A drive to organize

[From Bill Powers (940218.0800 MST)]

Bill Leach (940217.2212) --


...largely what a baby is engaged in: creating objects and
other perceptions by forming and reforming perceptual
functions that produce new levels of perception that are
amenable to control.


(and from elsewhere), this implies a strong organizational

So you're saying that we should explain the growth of
organization by positing a strong organizational drive. Using
this kind of argument, we should explain the widespread ownership
of automobiles by saying there is an automobile-owning drive, and
the universal tendency of people to grow taller during their
early years by positing a tallness drive (which varies in
strength from person to person and tends to die out in the late

You can always come up with what sounds like an explanation of a
phenomenon by naming the phenomenon and then saying there is a
corresponding drive to produce that phenomenon. This is how the
Scholastics and alchemists tried to explain natural phenomena.
Objects fell to earth because they had an affinity for Earth. Air
rushed into an evacuated container because nature abhorred a
vacuum. For each major phenomenon, there was a Principle which
had the sole property of being able to produce that phenomenon.
Even B. F. Skinner, with whom I have agreed about few things, saw
what is wrong with this approach in his scoffing at "trait"
psychology and intervening variables. To say that a man exhibits
aggressive behavior because he contains something called
"aggression" says precisely nothing except that the man behaves

The early years of psychology produced endless lists of
instincts, propensities, proclivities, aptitudes, tendencies,
biases, preferences, characteristics, drives, and traits, each
used to explain some externally visible phenomenon of behavior.
This approach has predominated in psychology and other fields of
behavioral science -- even Skinner himself had to fall back on
it, when he explained the fact that some things are reinforcing
and others are not by saying that organisms have special
"susceptibilities to reinforcement."

In PCT we use the method of modeling, which amounts to proposing
underlying mechanisms which, behaving according to the rules we
build into them, produce phenomena like those we observe. A
control system controls because it contains an input function, a
comparator, and an output function organized to create a negative
feedback loop through the environment -- not because it contains
a "drive to control" or a box labelled "controller."

In PCT, the growth of organization is created not by a drive to
organize, but by what we call a "reorganizing system." The
reorganizing system contains no single element that creates
organization; rather, organization is the outcome of its
operation. What it does is to (a) monitor the states of some set
of "intrinsic" variables connected to the basic well-being of the
organism (like blood pH, blood CO2, glycogen levels, circulating
thyroxin, pain, and probably a lot of variables of less mundane
nature); (b) compare the sensed state of those variables with
inherited reference levels defining a reference state for each
one; and (c) convert the total amount of intrinsic error signal
into a rate at which random changes in organization are created
in the brain. These random changes amount to changes in the
strengths of neural connections and even in the existence of
synaptic connections.

When intrinsic error exists above some threshold amount, random
changes begin. When suprathreshold intrinsic error is small, the
changes occur only at long intervals. As intrinsic error
increases, the changes come closer together. In fact, in our
modeling of this process, the best relation between intrinsic
error e and rate of reorganization r seems to be r = e*de/dt, or
approximately d/dt(e^2). We have shown in several different kinds
of situations that this kind of law relating intrinsic error and
rate of random change will cause a rather amazingly fast decrease
in the intrinsic error. As Tom Bourbon mentions this morning,
using this method to find the optimal integration factor in a
control-system model works extremely well. I have shown that it
can stabilize a collection of 10 control systems, each sensing a
variable that is a weighted sum of 10 environmental variables and
acting by affecting all 10 variables, in several thousand
iterations. In effect, it solves a system of 10 equations in 10
unknowns. I have made this work with up to 50 equations in 50
unknowns (although convergence is slow and my patience runs out).
All this happens through a biased random walk, with no formal
algorithms being applied to achieve the solution. The principle
is extremely simple and extremely powerful. It's probably not the
only principle at work in the creation of organized behavior, but
it's probably a fundamental and workable one. And it doesn't use
any "drive to organize."

The point here is that the PCT explanation of the growth of
organization appeals to underlying processes, not simply to
naming a "tendency to organize." This is true in all PCT
explanations of behavior: we never just say that there is a
tendency toward producing a given behavior; instead, we try to
propose a mechanism that would actually produce that sort of
behavior as an inevitable outcome of the way the mechanism works.
Where we have learned how, we actually program models designed to
exemplify the mechanism, and test the way they run against real
behavior. This method of modeling has been used for a very long
time in the hard sciences and engineering, but it has been
essentially unknown in the behavioral sciences (except where
engineers and physicists have got into the act). You will not
find it described in any introductory psychology text.

