Prof. Pier Luigi Luisi
Emeritus Professor ETHZ

DATE: 2nd September 2019
TIME: 10:45 – 12:00 pm
LOCATION: Centro Linguistico di Ateneo, Padova

Digital philosophy (DP) is a new discipline in the contemporary cultural landscape. It is based on the concept that information is the prime principle: information, matter and energy are the base of reality, but information comes first. Moreover the Universe is a big computer that, at every instant, computes its next state effortlessly and with absolute accuracy. DP is the conceptual foundation of informatics. The origins of DP go back to the Forties of last century and intertwine with information theory, cybernetics and later with algorithms, cellular automata and computational physics. The main representatives of the theory are Edward Fredkin, Gregory Chaitin and Stephen Wolfram: their contributions helped shape DP. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (580-500 b. C.) sought to interpret the entire physical world in terms of numbers. Much later the Italian physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) founded modern science based on the principle that the Great Book of Nature is written in mathematical symbols. DP accepts this vision: reality is based on information, a non material principle like mathematics, but, moreover, reality is not static but dynamic, its dynamics being made of algorithms. The ancient principle “everything is made out of numbers and God is a mathematician” becomes “everything is made out of algorithms and God is a programmer”. The most important aspects of DP are illustrated as well as various objections to it.

In the second part of the lecture, a brief history of informatics is offered, with a hint to the main inventors and innovators, from Pascal to Leibniz to Babbage to Turing.

The necessary qualification is “what is life for science?”. And, correspondingly, what I will present is the theory of autopoiesis as developed by Maturana and Varela. They start with the phenomenology of a cell, the biological unity of life, emphasizing what is an inherent apparent paradox: that a cell is characterized at each moment by a myriad of internal chemical transformations- but despite this, there is self-maintenance: a liver cell remains a liver cell, an amoeba remains an amoeba, at least for a certain observation time (homeostasis). This apparent paradox- self-maintenance despite the thousands of chemical transformations- is possible because the cell regenerates from within all those compounds which are being consumed away. Thus, life is a factory which re-makes itself (auto-poiesis, namely self-production) from within the boundary (boundary of its own making). A machine, a robot, cannot do this. Autopoiesis is thus the signature of life: whatever is living, must be autopoietic, and vice versa. This simple, basic consideration links to other general features of life, that life is a systemic phenomenon, and as such non-localizable into a single reaction or a single chemical (certainly not in the single DNA).

Of course, life is possible thanks to energy and food from the environment: the living cell, as any living system, is an “open system”. The interaction with the environment links to the question of “cognition”. For the Santiago school, all living organisms are cognitive systems, also bacteria, meaning by that each organism is provided with the “cognitive” physiological tools to recognize and interact with its specific environment-fish with water, earth worm with earth. And this is in turn connected to the important notion of “operational closure”- so that each organism sees the world in its own way. The organism and the environment operate a co-emergence, by which one depends on the other. This brings to the large domain of ecology, and for the individual, to the complex notions of self and consciousness.

From 1975 to 2009 Giuseppe O. Longo (Forlì 1941) has been full professor of Information Theory at the Dept. of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the University of Trieste. Now he is Professor Emeritus. He has introduced the mathematical theory of information in Italy, and currently he is interested in epistemology, artificial intelligence, communication problems and the socio-cultural consequences of the technological development, with particular reference to post-human. On these subjects he has published many articles and several books, among which Il nuovo Golem (Laterza, Roma-Bari, 1998), Homo technologicus (Meltemi, Roma, 2001, second edition Ledizioni, Milano 2012) Il simbionte: prove di umanità futura (Meltemi, Roma, 2003, second edition Mimesis, Udine-Milano, 2013), Homo immortalis. Una vita quasi infinita (con N. Bonifati, Springer, Milano 2012), Bit Bang. La nascita della filosofia digitale (con A. Vaccaro, Apogeo Education, Milano, 2013). Other essays include Il senso e la narrazione (Springer, Milano, 2008) and Il gesuita che disegnò la Cina (Springer, Milano, 2010). With E. Carafoli and G. A. Danieli he has edited the volume The two Cultures: Shared Problems (Springer, Milano, 2009).

Longo is a member of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti and of the Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere.

In addition to the scientific activity, he is a lecturer and a translator. He collaborates with several newspapers and magazines, with the Italian national Tv and the Swiss Radio and Tv. He is a prominent ad prolific writer, having published three novels and eleven collections of short stories. He received a number of literary prizes and several of his fiction works have been transalted in various languages. He also is a playwright and an actor.


June 2017

Will be provided during the lecture