How to count biological minds: symbiosis, the free energy principle, and reciprocal multiscale integration

Synthese 199 (1-2):2157-2179 (2020)
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The notion of a physiological individuals has been developed and applied in the philosophy of biology to understand symbiosis, an understanding of which is key to theorising about the major transition in evolution from multi-organismality to multi-cellularity. The paper begins by asking what such symbiotic individuals can help to reveal about a possible transition in the evolution of cognition. Such a transition marks the movement from cooperating individual biological cognizers to a functionally integrated cognizing unit. Somewhere along the way, did such cognizing units simultaneously have cognizers as parts? Expanding upon the multiscale integration view of the Free Energy Principle, this paper develops an account of reciprocal integration, demonstrating how some coupled biological cognizing systems, when certain constraints are met, can result in a cognizing unit that is in ways greater than the sum of its cognizing parts. Symbiosis between V. Fischeri bacteria and the bobtail squid is used to provide an illustration this account. A novel manner of conceptualizing biological cognizers as gradient is then suggested. Lastly it is argued that the reason why the notion of ontologically nested cognizers may be unintuitive stems from the fact that our folk-psychology notion of what a cognizer is has been deeply influenced by our folk-biological manner of understanding biological individuals as units of reproduction.

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Matthew Sims
Ruhr-Universität Bochum