Invitation: WHAT CAUSES WHAT IN LIFE? Explaining today’s major challenges – A public conference about the riddles of cause and effect”


Explaining today’s major challenges
A public conference about the riddles of cause and effect

Friday 26 and Saturday 27 November 2021
Bern, Switzerland
Both on site and online

Organized by


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The COVID crisis, endocrine disrupting substances, genetically engineered organisms, climate change, etc.: all major challenges of today demand our understanding. Science does its best to oblige – yet is often criticised about its attempts. The understanding of ’causes’ is at the core of scientific investigations and of public policy. It underlies all current efforts to face the big ecosystemic challenges. But upon closer inspection, it exposes widely different views of what causes what.
Eight scientists will share their views with the audience in the two-day public conference “Context, Causality and Consequences”. One of the speakers is Denis Noble, author of “Dance to the tune of life: Biological relativity” and other books revolutionising our view of organisms and genomes. Much time is allotted to questions and discussion with the audience.
Fierce discussion regularly arises around different evaluations of the ‘same’ evidence. What underlies these different evaluations? One may ask what the biological influencers of causality are. Is it about material entities (e.g. genes), or also about interactions, relationships, and context (from sub-cellular to ecological)? What causes habituation and learning, and in which way do these influence the appearance of causality (in gene expression, disease and other phenomena)? What do we mean when we call something a cause: is it a ‘difference-maker’, a mechanism, a disposition? What other factors does it need to achieve its ‘effect’?
Physics has framed and justified causality in robust and unifying ‘conservation principles’ (energy, momentum etc.). In biology and ecology, it is much more problematic to understand and verify supposed causal relations. Sources of disagreement and confusion – not just in science, but also in policy – are implicit paradigms and assumptions, different types of argumentation, value based choices, outright dogmas and disciplinary conventions of toxicologists, endocrinologists, epidemiologists, biologists, ecologists and lawyers.


Friday 26 November 2021

8:30   Registration
9:00   Welcome / Introduction – Diederick Sprangers, ENSSER

9:30   Prof. Giuseppe Longo, Centre Cavaillès (République des Savoirs), CNRS and Ecole      Normale Supérieure, Paris
Causality and novelty production in biology

10:15 Discussion
11:00 Coffee break

11:30 Prof. Denis Noble, University of Oxford
 20th century biology got causation in living systems the wrong way round

12:15 Discussion
13:00 Lunch

Moderator: Prof. Giuseppe Longo

14:30 Dr. Siguna Müller, Kärnten, Austria
Causality and SARS-CoV-2 – new findings that mandate a broader perspective

15:15 Discussion
16:00 Tea break

16:30 Dr. Thierry Paul, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Sorbonne University, Paris
Causality, indeterminism and all that: a quantum entanglement

17:15 Discussion
18:00 End


Saturday 27 November 2021

Moderator: Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, EcoNexus, Oxford

9:00   Dr. Maël Montévil, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)
Organization, historicity and causality

9:45   Discussion
10:30 Coffee break

11:00 Dr. Elena Rocca, Centre for Applied Philosophy of Science, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Difference-maker, mechanism or disposition? How explicating and critically discussing basic assumptions about causality improves scientific evaluations of risk

11:45 Discussion
12:30 Lunch

Moderator: Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

14:00 Prof. Ana Soto, Tufts University School of Medicine (Boston), Centre Cavaillès, Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris) and Institute for Advanced Studies of Nantes
Towards the understanding of biological causality and its application to endocrine disruption

14:45 Discussion
15:30 Tea break

16:00 Prof. Thomas Vondriska, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
Genomes, epigenomes and causal inference in multicellularity and human disease

16:45 Discussion
17:30 Final discussion
18:00 Closing words: NN


The extended invitation with extended programme of the conference, can be found here:

INVITATION to conference: Context, Causality and Consequences: from robust evidence to timely action in biology, ecology, law and public policy