CFA: Redefining the Self: Biological and Philosophical Perspectives

June 23-24, 2014, Paris-Sorbonne University

Today, the self-nonself framework, which has dominated immunology since the 1940s, is at a crossroads. According to the self-nonself theory, the immune system responds to foreignness: an organism can trigger an immune response against foreign entities (the ‘nonself’), but not against endogenous constituents (the ‘self’). This theory has become increasingly criticized for its vagueness and for its empirical inadequacy.

The discovery of physiological autoimmunity, the elucidation of mechanisms by which the immune system can recognize cancer cells, the understanding of the organism as a symbiotic system, altogether cast doubt on the self/nonself dichotomy as a fundamental basis for immune recognition. It has been increasingly challenged by rival theories, such as ‘network theories’ in the 1970s, and the ‘danger theory’ in the 1990s.

Yet, the idea that ‘foreignness’ is the basis of immune recognition remains widely accepted by immunologists, and the self-nonself vocabulary is still pervasive in today’s immunology. One example is the interpretation of the recently described RNA interference-based immunity as a process that would detect ‘foreignness’ at the level of nucleic acids. As a consequence, the self-nonself framework is still vigorous, it has not been replaced by another theoretical framework, and some reject the idea that it should be replaced at all.

This interdisciplinary conference aims at exploring the meanings of the notion of ‘self’ and to determine whether it is appropriate to redefine the self or go beyond this notion. By confronting different theoretical and philosophical approaches to the immune system, this conference will contribute to stimulate debates about the conceptual basis of immunology. Such a project rests on the double conviction that, more than ever, immunology needs theories and theoretical debates, and that, in order to better understand its own concepts, immunology needs to be confronted with other approaches, in particular with the rich philosophical tradition that deals with the pivotal notions of identity, individuality and self. Theories and models in immunology can also be invigorated by approaches developed by systems biologists and specialists of artificial immune systems.

By shedding light on the origins and meanings of the word ‘self’ and by confronting different theoretical approaches to the immune system, this conference will contribute to a better understanding of today’s and tomorrow’s immunology.

Hugues Bersini (IRIDIA, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgique)
Irun Cohen (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israël)
Antonio Coutinho (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal)
Marc Daëron (Institut Pasteur, Paris, France)
Gérard Eberl (Institut Pasteur, Paris, France)
Philippe Kourilsky (Collège de France, France)
Margaret McFall-Ngai (University of Wisconsin, USA)
Polly Matzinger (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, USA)
Anne Marie Moulin (UMR Sphere, CNRS Paris, France)
Leïla Périé (National Kanker Institute, Amsterdam, and Utrecht University, Utrecht, Pays-Bas)
John Perry (Stanford University, USA)
Thomas Pradeu (Université Paris-Sorbonne, France)
Alfred Tauber (Boston University, USA)
Eric Vivier (Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille Luminy, France)

Call for papers

The organizing committee invites submission of abstracts from philosophers, philosophers of science, mathematical modelers and biologists on the topics related to the definition of the self, the self/non-self theory or other theories of the immune system. The contribution should not focus on presenting primary experimental or modeling data but on discussing conceptual and theoretical aspects. Each contributed speaker will have 20 minutes for presentation and 10 minutes for discussion. The official language of the conference is English.

The call for abstracts for oral presentations is open until April 10, 2014. (Please note that no poster session will be available). Abstracts should not exceed 300 words. Your submission must also include your name, title, affiliation, contact details and, if appropriate, the list of co-authors. Please submit your abstract by email at self.abstract (at) Selected participants will be notified by email at the beginning of May 2014.

Deadline: April 10, 2014

Posted: April 02, 2014