conditional form in relation to human language (i.e. Design Features). One of his aims is to offer prospects of bee communication as a quasi-propositional structure (i.e. predicate-object, negation, and truth/falsehood). He is developing theoretical arguments that include an analysis of the possibility for a propositional (yet non-classical) format of the schema. This, will satisfy some of the major representational concerns motivated by the approach of cognitive scientists adhering to the anthropogenc framework. He will explore the behaviour of bees expressing negation and hive behaviour modulation. Finally, he will deploy an argument for the ‘productivity’ and internal systematic coherence in bee communication schema.

Section 5. Gruesome Mappings or Elegant Cartography? Exploitable Isomorphism & Structural Representation in Honeybees (Apis Mellifera)

Here, Dook will conduct an assessment of the exploitable isomorphisms available and utilised in bee communication and navigation, relating these exploitable patterns to structural representation and prospects for content determination both in public and private representing vehicles. He will examine the coherent (and novel) inferences or ‘geometric deductions’ made by bees. This will be undertaken in order to analyse the conceptual/theoretic relationship between ‘cognitive maps’ and structural representation. He will examine the fact that the cognitive map is largely constructed or derived by shareable (expressible and understandable) and mutual information, as opposed to a correspondence to the landmark learning simpliciter. This, he will argue, vindicates these strategies in virtue of recent empirical findings with bees which observe path/vector integration behaviour.

Section 6. [untitled]

In this section, Dook will examine the bee communication system as an (ineliminable) extrinsic ‘cognitive scaffold’ for internal model construction. Here, he will develops the idea of ‘cognitive looping’ and emergent semantic information.

Section 7. [untitled]

In this section, Dook considers internal (interpreted) and external (expressed) looping in relation to Peircean triadic semiotics (i.e. sign [or vehicle or representing object], object [represented], and interpretant [relevance of the system to which the former are related]). He will discuss the derivation and application of content alongside semiotic grounding criteria (i.e. symbol-convention, icon-resemblance, index-causation). In this section, Dook will consider different modalities of semantic information.



N.b. – We have decided to change the name of the Biological Interest Group this year in order to better capture its aims and purposes. Our group is interested in all topics of relevance to Egenis research activities, which as you will see from the Egenis website consist of five strands (biology and cross-species interactions; health and illness; mind, body and culture; data and knowledge processing; and responsible innovation in practice). In order to signal this we have changed name this year, our previous name was frequently misunderstood to be much narrower than intended.

The meetings are focused on discussing each other’s work, making sure we have an informal space to debate each other’s ideas, and provide constructive and friendly feedback to improve work in progress. Egenis and Exeter more broadly are home to a fantastic set of scholars, and it is crucial that we make a little time to update each other on our work and profit from the intellectual richness and liveliness of our thriving research culture. Scholars at all levels of seniority, from MA students to faculty, are warmly welcome, so please help us to spread the word.

Prof. Sabina Leonelli
Benjamin Smart


The programme for the year is currently under construction and we will continue to update it on our website. Please email us if you have any interest in presenting and discussing your work in progress during this or the next term. We meet in Byrne House at 2-3 pm on Mondays, starting from October 1st.

Nicolò Valentini at the Biological Interest Group – Monday, 18th June, 2-3pm, Byrne House

For the third meeting of the Biological Interest Group this summer semester, we were very pleased to have Nicolò Valentini discuss a paper entitled ‘From odours to smells: The olfactory system as a perceptual interface’, which he has written for the World Congress of Philosophy. The paper has been accepted, and Nicolò is presently working on a longer version for publication. In preparation for this, Nicolò is interested in discussing the parts of the paper that need unpacking, clarification, revision, etc. The abstract for this paper is presented below.

“In the present communication, I will provide a philosophical analysis of olfactory perception. In particular, I will focus on the vexed question of olfactory representations by comparing a molecular account with an interface theory. According to the molecular view we smell matter, i.e. olfactory perceptual objects are the molecular structures of the chemical compounds which bind to the olfactory receptors. I will argue that the molecular account cannot rationalise several cases of empirical evidence which highlights the intrinsic affective dimension of olfactory perception. On the contrary, according to the interface theory, olfactory percepts are better conceived as perceptual icons which guide effective behaviour. In my discussion, I will advocate such position by showing how (1) it is able to account for much empirical evidence; (2) it provides a comprehensive account of several characteristics of olfactory perception, such as the evaluative nature, the action tendencies ingrained, the cognitive modulation, and the affective predictions.”

