Event: International Workshop  The Conceptual Foundations of Science


Rethinking Matter – Life – Mind


September 18 – 21, 2018

Hotel Westerhof, Tegernsee, Germany

Aim of the workshop
"Reality of Matter, Space and Time (or Space-time)", "Origin of Life", and the "Mind-Body or Consciousness-Matter relation" are three fundamental problems which, to a large extent, still escape our attempts for convincing solutions. In the workshop we will discuss the conceptual foundations (the Kantian „categories“) which we use when we try to address such questions. In particular (and in contrast to many other approaches), we want to discuss a hypothesis that some of the problems may be due to often unmentioned categories, which are common to all three problems and which underlie the fundamental concepts on which we ground our theories. In this sense we want to go "with Kant beyond Kant". We also will discuss to which extent these fundamental concepts form "categorial apparatus" of which the constituents cannot be exchanged arbitrarily.

Thomas Filk, Albert Ludwigs University Freiburg
Albrecht von Müller, Parmenides Foundation, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich
Eörs Szathmáry, Parmenides Foundation
Jan Walleczek, Fetzer Franklin Fund



"Is there an objective, observer-independent reality or is reality only defined in relation to an observer (Wheelers participatory universe)"?

"How did the first forms of self-sustaining, reproducing, and evolvable autocatalytic chemical supersystems arise?"

"What is the relation between first person experiences and the corresponding material body?"

These are some of the long-standing, fundamental questions from the realm of physics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, for which despite many decades (and sometimes centuries) of efforts no convincing answer is in sight. In some cases it is not even clear, whether we ask the right questions or what we would accept as a satisfactory answer.

One hypothesis is that beyond the fundamental concepts, which each science has developed for their scientific field, there is a deeper layer of concepts ("categories" in the sense of Immanuel Kant) which is common to all sciences and which is usually not reflected. These categories are overarching and address the most fundamental levels of thinking: What do we assume about spatial and, in particular, temporal ordering? How do we combine predication? How are events related (is there causal closure or not)? What is the role of the observer, i.e. the scientist (to which extent is he/she actively involved in what is observed)?

The questions above (and similar questions) relate to extremely complex systems or formalism which involve a high degree of self-referentiality. Do we have the right categories to deal with self-referentiality? Are there different levels of self-referentiality? If so, do we have measures (mathematical or other) for the degree of self-referentiality?

Another hypothesis is that some of these fundamental categories are deeply connected so that they cannot be exchanged arbitrarily, but form a "categorial structure" or "categorial apparatus". It seems to be obvious that causal relationships are closely related to temporal ordering, or that "causal sequences" lose their meaning in self-referential systems. What are the elements of such an apparatus and how are they related? Do we need several (two or even more) of these apparatus? What decides which apparatus to choose?

We have chosen three different fields (quantum physics, evolutionary biology, and the philosophy of mind) as examples where these fundamental categories may be of particular importance. Each field will require (and offer) a different perspective on these issues. While the questions mentioned so far refer to all fields, the following list of questions might be more important for some fields than for others:

  • In your field of expertise, are there fundamental assumptions/categories which you would consider as indispensable, and why?
  • We know that quantum mechanics can be formulated in terms of non-Boolian logic and that for certain (meaningful) predication about properties of systems the `tertium non datur’ does not hold. Do you think that such a step is also necessary for addressing the other questions (origin of life and mind-matter relationship)?
  • In quantum theory it is not always possible to attribute a definite moment in time to an event. Do you think that similar statements hold, e.g., for evolutionary systems?
  • John Wheeler coined the notion of a "participatory universe". For which of the fundamental questions (matter – life – consciousness) would you say that observer and observed cannot be separated? Why - and why not for the others?
  • What might be the possible role of quantum processes in the organisation (rather than component processes) of living systems? What might be the role of quantum processes for the occurence of consciousness?
  • How would you see (if possible `compare’) the role of the `observer’ in quantum theory, evolutionary biology, and the problem of consciousness?
  • Evolution, material structures, and conscious states seem to be open-ended. Would you agree or do you see limitations?
  • Language seems to be a window to consciousness or states of mind. Do you agree? If yes, does this window allow for a `full view’? Does language also offer a window (or constrain our view) to the other problems (quantum theory, evolutionary biology)?
  • Is language open-ended in the sense that we can form an unlimited number of sentences with different meanings? Are there constraints in language such that certain meanings cannot be formulated in a language? Are these constraints (if present) the same for all languages?
  • To what extent can evolution be regarded as a cognitive process? Are some cognitive processes evolutionary in nature?
  • How would you classify or distinguish between various forms of: complexity, contingency, determinism, predictability, etc.? Presumably it is meaningful to distinguish between short-term and long-term predictability (for some systems we can predict their behavior for a very short time-scale, but not for very long time-scales) – do you think we should also distinguish between short-term and long-term determinism?
  • What are the self-referential loops which we encounter in quantum theory, in evolutionary biology, or in the question of mind-matter relationship?
  • In physics, singularities are often interpreted as a break-down of the model, with the additional assumption that a more fundamental theory will avoid these singularities. Do you think this is always true – or will singularities be part of every model? Do we find singularities in the models we use for evolutionary biology, or the matter-mind relationship?

