Sunday, August 12, 2018

Command or Coordination?

A couple of weeks ago, after an online discussion of some of Denis and Raymond Nobles' ideas to be published in a forthcoming paper, I sent them an e-mail inquiring about a statement that had been made in the discussion that seemed to contradict something I had read in another book  Gary Cziko's Without Miracles. In describing the hypermutation to produce antibodies in the immune system, Cziko wrote "Antibodies that are not successful leave no offspring and therefore soon become extinct..." (1995, p 45), while Denis Noble had said they were "told to die." The important part of the e-mail is produced here:
I did want to ask at least one question that was prompted by something you said – that the immune system cells that do not produce successful antibodies are "told to die." My first brush with the amazing workings of the immune system were in Gary Cziko's book, Without Miracles, in which he suggests that the unsuccessful cells simply cannot reproduce and die in the natural course of things. In my mind there is a great difference in the two descriptions, although the end result is the same. The first I would characterize as an authoritarian regime, while the latter would be self-limiting. 
This difference comes to the fore in upward and downward causation, which you say have differences in your paper. I have biases, and maybe even prejudices, towards methodological individualism, acquired through valuing personal freedom and reading economists like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, and finally, Popper who, as you must know, was friends with Hayek. This methodological individualism leads me to see organisms as cooperative entities – even as societies – of cells and/or organs that are coordinated by signals rather than orders. Possibly, there is no way of testing the difference, but I don't see that cells or organs are acting in the ways they do out of fear of punishment, as is the case in what we might call a human authoritarian environment. They generally simply do what they have to do or, if we may anthropomorphize, what they want to do. Negative feedback mechanisms develop to dampen cheating (mentioned in your paper), but they seem to be spontaneous and, again, operate at the individual level. 
This issue comes up in discussing societal evolution, as people like David Sloan Wilson advocate more central planning based upon the idea of downward causation. I have argued that societies expand and contract based upon their attraction to current and potential constituents. If rules are created that reduce the attraction of a society, there will be pressure for changes (voice) or for exit. For example, the USSR and its satellite countries created a large population of people who, without voice, desired to exit, with almost any country in the liberal West being preferable. This desire demonstrated the attractiveness of liberal values relative to Soviet ones. Wilson, on the other hand, believes the purpose of society is to limit personal freedom in such a way that society is not threatened – something that the USSR was clearly in the business of doing. 
My question to you is how you understand the word "control" when using it in the context of downward causation. Is it authority, coordination, or something else?
 At this point I have not received a reply, and have some guesses as to why. One is that I am just not in the same league as Denis and his brother, and there is some merit in that possibility. Denis, at least, has many honors, and we can easily believe that he has many demands on his time that make responding to me of low priority. When I sent him a link to A Popperian View of The Selfish Gene he didn't know me and responded very quickly, but he may have since seen that I have no publications or academic standing and decided that responding, or even entering into a debate, would not provide him any value. That is a choice that I would respect.

Another possibility is that the mention of Mises and Hayek, along with the indirect criticism of David Sloan Wilson, led Denis and his brother to believe that I am a "market fundamentalist." If they tend to agree with an authoritarian view of downward causation an answer could have led to a tedious debate, linking this possibility with the first. It would have been a terrible waste of their time to present arguments to someone with no standing, and not answering nipped the problem in the bud.

Of course, I would like to have known, and if I receive any communication from the Nobles on these subjects, I will follow up in the comments, or edit this post to indicate the change in status. In any case, I have enjoyed reading Denis's and Ray's works, and suggest than anyone who reads this post could benefit by doing the same.

Cziko, G. (1995). Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory and the Second Darwinian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

2 comments:

Deter Natural said...

Most of these discussions read as sophistry to me.

If human social behavior is coded for by human genes (and it axiomatically must be, else humans are somehow different than and apart from all other animals on Earth, getting our "marching orders" from....where??) then we should look at how people think, individually and in groups, to better understand what we see empirically.