Mark Canciani at the Biological Interest Group – Monday, 11th June, 2-3pm, Byrne House

For the second meeting of the Biological Interest Group this summer semester, we were very pleased to have Mark Canciani discussing a draft chapter on the history (and historiography) of biological altruism and its impact on research and theories of the evolution of eusociality. The overarching aim of his thesis is to argue that biological altruism in not applicable to the case of eusociality, particularly eusocial insects (e.g. ants, bees, wasps, termites). Mark will argue that the use and tight association of biological altruism to eusocial insects has been problematic for eusociality research, i.e. it entailed that authors solve the so-called altruism paradox in order to explain eusociality (on this paradox see Cronin, 1991; Sober, 1994; Wilson & Wilson, 2007). However, the association between biological altruism and eusociality has also led to too much focus on the levels of selection debate, and the evolution of eusociality, rather than other important issues such as the maintenance of eusociality (and it’s ecological success), the evolution of complex eusocial colonies, polymorphism among the different castes, and more. Moreover, the way in which the discourse has unfolded has led to too little attention paid to whether altruism was the correct description of eusocial workers.

The chapter, which is the first of Mark’s thesis, is entitled ‘Altruism: History Justified by Theory Justified by History’. Its aim is to trace the history of biological altruism and the influence of this debate on eusociality research. He argues that it is important to consider how the concept of biological altruism became so tightly associated to eusociality and why this was a problem. Mark argues that W. D. Hamilton (1963; 1964a; 1964b; 1972; 1975) not only had a huge influence on eusocial research due to his kin selection theory (which is one of the main evolutionary explanations for eusociality today, as well as group selection), but that his work also led to the emergence of the altruism paradox, the conflation of the altruism paradox with eusociality, and consequently, it led to the field focusing too much on the levels of selection issue. The impact of Hamilton’s influence was so great that it led subsequent authors to make (somewhat whiggish) historical claims that Darwin also struggled with the altruism paradox when discussing eusocial insects, which Mark argues is an unlikely semblance, since the concept of biological altruism was not developed until the 1930s and it paradox only emerged in the 1960s. Mark argues that these type of historical claims were only made after the conflation of the altruism paradox with eusociality, due to the interaction between current theory and historiography.


Cronin, H., The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today, (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

Hamilton, W.D., ‘The evolution of altruistic behavior’, The American Naturalist, 97 (1963) 354-356

Hamilton, W.D., ‘The genetical theory of social behaviour I’, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7 (1964a) 1-16

Hamilton, W.D., ‘The genetical theory of social behaviour II’,  Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7 (1964b) 17-52

Hamilton, W.D., ‘Altruism and related phenomena, mainly in social insects’, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 3 (1972) 193-232

Hamilton, W.D., ‘Innate social aptitudes of man: An approach from evolutionary genetics’, ASA Studies 4: Biological Anthropology, R. Fox (ed.), (Malaby Press, 1975)

Sober, E., From a Biological Point of View: Essays in Evolutionary Biology, Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Wilson, G.C., & D.C. Wilson, ‘Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology’, The Quarterly Review of Biology, 82 (2007) 327-348

Antonios Basoukos at the Biological Interest Group – Monday, 4th June, 2-3pm, Byrne House

For the first meeting of the Biological Interest Group this summer semester, we were very pleased to have Antonios Basoukos discussing a working paper, questioning the realism/anti-realism of some gene concepts given particular points of empirical evidence. He intends to submit a longer version of this paper to Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. In his paper, Antonios uses Ian Hacking’s (1983) entity realism to show that Lenny Moss’ (2003, 2008) category of Gene-P is not real, unless it refers to a DNA sequence, which Moss has himself suggested in passing.

Antonios explained Moss’ distinction between a preformation concept of the gene (Gene-P) and a developmental concept of the gene (i.e. Gene-D). Genes-P refers to phenotypes; a Gene-P does not necessarily correspond to an actual DNA sequence. However, an actual DNA sequence is a Gene-D, but the concept of genes can be both Genes-P and Genes-D. That being said, the author explains, it is organisms that have phenotypes; when we speak about phenotypes the real entities are whole organisms. However, when we speak about intermediate phenotypes (mRNAs, metabolites), the real entities are biomolecules interacting. It is the material nature of DNA sequences and their being acted upon by the cellular apparatus makes genes-construed-as-DNA-sequences epistemic things. The explanatory phrase of ‘being acted upon’, instead of ‘interaction’ was a crucial epistemic distinction for the author.

In his paper, Antonios projects the contemporary conceptions of the gene identified by P. Griffiths and K. Stotz (cf. Stotz, 2006; Griffiths & Stotz, 2006, 2013; Griffiths, 2017; Stotz & Griffiths, 2017) onto Lenny Moss’ epistemic categories of Gene-D and Gene-P. His goal was to show that Genes-P are not epistemic things, but that they can be considered as epistemic things insofar as they are Genes-D. One consequence of this conclusion is that genes have to be conceived in the broader context in which they are made to operate by the cell apparatus.


