4. Epigenesis: Between Science and Humanities

   Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 10.16.14 AMepigenesis picture


This capstone workshop approached the fundamental questions of origins and change, mimesis (repetition) and poesis (creation and change) through an exciting interdisciplinary dialogue between humanities and natural science:  It presented the latest discoveries in evolutionary biology epigenetics, and new readings of the “system of epigenesis of pure reason” in the work of German Philosopher Immanuel Kant.  The seed for this workshop was sown two years ago, when as a visiting professor in London I accompanied Professor Valerie Wells on a student trip to the Eden Project in UK, immediately after I had heard a lecture on Immanuel Kant by Catherine Malabou — who has recently claimed that “we are living in an era of cultural epigenetics.” Yet I realized that in order to understand how the moral philosopher Kant was using the word epigenesis, I had to understand the biology, since he was using a biological metaphor to explain the working of transcendental reason.  While this is interdisciplinarity pursuit at a very basic level, the workshop addressed deeper questions: What are the consequences of the latest discoveries in evolutionary biology or genetics for philosophy and the teaching of philosophy?  What does it mean to say with Antonio Damasio or Malabou that philosophy “pre-figures” or anticipates science?  The discussions pushed the ideas of simple analogy and metaphors between philosophical concepts and scientific discoveries, to demonstrates significantly that in fact methodological characteristics of the humanities, such as hermeneutics, are crucial to understanding and making sense of scientific discoveries.  Again, these fundamental and difficult concepts and methods were translated into practical assignments and exercises conducted during the workshop.

Organized by Mahnaz Yousefzadeh

Monday April 27th 2015 5:15 -7:30 pm

NYU London 6 Bedford Sq. WC1B 3RA

Password (epigenesis)

This workshop will explore the relevance of scientific discoveries in the natural history of life for the teaching of philosophy. It will introduce the human genome as “the greatest text” to discuss the implications of epigenetics and knowledge about genetics for education (Julia Kovas), health (Valerie Wells), and the teaching of philosophy in the Liberal Arts curriculum (Mahnaz Yousefzadeh).


Yulia Kovas is Professor of Genetics and Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Director of InLab, http://www.inlab.co.uk and Institute for Research in Human Development at Tomsk State University, and the Laboratory for Cognitive Investigations and Behavioural Genetics. http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/psychology/staff/kovas.phpDirector of Laboratory for Cognitive Investigations and Behavioural Genetics: http://cogbglab.tsu.ru/Co-Director of the Russian-British Laboratory for Behavioural Genetics: http://rbbglab.ru/index.php/en/

Valerie Wells lecturer at NYU London and a research scientist with collaborative studies at King’s College and Cancer Research UK, London, and G.D’Annunzio University and La Sapienza University, Italy. Her research is focused on defining differences in the signalling pathways which operate in normal and cancer cells.

Mahnaz Yousefzadeh (chair) teaches Humanities at Global Liberal Studies, New York University. She is the recipient of an NYU CDFC (2014-2015) to create a series of experiential and interdisciplinary workshops on teaching the Great Texts. She teaches and has published on genealogies of contemporary culture.


1.Stella Sandford SEX of NATURAL HISTORY

2.  Stella Sandford: “Spontaneous Generation, The fantasy of the birth of concepts in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.”  rp179_aerticle2_sandford_spontaneousgeneration

One thought on “4. Epigenesis: Between Science and Humanities

  1. Some ideas about epigenetics:

    Best case scenario- individually tailored education and healthcare etc, allowing people to reach their potentials (with success more broadly defined)

    Epigenetics might redefine the boundary between individual and society, between developing child and mother etc
    For perception of self e.g. I’m an identical twin – epigenetics provides a mechanism for explaining very early constitutional differences – there is no such thing as identical!

    Dangerous if people interpret it as genes not being important / anyone can do anything with right environmental influences – we are not 100% plastic


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