Seminar on the origins of the genetic code

Next week Jorge and I will give a seminar to report on the work we did during our 2-month stay at the Earth-Life Science Institute:

An iterated learning model of the origin of the genetic code

Tom Froese (National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM)
Jorge Campos (National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM)

Date: July 25, 2017
Time: 14:00
Room: ELSI-2 Building – ELSI Lounge
Host: Nathaniel Virgo

Theories of the origin of the genetic code take translation for granted and assign an essential role to natural selection and/or mutation of hereditable traits to explain its non-randomness and error robustness. And yet the translation system depends on high fidelity replication. Woese proposed a solution to this fundamental bootstrapping problem by arguing that optimization of the code could have preceded and facilitated evolution of the translation system, and that its evolution was accelerated by communal innovation. He conjectured that early evolution was dominated by horizontal exchange of cellular components among loosely organized protocells rather than by vertical transmission of genetic material, and that lineages of individuals did not exist until after the emergence of the last universal common ancestor. Crucial outstanding problems are clarifying the agency of selection in communal evolution, and verifying whether it provides a rational basis for codon assignments. Here we demonstrate that horizontal transfer of code fragments can in principle give rise to key properties of the genetic code. In accordance with Woese’s claim that the dynamic of communal evolution is primarily determined by the organization of the recipient cell, and taking inspiration from comparisons between the advent of the genetic code and the emergence of human language, we created an iterated learning model of a group of protocells. Previous models of the origin of the genetic code have reproduced its regularity and optimality as well as its universality, but this is the first model to reproduce these features without vertical descent. This proof of concept suggests another modality of evolution: not only was Darwinian evolution (dominated by vertical transmission of genes) arguably preceded by Lamarckian evolution (vertical transmission with heredity of acquired traits), the latter was possibly preceded by Woesian evolution (dominated by horizontal acquisition).

Black box


Workshop on distributed cognition

Today and on Wednesday there will be a Workshop on Distributed Cognition taking place at the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) in Tokyo. The workshop is organized by the ELSI Origins Network.

I was invited to give a talk and my contribution will be on “distributed memory”, based on the talk I recently gave at the conference on Formation of Embodied Memory in Heidelberg.

Symposium on Hallucinations and Perceptual Experience

I’ve been invited to give a talk at a Symposium on Hallucinations and Perceptual Experience, which Prof. Juan Gonzalez has organized in the context of the Second International Conference of Transdisciplinary Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The event will start tomorrow at 10:00 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

The line-up is as follows:

Prof. Juan Gonzalez (speaker)
Prof. Jose Luis Diaz (speaker)
Dr. Tom Froese (speaker)
Dr. Glenda Satne (discussant)

The title of my contribution is: “Hallucinations: internal fictions, external realities, or something in-between?” (Alucinaciones: ¿ficciones internas, realidades externas o algo intermedio?).

Video: Introduction to enactive cognitive science

A video of my talk for the Society for Cognitive Science and Philosophy (SCSP) has been made available online with accompanying slides. The recording was made on Feb. 26, 2016, at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.

The tile is “Introduction to enactive cognitive science”.


Seminar on the origins of the symbolic mind

I was invited to give a talk at UNAM’s Instituto de Investigaciones Filosoficas this Wednesday as part of the Rationality, Reasoning, and Cognition seminar series. The title of my contribution is “How did humans overcome the cognitive gap? On the origins of the symbolic mind”. Details in the flyer below:


Talk: Dynamics of Embodied Memory: Temporality, Spatiality, and Sociality

The Marsilius-Kolleg is organizing a conference series on the topic of comprehensive anthropology.

Next month the series will start with an International Conference on the Formation of Embodied Memory, which will take place at the University of Heidelberg, April 6-8. I was invited to give a talk:

Dynamics of Embodied Memory: Temporality, Spatiality, and Sociality

Tom Froese

This talk presents a dynamical systems analysis of the temporal processes that contribute to the constitution of embodied memory. Three kinds of extra-neural processes will be considered: 1) physiological dynamics, 2) movement dynamics, and 2) social interaction dynamics. Their potential to serve as forms of memory will be illustrated on the basis of three simple agent-based models. These examples help to demonstrate the problems faced by a purely brain-based account of the self and its capacities. They also support the adoption of a broader notion of forgetting, which takes into account the cognitive effects of undergoing changes in one’s relationship to the spatial and social environment, for example displacement from one’s home and separation from one’s acquaintances.

Course on the enactive approach and its contributions to psychotherapy

This Friday and Saturday I will give a two-day course entitled “La aproximación enactiva y sus aportes para la psicoterapia” at the Centro de Psicoterapia de Premisas in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

Living systems: chaotic, stochastic, and/or indeterministic?

I was invited to lead the discussion in a session of the Seminar of Science and Society at the Centre for the Sciences of Complexity. I will focus on the relationship between autonomy and uncertainty. Details can be found in the flyer below:

C3 seminar

International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan

It has been 5 years since I moved to Mexico to create a computational model of the sociopolitical organization of ancient Teotihuacan. I am happy to report that this project has matured. I am involved in the organization of the International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan, which will bring together the world’s leading experts working on this topic.


At the symposium I will I gave talk on the latest results of the model. The title and abstract are as follows:

A computational model of Teotihuacan’s collective government: New insights into role of the city’s division into districts

Tom Froese

Experts remain divided about the nature of the sociopolitical system of ancient Teotihuacan, which was one of the earliest and largest urban civilizations of the Americas. Excavations hoping to find compelling evidence of powerful rulers, such as a royal tomb, keep coming away empty-handed. But the alternative possibility of a corporate or collective government still remains poorly understood. There is a lack of evidence of a powerful bureaucracy, such as durable record keeping, but a decentralized network limited to the level of neighborhood representatives seems susceptible to problems of collective action.

Previously we used a computational model to show that in principle this latter worry is unfounded, as long as we assume that the network’s topology could be transformed via community rituals and was not strongly subdivided. Here we extend this model to investigate whether increased social hierarchy could mitigate the negative effects of strong divisions. We found a special synergy between hierarchy and community ritual in that only their combination improved the extent of cooperation, which is consistent with portrayals of the elite as religious specialists serving the public good and with the apparent absence of extensive secular institutions.

Current work is investigating whether a reduction in the city’s number of districts could reduce the necessity for this kind of centralized hierarchy.

Philosophy events at UOW

Today we will have a workshop on “The Origins and Nature of Contentful Minds: Continuity, Transformation, Integration?” in the University of Wollongong’s Research Hub, Building 19 – Room 2072. The program can be downloaded here.

My contribution is entitled: “Does the evolved apprentice model remain in the zone of latent solutions?”

Then from Wednesday to Friday there will be the 2016 UOW Philosophy Training Conference, where I will give an invited talk with the title “Hallucinations: Inner fictions, outer realities, or something in between?”

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