For some reason, I was particularly anxious about this talk. This isn’t usually an issue for me, but I had the distinct feeling that I had bitten off more than I could chew as I was preparing for my presentation. When Hannah and Andrew posted the idea for the session in the ISH (“Ish”) discussion board, I thought: “Oh, I can see how one could give an account of cellular kinds by drawing on research on cell signaling!” I wrote the following abstract for my talk:
Talk of different types of cells is commonplace in the biological sciences. We know a great deal, for example, about human muscle cells by studying the same type of cells in mice. Information about cell type is apparently largely projectible across species boundaries. But what defines cell type? Do cells come pre-packaged into different natural kinds? Philosophical attention to these questions has been extremely limited (see, e.g., Wilson 1999 and Wilson, Barker, and Brigandt 2007). On the face of it, the problems we face in individuating cellular kinds resemble those biologists and philosophers of biology encountered in thinking about species: there are apparently many different (and interconnected) bases on which we might legitimately classify cells. We could, for example, focus on their developmental history (a sort of analogue to a species' evolutionary history); or we might divide on the basis of certain structural features, functional role, location within larger systems, and so on. In this paper, I focus on an especially promising way of thinking about many cell types which unifies much of this plurality. In multicellular contexts, cells become the sorts of things they are, find themselves where they are, and do the sorts of things they do in virtue of complex communication networks with other cells. Cells, in a sense, announce — or are told — what kinds they are and take up their proper roles accordingly. While this cannot be the whole story about cell type individuation, it seems to me an important component. The paper will conclude with some preliminary thoughts about how to think about the plurality of ways to divide cells into kinds and whether a "Cell Problem" analogous to the infamous "Species Problem" results.I titled my paper “Hi, I’m a Fibroblast!” — an attempt at a clever reference to my signaling metaphor; think conference name badges. This lead to several references in Brian Hall’s talk along the lines of “we’ll be hearing more about fibroblasts in the next talk….” Oops: I guess I set expectations for biological-information content too high!
|Matt Haber and Jim Tabery — the local organizers|
on the last day of the conference (whew!)
Maureen O’Malley and I had a nice afternoon hike in Alta the day before my talk. We were initially cross that the dirt road to some of the longer hikes was closed off. So we started a short one and made it longer by going off trail a bit (though every so often, we’d say “oh, there’s a trail again!”) in order to get to the top of the ridge. As we tried to make a loop our of our there-and-back trail, we discovered the likely reason that the road was closed: even on July 13th, there was still a lot of snow up there. Go figure. Photos from the whole shebang here.
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