Living Organisms and Their Choices

Project: Research

Project Details


This interdisciplinary project brings together biologists who recognize that organisms have sensory awareness of their surroundings and engage in purposeful, goal-directed behaviour, biosemioticians researching meaning and signs in nature, and philosophers researching the concept of life and mental representation in living organisms. We seek to arrive at a better understanding of individual organisms (from bacteria to humans) as essentially relational, interconnected, communicative, feeling, sensing, experiencing and agentic beings. We look to understand how organisms represent and interpret their environments and how they might construct models of possible future environments to use when ‘choosing’ or ‘deciding’ to pursue one course of action or move in one direction rather than another. Our overall aim is to prepare the ground for the development of a new integrated philosophical and scientific paradigm that can account for the presence of feeling and emotion in all living beings and for their intentional agency and influence.

Project team:

Lead Investigator: Prof Pauline Phemister (Philosophy, University of Edinburgh)

Co-Investigators: Prof Wendy Wheeler (English, London Metropolitan University/ Schumacher College), Dr Jonathan Delafield-Butt (Education, University of Strathclyde)

International Network: Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder (Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Scottish Rural College), Dr Patrick Walsh (Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Edinburgh), Prof Anthony Trewavas (Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, Edinburgh), Dr Lloyd Strickland (Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Norman Sieroka (Turing Centre, ETH Zürich), Prof Ray Noble (Institute for Women’s Health, UCL), Prof Denis Noble (Cardiovascular Physiology, University of Oxford), Dr Leemon McHenry (Philosophy, California State University), Prof Stefano Mancuso (DISPAA, University of Florence), Prof Kalevi Kull (Semiotics, University of Tartu), Dr Reiko Goto-Collins (Collins and Goto Studio, Glasgow Sculpture Studio), Dr Jeremy Dunham (Philosophy, Durham University), Prof Terrence Deacon (Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley), Dr Tom Bristow (English Studies, Durham University), Prof František Baluska (Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Bonn)

Project duration:
1 year
Funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh
Effective start/end date2/04/181/10/19


  • philosophy of mind
  • panpsychism
  • consciousness
  • philosophy of biology
  • agency
  • philosophy-science bridgework
  • nature of living systems
  • biology
  • psychology
  • education
  • autism


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