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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Ladislav Kovàč

Ladislav Kovàč is a professor of biochemistry and cognitive biologist at the Biocenter of Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. He founded the Laboratory of Comparative and Functional Genomics of Eukaryotic Organelles.

He is a strong advocate for seeing biological systems and subsystems as exhibiting cognition, even in some of the smallest biological structures. Jacques Monod suggested that even proteins have a kind of cognition in their ability to distinguish between substrates and ligands. Ligands that bind to cell receptors, such as activators, inhibitors, and neurotransmitters, can be considered as signaling the cell.

When the receptor undergoes a conformational change in response to the signal, we can say that the receptor "knows what to do" with the signal, and that the signal therefore has "meaning." Various receptors turn cells into "biological information-processing systems." They make the cells (and even sub-cellular organelles) into teleonomic (purposeful) agents. As Monod's colleague, François Jacob, put it, "the purpose of every cell is to become two cells."

Kovàč describes the process of recognition by molecules and their subsequent purposeful actions:

molecular recognition by a protein molecule is only part of the story. Recognition is followed by an action. A ligand is a signal. In contrast to standard chemical interactions, binding energy is not fully dissipated as heat, but is used partly for molecular work — a specific pre-programmed change in the conformation of the protein. In this way, the signal is transmitted from one site on the protein to another. The transmission takes place in four-dimensional space, as it involves time as a coordinate, and this process gives biochemistry its vectoriality. The exploitation of binding energy was originally recognized in enzymatic catalysis, in which a portion of the binding energy acts to lower the activation energy of a reaction, but it can be expanded to explain the work of translocators, receptors and transcription factors.

By receiving and transmitting signals, proteins execute a complete working cycle in an ‘all or nothing’ fashion. It is appropriate to regard most protein molecules as molecular engines. Hence, molecular cognition consists of molecular sensation — which has two inseparable aspects, recognition and signifaction — and molecular action. As Monod pointed out, by binding two or more ligands, some proteins can bring them together not on thermodynamic, but exclusively on logical, grounds — the principle of gratuity. By selective binding, proteins also associate with each other to form purposeful protein networks. In addition, owing to their structural asymmetry, protein molecules can use thermal energy from the environment to perform work as Brownian ratchets. It is essential to acknowledge that all the activities of a protein reside in its structure, which is built in by evolution. In terms of Shannon’s communication theory, the exploratory behaviour of a protein molecule — its constant change between sub-states — is a manifestation of its information entropy. The appropriate ligand triggers pre-programmed responses; the whole process is nothing more than a one-bit information transaction.

Describing a protein as a cognizing agent would appear to be a blatant example of extreme anthropomorphism, but Kovàč's work is showing how human consciousness (defined as awareness of meaningful signals coming in and appropriate reactions going back out to the environment) may have evolved from the simplest forms of life, indeed from sub-units of life that are not themselves living systems.

The possible "actions" of a protein molecule are encoded in the possible conformations (different "foldings") of the protein. If it had a single conformation, it would be useless. As Shannon showed us, a system communicating information must have multiple "possible" messages. With only a single possibility, no new information could be communicated.

Changes in the conformation require energy with negative entropy. This is provided by the nearly universal energy carrier ATP, which dephosphorylates, giving up one phosphate group to become ADP. As Erwin Schrödinger said in "What Is Life?," life feeds on stream of negative entropy from the sun. We can see the conformational change, and the energy provided by ATP, in the working of the ion channel Na+/K+ (sodium-potassium pump) that moves ions back across the neuron cell membrane to restore the resting potential and prepare the cell for another activation spike.

For Kovàč, the proteins that make up the sodium-potassium pump are "sentient." They are exhibiting purposeful behavior when they change their conformation to allow in one type of ion, then change the conformation again to allow them out on the other side of the membrane.

He says that:

Each of the proteins we encounter in nature is a product of evolution; it has been selected to perform a goal-directed teleonomic function.

For most natural proteins, the function begins with the specific binding of a ligand. But it is not the protein molecule as a rigid structure that selects the appropriate ligand. There are constant structural changes between sub-states, even in the absence of a ligand. When the ligand is present, it binds to one particular sub-state that the protein molecule is able to adopt—it is therefore possible to say that a protein molecule exhibits exploratory ‘behaviour’. This intrinsic goal-directed plasticity of the protein molecule can be dubbed ‘molecular sentience’, and it is this sentience that makes a protein a ‘living’ molecule... Sentience — the capacity to exhibit a variety of potential internal states, which respond to the immediate state of the environment— might therefore constitute the essence of life.

It is this purpose, built into the protein structure, which allows us to call protein–ligand interaction ‘molecular recognition’. Because of this intrinsic teleonomy, a protein gives meaning and significance to its environment—that is, to its ligand. By contrast, nomic interactions of individual atoms and molecules, such as chemical reactions in the inanimate world, with no evolutionary history, are inevitable, deterministic, timeless and do not represent cognition.

The field of cognitive biology was founded by the theoretical and mathematical biologist
Brian Goodwin in the 1970's.

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