What do we see? IRRATIONALITY.

We see people abuse drugs, lose themselves in video gaming, borrow $200k for college for a degree that pays $30k, and we see people embrace social/political premises that have an unbroken history of failure, yet that failure simply doesn't compute. We see people with high IQ's (above 140) who cannot see the utterly predictable result promised by one or another policy. For example, it doesn't seem to compute for proponents of the UBI that anyone marginally above it is working for almost nothing, and that predictably the UBI wherever it was set would pull people marginally above it OUT of the workforce and into the couch potato army, forcing the UBI ever higher (not to mention treating humans like zoo animals or pets.) How can we understand this?

Hypothesis: Neuro-biology seems to show that humans have two cognitive tracks: Rational and Impulsive. Rational is the means by which you decide which to buy, the 12 oz can of tomatoes or the 29 oz can. Impulsive is pretty much everything else, especially in areas of pervasive uncertainty (such as what will a stock price be in two weeks, or what would be the best policy for full employment?) Impulsive-minded cognition looks only at the NOW. It has no sense of the past (so it doesn't learn) and the future, to whatever extent the impulsive mind considers it, still occurs in the now; ex: A lottery-ticket buyer basks in the dopamine-saturated daydream of owning a boat, a big house, an airplane, etc. as though his ticket has already won. This is why you can't explain the consequences to a UBI proponent. Their attachment is entirely impulsive-minded, their neo-cortex (the seat of reason) has weighed in ONLY to provide a convenient rationalization for what the impulsive mind already decided, and in an unconscious way they already see the UBI as having succeeded (before it has even begun.)

It is IRRATIONAL. But we see this everywhere we care to look. Why despite past damage and utter predictability do people engage in vices (self-harming mistakes undertaken with the expectation of happiness?) Drugs, alcohol addiction, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, hedonism, all rain unhappiness (in the final analysis), all are "not worth it," yet people are unable to stop. Why? The impulsive mind (located in the brain's limbic system) has faster neurons and they fire with higher amplitude than do neurons in the neo-cortex. The decision to indulge in vice is made long before the rational mind might object.

This same thing applies to fads and fashions, and the largest fashion of the last 400 years is Leftist Theology, AKA the politics of wish-fulfillment, whose (unacknowledged) bible is John Lennon's "Imagine."

Deter Naturalist said...

Leftist Theology's main sacraments, Equalism and Altruism, and all it's subordinate catechism, look exactly like the human equivalent of Mouse Utopia behaviors seen prior to population collapse. In a nutshell, these behaviors exhibit a massive devaluation of producing and raising the next generation. From Roe v Wade and promoting homosexuality to encouraging bright young women to delay or entirely replace their finite reproductive years in favor of pursuing "economic independence," what you have is an entire civilization that has lost a lot of interest in showing up for the future. Open-borders immigration is the other side of this two-edged sword, where an entire people volunteer to be swept from the human genome.

I believe this is genetically coded, and that under conditions of plenitude there are epigenetic switches that induce what amounts to the entire Leftist program. It is Nature's way of cutting out a population of creatures grown "too successful" and thus overspreading their ecological niche. A small subset of humans stumbled into selection for higher IQ and out-group trust (very rare in the world) and this combination yielded vast, compound innovation. They (people of Anglo-Saxon and NW European ancestry) largely placed in abeyance Nature's normal, blunt-instrument culling of human beings, allowing a vast increase in the number of humans on Earth. This success led to their descendants adopting a bat-guano crazy belief, that they were so smart that they could rewrite Nature's Laws by force of intellect and will alone, one magical incantation (statue law) at a time, on the way to producing Heaven on Earth (or Utopia, once John Lennon's "Imagine" was adopted as the unspoken Bible.) My "tribe" as it were is producing a vast version of Jim Jones' People's Temple.

Mises stated, "Humans act." He was wise enough to never add, "rationally."