These are some of the questions which we hope to address in the workshop. We hope that at least some of them will be applicable to the particular field of interest of every participant, and that the speakers could comment on some of these questions.

We have already worked on some of these questions. If you are interested, here are some references and links:

E. Szathmáry (2018): Rethinking Life. The Map and the Territory, S. Wuppuluri, F.A. Doria (eds), The Frontiers Collection, Springer International Publishing, pp. 475 - 488

A. von Müller, T. Filk (Eds.) (2015): Re-Thinking Time at the Interface of Physics and Philosophy. Heidelberg: Springer

T. Filk, A.v. Müller (2010): A Categorial Framework for Quantum Theory. Annalen der Physik 522 (11), pp. 783-801.

T. Filk, A.v. Müller (2009): Quantum Physics and Consciousness: The Quest for a Common, Modified Conceptual Foundation. Mind and Matter Vol.7(1), pp. 59–79.


Confirmed Speakers

  • Michel Bitbol
  • Bruce Fetzer
  • Thomas Filk
  • Juan-Carlos Gomez
  • James Griesemer
  • Ruth Kastner
  • Johannes Kleiner
  • Stuart Kauffman
  • Katherine Peil
  • Paavo Pylkkänen
  • Jonathan Schooler
  • Eörs Szathmary
  • Albrecht von Müller
  • Jan Walleczek
  • David Wolpert
  • Elias Zafiris


Please click on program to download the agenda


Tuesday, Sept. 18th


19:00 Dinner at Westerhof-Café im Stieler-Haus

Welcome address by Albrecht von Müller and Jan Walleczek


Wednesday, Sept. 19th

9:00 Albrecht von Müller: Re-Thinking Matter, Life & Mind - On the search for deficits in the conceptual foundations of our thinking that make fundamental issues in all 3 domains irresolvable

10:00 Elias Zafiris: Constellatory Unfolding and Potentiation in the Quantum Domain: From Entanglement to Time-Crystals and their Role in Quantum Computing

11:00-11:30 Coffee break

11:30 Thomas Filk: How Long is Now

12:30-14:30 Lunch Break

14:30 Jonathan Schooler: Towards a Framework for Conceptualizing Observers moving through Time: Nested Observer Window (NOW’s)

15:30 Michel Bitbol: A Participatory Ontology : Merleau-Ponty and Qbism

16:30-17:00 Coffee break

17:00 Ruth Kastner: Mind, Possibility, Actuality: A Way Forward for Life and Free Will

18:00 Discussion about central topics of the day

19:30 Dinner at Bräustüberl Tegernsee



Thursday, Sept. 20th

9:00 Jan Walleczek: The Hard Problem of the Free Will of the Scientific Agent and Quantum Super-Indeterminism

10:00 Paavo Pylkkänen: Does post-Newtonian physics suggest a post-Kantian view of human experience?

11:00-11:30 Coffee break

11:30 Juan-Carlos Gomez: To Be and Not To Be: the puzzle of implicit knowledge

12:30-14:30 Lunch break

14:30 Eörs Szathmary: Biology and the Filk-von Müller conceptual frameworks

15:30 David Wolpert: Constraints on Physical Reality arising from a Formalization of Knowledge

16:30-17:00 Coffee break

17:00 Stuart Kaufman: A World Beyond Physics: The Origin and Evolution of Life

18:00 Discussion of the topics of the day

19:30 Dinner at Westerhof-Café im Stieler-Haus



Friday, Sept. 21st

9:00 Johannes Kleiner: Thoughts on a Unified Theoretical Description of the Subjective and the Objective

10:00 James Griesemer: Scaffolding environments and the development of system closure

11:00 Concluding Discussion

12:30 Lunch





Funding by

Franklin Fetzer Fund