Anna CIAUNICA (University of Lisbon & University College London), "From Cells to Selves: Coupling Neuronal and Immune Cellular Processing in Biological self-Organising Systems"

Lundi, 27 Novembre, 2023 - 13:30
Date fin: 
Mercredi, 22 Novembre, 2023 - 15:00

Anna CIAUNICA (University of Lisbon & University College London), "From Cells to Selves: Coupling Neuronal and Immune Cellular Processing in Biological self-Organising Systems"

Significant efforts have been made in the past decades to understand how mental and cognitive processes are underpinned by neural mechanisms in the human brain and biological systems. Here I argue that a promising way forward in understanding the nature of human cognition is to zoom out from the prevailing picture focusing on its neural basis. It considers instead how neurons work in tandem with other type of cells (e.g. immune) to subserve biological self-organisation and adaptive behaviour of the human organism as a whole. We focus specifically on the immune cellular processing as key actor in complementing neuronal processing in achieving successful self-organisation and adaptation of the human body in an ever-changing environment. The focus on cellular rather than neural, brain processing underscores the idea that adaptive responses to fluctuations in the environment require a carefully crafted orchestration of multiple cellular and bodily systems at multiple organisational levels of the biological organism. Hence cognition can be seen as a multiscale web of dynamic information processing distributed across a vast array of complex cellular (e.g. neuronal, immune, and others) and network systems, operating across the entire body, and not just in the brain. Ultimately, this paper builds up towards two radical claims. First, there is the idea that cognition should not be confined to one system alone, namely the neural system in the brain, no matter how sophisticated the latter notoriously is. Second, I outline the role of co-embodiment – i.e. human bodies and brains developing within another human body, in utero – as a key factor in scaling up cognitive processing across the lifespan. Ultimately, the aim is to show that paradoxically, in order to understand what makes cognition uniquely human, we need to focus on what we have in common with other biological systems. 


Dr Anna Ciaunica is a Principal Investigator at the Centre for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon, Portugal; and Research Associate at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, the UK. Before that she was Research Associate at the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London; and postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Fribourg, Switzerland. She obtained her PhD from the University of Burgundy, Dijon, France. 

Anna is currently PI on three interdisciplinary projects looking at the relationship between self-awareness, embodiment and social interactions in humans and artificial agents. Her approach is highly interdisciplinary, using methods from philosophy, experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, phenomenology and arts. More recently, Anna has deepened the concept of minimal selfhood in utero developing as a process of co-embodiment and co-homeostasis. Apart from the numerous scientific papers published, Anna is currently working on a book: ‘From Cells to Selves: the Co-Embodied Roots of Human Self-Consciousness’.

She is also coordinator of the Network for Embodied Consciousness, Technology and the Arts (NECTArs) – a collaborative platform bringing together artists, researchers, stakeholders, policy makers and people with lived experiences, aiming at fostering creative solutions to timely questions such as self-consciousness and (dis)embodiment in our hyper-digitalized and hyper-connected world. 


Principal Investigator - Centre for Philosophy of Science, University of Lisbon, Campo Grande, Edificio C4, Sala 4.13.16 1749-016 Lisbon, Portugal

Research Associate -  Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, Alexandra House, Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR

Twitter : @AnnaCiaunica