Biology and Philosophy 34 (6):1-6 (2019)

Javier Gomez-Lavin
York University
In their target article, Lynch, Parke, and O’Malley argue against the quick application of causal, interventionist explanatory frameworks to microbiomes and their purported role in many disparate states, from obesity to anxiety. I think the authors have undersold the force of their argument. A careful consideration of the scope of their claims, made easier by a parallel drawn from the history of explanation in neuroscience, yields a productive pessimism: that causal explanations likely operate at the wrong level of analysis for dynamic, distributed, Quineian entities like the microbiome. That is, we shouldn’t expect causal explanations for microbiomes at all—and this includes the authors’ own “microbiome success story” of C. difficile. Neuroscience, with its own computationally challenging, dynamic entity—the brain—may provide lessons for how to approach something like predictive control over the microbiome.
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-019-9713-z
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