A Fine Kettle of Fish

From Greg Williams (920515)

Bruce Nevin (Thu 920514 07:44:16)

I'm asking quite seriously for some elaboration on your remark that we
can't adjust our own reference signals, just as no external agent can
adjust them.

I WAS (920514 - 2) being serious, even about not liking fishy-type food --
though not elaborate, and maybe a bit ironic, or even snide. Perhaps in the
future I should add a straight-lipped happy face to indicate SERIOUS
snideness? :expressionless: At any rate, here's a (still serious) elaboration.

It sure appears as though there is a driver in the driver's seat,
doesn't it?

It sure does to me. But PCT does NOT address the "reality" of this appearance,
except in a kind of negative way: the theory says nothing about there being a
"driver" (or "self," or "you" to whom I was referring toward the end of my
first post yesterday) who "steers" (or interacts in ANY way with) an
individual's control structure. The closest the theory comes to a "driver" is
HPCT's highest reference level, which, in a sense, "governs" the operation of
the rest of the hierarchy (yes, various reference signals are changing). But
what sets the highest reference level? I think the theory as currently held
says: history (including various events both INSIDE and OUTSIDE the organism).
My central claim is that the moment-to-moment operation of an individual's
control structure is NOT MIRACULOUS, but rather a function of its past history
(perhaps in a probabilistic way -- I have no desire to get into questions
about "absolute" determinism). According to PCT, we are CYBERNETIC beings,
behaving/acting in certain ways because of the history of each of our control
structures IN INTERACTION WITH each of our environments (or more exactly,
those portions of our environments which affect our individual control
structures -- what Maturana terms our "niches").

However, it is possible for a self-determination believer to ADD some
constructs to PCT and thereby have it support his or her position. Perhaps the
willful "self" can alter the operation of the hierarchy by "deliberately"
altering that structure, so it jumps from one state to another. Perhaps that
occurs via something like Eccles' miracles in the synaptic terminations, or
even in the pineal gland (though I suspect one might do better to look in the
hippocampus). Or maybe there is a material embodiment of will, and no miracles
are needed -- again, that must be an ADJUNCT construct to current PCT.

Skinnerianism, at root, claims that we behave now in ways determined solely
(virtually -- some of them waver to varying degrees on the question of some
rock-bottom innateness) by the history of our niches. Some PCTers emphasize
that we behave now in ways determined solely by the current structures of our
control hierarchies, without noting that those current structures were
determined by the history of our niches AND our control structures. Niche
history is not our only current-moment determinant, according to PCT, which is
thereby NOT like Skinnerianism. But neither is the current structure the end
of the relevant causal analysis.

Withal, it is important I think to distinguish autonomy from
independence. Independence is freedom from external constraint.
Autonomy is control within one's own domain.

Some folks want a "transcendent" freedom that is MORE than just independence
from external constraint. They argue that, given that nothing in your (their
construct "your") niche is preventing you from killing somebody, it is your
"free moral choice" to "decide" whether or not to kill, and some of them
further argue that your "decision" on the matter is subject to the wraith of
the supernatural. Again, I think they will find no support for this point of
view in PCT.

A fine kettle of fish, indeed. I don't feel very hungry right now.


In reference to: Greg Williams's post of (920515) concerning free will

     It seems to me that the discussion of free will is ignoring a
distinction that might help clarify things a bit (although perhaps not -
who knows?). Basically, I think we all agree that we don't live in
(Boss, big-r) Reality; we each live in our own (little-r) reality (because
it's all perception, and it's all contextual). And, in reality, we all
do have free will because it seems to us that we do (it's a top-level
system concept); our attempts (when we are conscious of them) to control
our perceptions seem to us to emanate from our self (another top-level
concept). It may be that in Reality our actions are deterministically
produced, but in the only reality we can know, they are not.

     In another post, someone asked whether PCT implied any absolute
standards, implying, I believe, that all absolute standards are forbidden
by the nature of PCT. However, I think there ARE some absolute standards
implied by PCT:

Given that: (1) you cannot control another person (except by force); (2)
you cannot, predictably and deterministically, change another person's
control systems; and (3) because it's all contextual and it's all
perception, we can't be sure that our standards and lower-level reference
signals will be appropriate for anyone else, THEREFORE no one should try
to impose his or her standards/reference signals on others.

Given that: (1) control systems in good control exist in equilibrium with
their environment, and (2) the environment almost always includes other
control systems (other people), THEREFORE, to enable people to live
with one another with the least conflict, we should try to provide others
with the maximum opportunity to develop their own effective control systems.

Given that: (1) control is impossible without feedback, and (2) feedback
is information, THEREFORE the more information made available to people,
the more effectively they will be able to control their perceptions.
(Notice I said "made available" - this doesn't mean we should flood
people with too much information for their processing systems to be able
to handle, but it does mean that they should have access to "relevant"
information [I know; it's ALL relevant, it least potentially, and in some

     Thus, for me, I think I would want the grandfather to be provided
with the information about the cancer, because that information could be
crucial in enabling him to adjust some of his most important reference
signals. Although I understand the fear of the cancer, which is causing
his mental conflict, I think he really needs to know (and, subcounsciously,
I think he also knows he needs to know). But I wouldn't force him to
ask the doctor, if he really resisted, since we don't know all of the
preceptions (HIS perceptions, valid and legitimate for HIM) he is controlling

- Gene Boggess
  Computer Science Dept.
  Mississippi State University


FROM: Gene Boggess (920518)