Ralph Gerard's 'Orgs'
I will start with two important texts from Ralph Gerard, a University of Chicago physiologist with close ties to the Ecology Group, in particular to Alfred Emerson, the termite expert whose views on superorganisms I will also explore below. Within the span of a few years, Ralph Gerard wrote two stimulating articles on his views concerning integration, at both organism and society levels. These texts are suffused with discussion of the compositional relation and its relevance to biological and social levels.
The key concept in Gerard's conceptual work is that of the 'org'. He considered it a way to denote the 'broader connotation' and 'inclusive sense' of organism (1940, 341). This is how he presented his first definition of org:
'An org has persistence in time and boundaries in space, both of which may be short or illdefined. During its recognizable integral existence, however, or during some differential segment of it, the org endures in approximate equilibrium. Within it there exist interactions between parts and between parts and whole which also endure as constants. True, the mechanisms of coordination may themselves be dynamic equilibria, as we shall see, yet in integrating the parts into the whole, the lesser orgs into the greater one, they are essentially static forces independent of time's arrow' (1940, 341).
Orgs can exist at a variety of levels and they have spatio-temporal individuality. Interactive mechanisms within the org are of particular types that continue to influence the org throughout its existence. Gerard made the important distinction between interactions among parts, and interactions among parts and wholes. His compositional manner of defining an org was even more evident in his 1942 definition:'An org, then, is a unit system, composed of lesser units as its parts, in which reciprocal influences exist between the parts and the whole. Orgs differ in two general ways; degree of integration and level of organization' (Gerard 1942a, 74). In both definitions, we see that he was concerned with mechanisms of integration and levels. I will now analyze each of these issues in turn.
Regarding mechanisms of integration, Gerard held that gradients were the central sort of mechanism. This was an idea he almost certainly learned from his teacher and later colleague, the influential physiologist at the University of Chicago, Charles M. Child (e.g., Child 1940; see Mitman 1992, 162). A gradient is some sort of signal, whether it be biochemical, metabolic or nervous, which is emitted from one part and then gradually diffuses throughout the org, sometimes along very particular channels or in specific directions. Here is what Gerard had to say about gradients vis-à-vis their role in integrating orgs:
'But perhaps the most important coordinating mechanism in present day epiorganisms  is the gradient, which acts in surprising detail like that in organisms. To be sure, the quantitative scale is not in such things as metabolic rate or mechanical power, as in the organism; nor are the units in a constant spatial sequence. Also, the mechanisms of gradient operation is surely different in the two cases - though we know less about that in the multicellular body than about that in the social group. But the relation of dominance and subordination, of ascending control as a powerful agent in enforcing org unity, and determination of the differentiation of units for special org functions by this agent, are closely homologous in the organism and epiorganism. … Consider an army, a university, a labor union, a banking house, a department store, the Masonic Order, the National Government, the British peerage. In each case there is a clear hierarchy with successive levels of dominance and subordination, from general or president or director or king to private or clerk or common citizen' (1940, 408, emphasis mine).
Control and dominance 'enforc[es]… unity' and is also involved in the ever-increasing 'differentiation of units for special org functions'. Despite differences in 'quantitative scale', it is clear that Gerard desired to formulate strong analogies between organismic and social mechanisms of integration.
Furthermore, Gerard was not only concerned with specific types of mechanisms, but also with the relative causal power or dominion of certain parts or of the whole vis-àvis these mechanisms. In this context, he noted:
'…the vital problem [is] the character and direction of the determination or control or correlation or causation or force, as you will, acting between part and whole. As to direction and degree, the possibilities are limited; either the constituent unit or the org may determine the other partly, completely, or not at all. If neither determines the other at all, there is clearly no org but rather chaos. If each determines the other completely, there results a closed isolated system; only the entire universe can qualify as such. If determination is complete in one direction, say the org is fully controlled by its units, the system can be externally influenced only at the unit level, that from which control is directed; and, in effect, the reciprocal direction of control is non-existent. But that is tantamount to denying organization, for the essence of an org is that the units in it act differently from solitary ones by virtue of their incorporation in the system. … It follows, then, that determination between the org and its units is always reciprocal and always partial and that the system can be modified by the environment acting upon it at either level. But enormous quantitative variation is possible within this frame, as is clear from the study of organisms' (Gerard 1940, 341-342, emphasis mine).
This passage has significant philosophical content to it, particularly with respect to the problem of aggregativity or additivity between levels.Complete absence or presence of control by one level over the other leads to 'chaos' or a 'closed isolated system', respectively. Both of these, Gerard believed, are highly unlikely, if not impossible, outcomes. But how does the reciprocity work? Can both levels be simultaneously and interactively influential, or is there a sort of zero-sum game of influence here (i.e., in so far as control is exercised by the whole, control is lost by the parts, and vice-versa)? And, if it is a zero-sum game, then which level has more control? In the 1940 paper, he endorsed the zero-sum game scenario and held that the whole - the higher-level org – has more control: 'It is perhaps obvious now, and will become more so, that as the integration of an org increases the determination of the unit by the whole also increases relative to that of the whole by the unit' (1940, 342, emphasis mine; see 1942a, 74; Gerard & Emerson 1945, 585). That is, an increasingly integrated org (the usual and 'natural' outcome of developmental and evolutionary processes) leads to increased control of thecomponent units by the whole.