I think that the strongest committments to PCT come from people
who have actually tried this method and seen how it works. Even
though the behaviors we can model are very simple, the quality of
the predictions is almost unprecedented in behavioral science.
Particularly for scientists who have done "normal" behavioral
investigations, the reliability and accuracy of the results is a
revelation. Once having seen how a control model can predict
behavior, it is simply impossible to imagine going back to the
old way. There are many kinds of behaviors we do not yet know how
to model in this way, but the simple models are an existence
theorem: they show us what can be done if we just persevere. For
us, the days of explaining behavior in terms of traits, drives,
and tendencies are simply over. We are on the track of a post-
Galilean approach.



Bill P.

<[Bill Leach 940221.08:35 EST(EDT)]

[Bill Powers (940218.0800 MST)]

I think that this is at an entirely different "level" than most of the
discussion comments that I have previously made.

People have automobiles because they "want" them and have found a means
of acquiring same.

As to "want", well I sure that we could spend several lifetimes dealing
with how various people arrive at the the state of "want automobile".

Your other example may be more to my point though. No there is no
"tallness drive". There is only a complex set of control systems driving
to adjust perception to reference

Unlike the automobile, the physical shape and general biological
organization of a human being is designed in. I don't see the conflict
except that maybe in using the phrase "organizational drive" one is taken
to automatically mean that such macro behaviour as buying things or
"preferring things" is explained by such "drives".

The term "drive" itself may be at the root of our apparent differences.
When I use the expression "organizational drive" what I mean is that
human beings always process data in a relational way (and unfortunately
that statement is vague at best).

When a control system is constructed, it has "purpose" designed in. You
can not always necessarily posit the purpose from examining either the
physical design or the operation. By examining both together in
relationship to each other you are likely to determine a great deal about
the possible purpose and will surely determine many of the goals of the

I don't think that it is incorrect to say that human beings have a
tendency to try to organize or bring order to their perception of the
environment in which they find themselves. At most levels one can just
say that experience justifies doing so.

I think that my error here might be that in trying to talk about the
"ordering principle" I am asking PCT to explain WHY people are physically
constructed the way that they are, in fact, constructed. As I see it,
PCT is mostly concerned with HOW living systems are constructed and HOW
they operate. While PCT can talk a great deal about WHY, at some level
of abstraction, the WHY becomes irrelevant to PCT.

Of course, at least for me, the act of discussing such things is (I
think) enabling a much better understanding of my own thoughts on such

It is becoming clear to me that a great deal (most?) of what I had always
thought of a being "inherent" in the "design" of humans is instead rather
a consequence of the design in operation. I perceive that I am only just
beginning to see the significance of the difference that such a shift in
perception implies.


<[Bill Leach 940221.20:50 EST(EDT)]

[Bill Powers (940218.0800 MST)]

Yike! I see my choice of terms was even worse than I had thought! Not
only is "drive" a bad choice but "Organizational drive" is a "trigger" on
two counts.

I think that maybe the very idea that "Reorganization" is a "built in"
might be enough for me (right now anyway).

As I see it, my "discomfort" is probably based on the idea that
non-living control systems do not necessarily control. They have a fixed
purpose (or maybe purposes). They do not have a "reorganizing" mode.

The human does have a reorganizing mode and does have some sort of
built-in goals or purposes. We probably know very little about what many
of those goals may be in infancy but it is likely that many are precisely
as you have stated.

I certainly will have to think a great deal more about this (and after
the books arrive it might be easier) but I think that it may not be
stretching things too far just to posit that the "organizational drive"
that I was referring to is nothing more than the fact that during
successive experiences with reorganization, the human gradually "learned"
that relating perceptions to previous (stored) perceptions and acting to
attempt to restore a current perception, noting the level of success,

This then might "build" up a "high success rate" when dealing with
current perceptions in terms of past perceptions. If this were true then
the human mind might appear (to some of us anyway) as having the
"built-in" drive to organize. The "drive to organize" would be real
enough but the reason would not be because the "electro-chemical"
computer part of the control system had been designed to organize but
rather because it had the ability and found through experiment
(reorganization intitially) that using an "organizing principle" in
dealing with new data was more successful than other methods (generally).

The implications in terms of raw computing power for this is even more
staggering than I think "conventional wisdom" is estimating currently.