Universidade de Lisboa, FCUL Amphitheatre, Lisbon, Portugal

Workshop: Agency and sentience: a neuroscientific perspective

The Evolution of Knowing Agents
Kevin Mitchell
Smurfit Institute of Genetics and Institute of Neuroscience, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland

To persist in a dynamic world, organisms must be sensitive to external conditions and able to act on that information. Acting adaptively requires more than mere sentience, however – it requires knowledge. This knowledge – of the statistical regularities and causal structures and relations of the world and the self in that world – can be acquired through evolution and embodied in pragmatic, preconfigured control policies. In animals capable of learning, it is also acquired across individual lifetimes, and embodied in semantic networks encoding concepts and relations, and a causally predictive model of the world. This supports flexible and adaptive behavior across novel scenarios – ones that evolution could not anticipate in detail. Organisms thus accrete causal power by accumulating causal knowledge and effective understanding of the world. In humans, this capacity exploded with the emergence of language and culture, becoming collective and progressive across generations. It is likely to be further transformed through the applications of artificial intelligence.

The entangled brain: How perception, cognition, and emotion are woven together
Luis Pessoa
Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, USA

Humans are emotional beings, that much is clear, and emotion seems to interfere with our ability to behave more “rationally”. But the more we look at the brain of humans and nonhuman animals alike, the more it seems that the brain is not organized in terms of clear-cut, separate systems that support “emotion”, “cognition”, “motivation”, and so on. In this talk, I will present evidence that these mental capacities are supported by dynamic and distributed processes that span the entire brain. This organization supports a degree of “computational flexibility” that enables animals to cope successfully with complex and ever-changing environments. An implication of this framework is that brain processes do not respect the boundaries of standard mental terms: there are no separate brain territories for perception, cognition, action, emotion, or motivation.

EVORISE Workshop: “Agency and sentience: a neuroscientific perspective”

UNED, Madrid, Spain
Life, Evolution, Sentience: A Philosophical Colloquium

A workshop featuring several contributions of the Evorise team on the topics of the characterisation, evolution and phylogenetic distribution of sentience.

Co-organised by Evorise

27 / 11 / 2023
Plants’ Life – A dialogue between Science and Philosophy
ORGANIZAÇÃO: Projecto EVORISE e Sociedade de Ética Ambiental

Charles Darwin was convinced that plants possessed a similar level of intelligence to lower animals. He formulated the root-brain hypothesis, which postulated that the organ of intelligence in plants was the root meristem. Perhaps imbued with this conviction, he teamed up with the physiologist John Burdon-Sanderson and made the first measurements of electrical signals in plants. This facet of his work, however, fell into prolonged oblivion. Today, fuelled in part by advances in information theory and, more importantly, by the ethically motivated search for sentience in lower animals, there is a new interest in the cognitive characteristics of plants. At the same time, significant effort has been put into the development of plant electrophysiology, which is on the verge of providing important practical applications. We are therefore witnessing a lively dialogue between science and philosophy (and sometimes pseudoscience…) about the cognitive characteristics of plants. The aim of this meeting is to shed some light on the subject, although it may well raise more questions than answers.


14:00 – 14:20
Opening: José Alho (SEA/CCDRLVT) and Davide Vecchi (Ciência ULisboa/DHFC-CFCUL)
14:20 – 15:10
Overview: Rui Malhó (Ciência ULisboa/DBV-BioISI) and Maria José Varandas (SEA) + Discussion (Chair: Jorge Marques da Silva, SEA/Ciência ULisboa/DBV-BioISI)
15:10 – 16:00
Plant Memory: Andreia Figueiredo (Ciência ULisboa/DBV-BioISI) and Gil Santos (Ciência ULisboa/DHFC-CFCUL) + Discussion (Chair: Sandra Escobar, SEA/CFUL)
16:00 – 16:10 Coffee Break
16:10 – 17:00
Plant Communication: Maria Amélia Loução (Ciência ULisboa/DBV-Ce3C) and Lorenzo Baravalle (Ciência ULisboa/DHFC-CFCUL) + Discussion (Chair: Cristina Branquinho, Ciência ULisboa/DBV-Ce3C)
17:00 – 17:50
Plant Cognition: Paula Duque (IGC) and Maurizio Esposito (Ciência ULisboa/DHFC-CIUHCT)+ Discussion (Chair: Lavínia Pereira, SEA/ICS-UL)
17:50 – 18:40
Plant Sentience: Jorge Marques da Silva (SEA/Ciência ULisboa/DBV-BioISI) and Davide Vecchi (Ciência ULisboa/DHFC-CFCUL) + Discussion (Chair: Silvia Di Marco, CFCUL)
18:40 – 19:00
General Discussion

Workshop organized by the EVORISE Project (PeX.2022.05256.PTDC) and Sociedade de Ética Ambiental in partnership with the Department of Plant Biology (Ciências ULisboa) and BioISI.