This, however, is a conclusion that he distanced himself from, to some extent, after being criticized by Novikoff (1945) for holding totalitarian ideas in which the group (i.e., the whole) dominates individuals and the parts. In a response to this paper, Gerard and Emerson emphatically agreed with Novikoff that 'the part-whole relationship is reciprocal' (Gerard & Emerson 1945, 583; see also 'one for all and all for one' on p. 694 of chapter 34, a chapter for which Emerson has responsibility in Allee et al. 1949). Furthermore, even in his 1940 paper Gerard had also noted that:
'…it is possible for men to be part of a highly integrated society and yet feel, as individuals, more free, actually to have more avenues open for satisfying selfexpression, than when they are epiorganisms of their own, like single-celled organisms. Which of us would exchange our present state for the privilege of roaming the woods naked and unarmed, without language or fire?' (Gerard 1940, 412).
Thus, Gerard's exact stance on the power and control relationships between the parts and the whole remain unclear.
Gerard clearly pointed to levels of organization as pertinent to orgs. For example, he argued that 'an org at one level may itself be a constituent unit of another org at a higher level' (1942a, 75). He made the further unsubstantiated claim that '[t]he degree of integration of an org at any particular level is determined by the relation between the penultimate units and the whole rather than by the relations within these or more subordinate units' (1942a, 75, emphasis mine). Thus, functional compositionality is primarily a relationship between contiguous levels. It remains unclear why lower-level unitscannot have any effects on the system. Furthermore, there 'is a greater differentiation of its constituent units [units found at level Ni–1]' with 'advancing org integration' (1942a, 75). For example: 'A more integrated organism, compared to a less integrated one, has more kinds of cells which are largely more differentiated and therefore interdependent' (1940, 348). As we shall see, Gerard and others took increasing differentiation and division of labor, at a variety of levels, as a key component of increasing integration and complexity of the whole.
Gerard extensively discussed the 'org' with respect to human societies. Let me start by citing a passage that highlights some of the rather extraordinary, even humorously so, analogies that Gerard saw between biological and social orgs:
'Hierarchically homologous organs or organ-systems include, with some inevitable overlap with tissues: the skeleton, which may be compared with houses, roads, harbors and civil engineers, architects and workers responsible for them; the skin and other protective systems with the military and penal bodies; muscles with farmer and labor groups; the circulatory system with all sorts of carriers and their producers and operators; the liver with grain elevators, merchandizing concerns, perhaps banking institutions; the reproductive system with the family and some aspects of other formative social groups and agencies, including school and church; endocrines with mechanical, electrical and other engineers, tool and machine manufacturers, perhaps publishers and advertising agencies; the nervous system with governmental bodies, aspects of schools and publishers, radio, motion picture and theatrical organizations; limbs and other structural regions of the body with cities and villages, etc. Certain body functions even are represented by concretized social organs - as memory and libraries, metabolism and banking, trading and manufacturing organizations' (1940, 406).
Although a charitable reader might very well be tempted to ask what the utility of these analogies are, Gerard, as well as Emerson, thought that they were useful in highlighting central properties at different org levels. These properties could then be empirically investigated. For example, the role of science in increasing integration in society could be studied (e.g., Gerard 1940), as could the social role and biological basis of ethics (e.g., Emerson 1942, 174-176; Gerard & Emerson 1945). And, although he did not mention it further, Gerard did state that '[s]ocial inheritance may be as compelling as that transmitted via chromosomes' (1940, 405).
Thus, in his work there is a fundamental ambiguity, if not tension, that I am unable to explore further. While espousing democratic and liberal ideals, Gerard also felt that a highly integrated social system, with division of labor, was desirable.As Gerard wrote, with some justification: 'That social control will increase, I am certain; but that an abject citizenry must result, I can not agree. I have already pointed out that freedom implies conformity rather than license…' (1940, 411).
From this analysis of Gerard's views, I hope that it is clear that he adopted a compositional style and took the part-whole relation as central. As mentioned, Gerard, a physiologist, was part of an active research group trying to understand social behavior in organisms of all sorts, including humans. An important and creative textbook in ecology emerged out of this nexus of collaboration. Although Gerard was not one of the authors of Principles of Animal Ecology (1949), his work is cited in the references and he is mentioned in the acknowledgments as having commented extensively on one of four sections of the volume (Allee et al. 1949, ix). It is to this key text, and the central ideas regarding a compositional biology and biological social science that it captures, to which I now turn.