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Wintersemester 2019/2020


Moritz Schulz
Universität Hamburg, Theoretische Philosophie


Im Idealfall steht vor einer Entscheidung die Erkenntnis, was in der jeweiligen Situation moralisch richtig wäre. Dazu kommt es aber nicht immer. In einigen Fällen liegt dies schlicht daran, dass die Zeit nicht reicht. In anderen Fällen sind die moralischen Fragen so vertrakt, dass sich auch nach gründlichem Nachdenken keine Gewissheit einstellen will. Manchmal müssen wir uns also entscheiden, ohne zu wissen, was moralisch richtig ist. Kann man sich in solchen Situationen noch rational entscheiden? Und was könnten Prinzipien für solche Entscheidungen sein? Anwendungsfelder für eine Theorie von Entscheidungen unter moralischer Unsicherheit wären beispielsweise die Tierethik (darf ich Fleisch zu Genusszwecken konsumieren?) oder selbstfahrende Autos (was soll ein solches Auto in schwierigen, moralischen bedeutsamen Situation tun?).

František Baluška 
IZMB University of Bonn, Germany


Living organisms act as active and purposeful agents. Cellular sentience (consciousness) is based on excitable membranes interacting with dynamic cytoskeleton (Trewavas and Baluška 2011, Baluška and Reber 2019). In the strict sense, only archaeal and bacterial organisms are individuals with the unitary self (Margulis 2001). All eukaryotic cells are complex communities of cellular individuals (Margulis 2001; Baluška et al. 2004a,b; Baluška and Lyons 2018). On both the cellular and supracellular levels, behavior is based on sentience allowing cognition (agency) which is solving organismal problems (defence of self) during their biological evolution (Baluška and Reber 2019; Miller et al. 2019).

Having cognition and sentience (consciousness) linked inherently with cells, starting already with archaea and bacteria (Margulis 2001; Lyon 2015; Reber 2018; Baluška and Reber 2019), allows us to understand why also unicellular eukaryotes (Vallverdú et al. 2018) and flowering plants are cognitive organisms showing purposeful and goal-directed behavior based of their plant-specific sentience and cognition (Baluška and Mancuso 2009a,b; Trewavas 2014; Trewavas and Baluška 2011; Baluška and Levin 2016; Baluška et al. 2016). For example, plants exhibit active behavior implicating plant-specific cognition, intelligence, and awareness of their biotic and abiotic environment based on their complex and sophisticated plant-specific senses, which feed into the context-dependent plant behavior based on plant-specific memories and learning (Baluška and Ninkovic 2010; Baluška et al. 2018; Trewavas 2014).


  1. Baluška F, Levin M. On having no head: cognition throughout biological systems. Front Psychol 2016; 7: 902
  2. Baluška F, Lyons S. Energide-cell body as smallest unit of eukaryotic life. Ann Bot 2018; In 122: 741-5
  3. Baluška F, Reber A. Sentience and consciousness in single cells: how the first minds emerged in unicellular species. Bioessays 2019; 41: e1800229
  4. Baluška F, Volkmann D, Barlow PW. Eukaryotic cells and their cell bodies: Cell Theory revised. Ann Bot 2004a; 94 :9-32.
  5. Baluška F, Volkmann D, Barlow PW. Cell bodies in a cage. Nature 2004b; 428: 371
  6. Baluška F, Yokawa K, Mancuso S, Baverstock K. Understanding of anesthesia - why consciousness is essential for life and not based on genes. Commun Integr Biol 2016; 9: e1238118
  7. Baluška F, Gagliano M, Witzany G. Memory and Learning in Plants. Springer International Publishing, 2018
  8. Baluška F, Mancuso S. Deep evolutionary origins of neurobiology: turning the essence of 'neural' upside-down. Commun Integr Biol 2009a; 2: 60-5
  9. Baluška F, Mancuso S. Plant neurobiology: from sensory biology, via plant communication, to social plant behavior. Cogn Process 2009b; 10 Suppl 1: S3-7
  10. Baluška F, Ninkovic V. Plant Communication from an Ecological Perspective. Springer International Publishing, 2010
  11. Lyon P. The cognitive cell: bacterial behavior reconsidered. Front Microbiol 2015; 6: 264
  12. Margulis L. The conscious cell. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2001; 929: 55-70
  13. Miller WB, Jr, Torday JS, Baluška F. Biological evolution as defense of 'self'. Prog Biophys Mol Biol 2019; 142: 54-74
  14. Reber AS. First Minds: Caterpillars, Karyotes, and Consciousness. Oxford University Press, 2018
  15. Vallverdú J, Castro O, Mayne R, Talanov M, Levin M, Baluška F, Gunji Y, Dussutour A, Zenil H, Adamatzky A. Slime mould: The fundamental mechanisms of biological cognition. Biosystems 2018; 165: 57-70
  16. Trewavas AJ. Plant Behaviour and Intelligence. Oxford University Press, 2014
  17. Trewavas AJ, Baluška F. The ubiquity of consciousness. EMBO Rep 2011; 12: 1221-5

Marcus Hauser
Abteilung Regulationsbiologie, Institut für Biologie, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg


Physarum polycephalum is an amoeba that forms giant cells that contain a large number of nuclei which are all active. In a cell, the nucleus is the entity that regulates the cell, i.e., that decides how a cell will respond to the environment or to novel situations on the medium to long term. In Physarum, the many nuclei are all on equal footing with each other; on the other hand, this amoeboid cell does neither possess a nervous system, nor any central processing unit. In this sense, the nuclei form an ensemble of equals that are responsible for steering the cell. This leads to the intriguing question how some of the nuclei are able to make decisions in the interest of the common best of the entire cell.

Decisions rely on the information available for the deciding entity. In my presentation I will address some aspect of the physics of Physarum. First, I will focus on the spread and processing of information in Physarum, i.e., on the bases on which decisions can be made. Since the architecture of information transporting networks is known to affect the signal processing, I will discuss the architecture of the transport networks in Physarum and the spread of information in these networks. Furthermore, we will investigate how these networks react when they are exposed to a new information.

Martin Kocher, Institute for Advanced Studies - Institut für Höhere Studien (IHS), Wien


Unethical behavior such as dishonesty, cheating and corruption occurs frequently in individuals, organizations or groups. We study the determinants of such (im-)moral behavior and how exogenous influences, for instance, incentives, decision-making characteristics, networks or reminders, as well as beliefs about norms can affect the inclination to commit acts that break normative norms. Understanding these determinants helps designing environments that are conducive to norm-conforming behavior of decision-makers.

Detlev Arendt, EMBL Heidelberg


Neurons are highly specialized cell types equipped with a sophisticated molecular machinery for the reception, integration and distribution of information. The evolutionary origin and assembly of the neuronal modules however is unsolved. How did pre-existing molecules and modules assemble into the complex machinery of the pre- and postsynapse and of the conductive apparatus? I will present single-cell data from sponges that allows us to understand the cellular machinery and communication capacities in protoneurons that predated true nervous systems. I will then explain how this pre-existing machinery was modified and fused towards neuronal modules, and how early neurons may have utilized these modules for sensory perception, decision-making and the control of different kinds movement. What was the modular architecture of early neurons what problems did it solve?