Plants’ Life – A dialogue between Science and Philosophy

19 October 2023 – (15:00-18:30)

Workshop with Susana Monsò (UNED, Madrid, Spain) and Paco Calvo (Universidad de Murcia, Spain) 

ORGANISED BY: Evorise team

LOCATION: ANFITEATRO FCIÊNCIAS.ID, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, Lisboa, Portugal

EVORISE Workshop: “A tale of two kingdoms: exploring the prospects of animal and plant sentience”


Symposium: The evolutionary origin of sentience as a bio-philosophical problem – Licpos conference ( – 14.07.2023

ORGANISED BY: Evorise team

LOCATION: Sala 6.2.44, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa
Campo Grande, Lisboa, Portugal

The evolutionary origin of sentience is a foundational problem in biology. The object of analysis might be defined (arguably without sufficient precision) as the organismal capacity to have subjective experiences with attractive or aversive qualities, such as pain and pleasure. While most sentience research is focused on animals, the growing literature on plants’ behaviour, cognition and putative sentience is an indication of the relevance of the question. Moreover, identifying sentience is fundamental for any ethics that has a sentientist foundation (i.e., whereby suffering grounds moral considerability). A noticeable trend stemming from animal research is that the growing phylogenetic and behavioural evidence is interpreted in terms of widening sentience ascription (as shown by the protection granted to some invertebrate species in some legislative frameworks). Biologically, this interpretive change is rooted in the Darwinian theory of common descent. However, evolutionism by itself is silent on the question of the origin and phylogenetic distribution of sentience. Indeed, this symposium aims to show that there is no straightforward answer to the following question: does contemporary biological research provide good reasons to cut phylogeny sharply between sentient and non-sentient organisms? The symposium features talks on a variety of topics related to sentience research, such as the definition of the object of study (Airoldi), the nature of sentience (Santos), its relation to organismal agency (Esposito) and organismal responses (Baravalle and Vecchi) as well as the status of sentientist ethics (Marques da Silva). The topics will be addressed philosophically, biologically and historically. This symposium is organized under the aegis of the FCT Project (PeX.2022.05256.PTDC) “EVORISE – EXPLORING THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGIN OF SENTIENCE”. All speakers are team members of the above project as well as affiliated to research centres of the Universidade de Lisboa.


  1. Seeking a definition of sentience apt for sentience research – Giorgio Airoldi, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculty of Sciences, Centre for Philosophy of Sciences
  2. On the nature, origin and explanation of sentience – Gil Santos, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculty of Sciences, Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Centre for Philosophy of Sciences
  3. “Organismal Agency” in the history and philosophy of the Life Sciences – Maurizio Esposito, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculty of Sciences, Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Interuniversity Center for the History of Science and Technology
  4. Automata, languages and plant communication – Lorenzo Baravalle, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculty of Sciences, Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Centre for Philosophy of Sciences
  5. Sentience research and criteria of behavioural flexibility – Davide Vecchi, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculty of Sciences, Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Centre for Philosophy of Sciences
  6. Sentience as the ground for moral standing: from Decapoda to Poales –Jorge  Marques da Silva, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculty of Sciences, Department of Plant Biology & Biosystems and Integrative Sciences Institute


8th May 2023

Mechanism and its Enemies: New perspectives on the relation between machines and organisms

ORGANISED BY: Lorenzo Baravalle, Maurizio Esposito

LOCATION: Salas 8.2.12 e 2.2.14
Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa
Campo Grande, Lisboa, Portugal

Arantza Etxeverria (University of the Basque Country), Cristina Villegas (CFCUL/GI2), Davide Vecchi (CFCUL/GI2), Gil Santos (CFCUL/GI2), Giorgio Airoldi (CFCUL), Gustavo Caponi (UFSC), Lorenzo Baravalle (CFCUL/GI2), Maurizio Esposito (CIUHCT)