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.