Griffiths, P.E., “Genetic, Epigenetic and Exogenetic Information in Development and Evolution”, Interface Focus, 7: 2016015 (2017) 1-8.

Griffiths, P.E., K. Stotz, “Genes in the Postgenomic Era”, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 27 (2006) 499-521.

Griffiths, P.E., K. Stotz, Genetics and Philosophy: An Introduction, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Hacking, I., Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Moss, L., What Genes Can’t Do, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003)

Moss, L., “The Meanings of the Gene and the Future of the Phenotype”, Genomics, Society and Policy, 4 (2008) 38-54

Stotz, K., “Molecular Epigenesis: Distributed Specificity as a Break in the Central Dogma”, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 28 (2006) 527-544.

Stotz K., P.E. Griffiths, “Biological Information, Causality, and Specificity: An Intimate Relationship”, From Matter to Life: Information and Causality, eds. S. I. Walker, P. C. W. Davies and G. F. R. Ellis. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 366-390.


Angela Cassidy at the Biological Interest Group – 26th March, 2-3pm, Byrne House

For the third meeting of the Biological Interest Group of the spring semester, Angela Cassidy, from the University of Exeter, discussed a chapter from a book she is presently working on. The book investigates the history of the UK controversy over badgers and bovine tuberculosis. Bovine tuberculosis has been a controversy of chronic science-policy knowledge for over 40 years now, with much of the discussion becoming much more ‘public’ and polarised since around 2010. The volume is under contract with Palgrave and is the main output of a Wellcome fellowship. While the volume is primarily intended as an academic monograph, it is Angela’s hope that it will also reach scientific, policy and public audiences interested in the debate.

The chapter discussed at this meeting was entitled ‘Pest Control and Ecology’, which is about the applied ecologists working within Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) who undertook disease ecology and field research once veterinarians had discovered tuberculosis badgers in the early 1970s. Using received ideas around the ‘logics of care’ (Mol, 2008; Mol et al, 2010) as well as more recent work about care and scientific practice, Angela deploys a broad analytical framework from which to understand how the various epistemic communities involved with badgers and bovine tuberculosis (namely those around vets, ecologists and badger protection campaigners) have come to such different positions on the problem. It was argued that policy on badgers is motivated by an understanding of them as pests, and that this predates the rationale of public health and preventing tuberculosis. As part of the discussion, the group considered the different logics, values, methodologies, and theoretical presuppositions that determined the ways in which the debate has unfolded. We considered the possible conflicts between epistemic communities and authorities as factors affecting both social policy and public perception.


Mol, A., The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice, (Routledge, 2008)

Mol, A., I. Moser, & J. Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms, 1st edn., (Transcript-Verlag, 2010)


N.b. Due to strike action, snowy weather and clashes with some of our participants, the arranged sessions of the 26th February, 5th March, and 12th March had to be either cancelled or rescheduled.


In place of the session on the 5th of March, Jacob Habinek visited to participate (among other things) in the volunteer university, which Eric Lybeck helped to run during the strike. The workshop was entitled ‘University of the Future’, and it was organised around four themes:  work; governance; critique; and synthesis/life. The workshop was open to the public,

Dates and locations:

  • 5 March – Workshop I – Work – Exeter Central Library, 3:30-5:30
  • 6 March – Workshop II – Governance – Devon & Exeter Institution, 12:30-2:30
  • 7 March – Workshop III – Critique – Bike Shed Theatre, 3:30-5:30
  • 8 March – Workshop IV – Synthesis/Life – CoLab, 1-4

On the Tuesday, Jacob presented a paper, entitled ‘Professions as Politics: the Medical Profession and its End in the United States, 1783-1860’ at the Devon and Exeter Institution. The abstract is listed below:

“In a striking case of professional collapse, the medical profession in the United States gave way to a raucous free market for healthcare around the middle of the nineteenth century. To explain the causes and consequences of these events, we draw on insights from political sociology to probe the origins of opposition to the medical profession. Dominant professions must both maintain cultural authority over potential rivals and secure the support of state officials in order to maintain their advantages. We argue that the cultural and institutional power of a dominant profession can be overturned if challenger occupational groups organise and mobilise actively, and if populist political coalitions find that anti-professional sentiments resonate with the electorate. Moreover, each of these processes can reinforce the other, lending the normally staid world of professions the character of a contentious social movement arena. Our analysis contributes to sociological knowledge of the professions by demonstrating that the loss of professional power is not simply a case of professionalisation in reverse. Instead, political dynamics within professional and political ecologies can give rise to insurgent forces that challenge the foundation of professional power.”