A new kind of revolution

[From Rick Marken (921214.2200)]

Thomas Baines (921214) --

    My interest in PCT is merely to acquire another useful way of
    dissecting problems. I think PCT can be used to organize one's
    thinking about human interaction, even if the specifications of the
    complete model are, as yet, unknown.

Avery Andrews (921215.1106) --

There are alternatives to the `hard line proseletizing' approach to
presenting PCT on the one hand, and watering it down on the other.

In academia it is perfectly respectable to push some idea hard
to see what can be gotten out of it - what's not allowed is to claim
that the idea is the solution to everything. & people are
hypersensitive such claims, since they are the hallmark of crackpottery,
and tend to perceive them even where they don't actually exist.

So the idea is just to present reasonably complicated PCT models of
specific phenomena, explain how they work, and let people draw their
own conclusions about the foundations of cognitive science. But,
of course, these models have to be `of' things that people are already
interested in, for some reason, no matter how silly (unfortunately,
tracking seems to be a non-topic, but that's just a fact that has to
be lived with for at least a while), and they have to actually do things
that people haven't done, thinking that they were too hard, and doing
these things has to look easy.

I think both of these comments represent the same misconception about
PCT -- and one that is difficult to disabuse people of. It is the
idea that proponents of PCT are pushing it as an improved tool for
solving existing problems or "a better model of things that people are
already interested in". PCT has never been (or, at least, should never
be) pushed as "the solution to everything", as Avery suggests it is. In
fact, PCT's main problem is that is suggests that many of the problems
people want to solve (how does reinforcment control behavior?, how do people
generate grammatical sentences? etc etc) may not be problems at all;
that is, they may not be actual phenomena. That's what the "Blind men"
paper was about -- not that PCT helps us understand S-R causality,
selection by consequences or planned output -- it suggests that these
phenomena may not be what they seem.

Since PCT makes us theoretically suspicious of the nature of the
phenomena that many life scientists think of as important, PCTers
avoid trying to explain phenomena that don't occur with high reliability;
so we don't accept statistical findings as indications of a phenomenon.
So most of the phenomena that are described in the literature of the
life (and, certainly, the behavioral) sciences are simply not phenomena
to PCT. There is nothing to explain.

PCT is a new kind of revolution in science. Unlike previous, familiar
revolutions, PCT was not developed to account for the existing array
of data PLUS some new and puzzling findings. PCT shows that the
existing array of findings are not findings at all -- they are just
noise with important sounding names and descriptions attached.

PCT is based on a single insight -- organisms exist in negative
feedback situations with respect to their environments. The
result of this relatinoship is that perceptual variables are
maintained in reference states against disturbance. Examples
of this kind of behavior have been demonstrated and modelled
precisely -- the kind of behavior we see is what has always been
called "purposeful behavior". Powers has spent years trying to
explain the IMPLICATIONS of this insight; not by re-explaining
all the data of the life sciences (a demonstrably useless exercise
because this data is noise) but by showing how things will look
when you are dealing with feedback control systems and how
these appearances can be probed to get at the organism's purpose --
the variables it controls.

Those of us who "proselytise" PCT are not trying to push it as an
alternative to existing theories or a better way to explain the
"important" discoveries of psychology -- most of these discoveries
are not discoveries at all. We are just saying that the life sciences
made a mistake in their first step out of the gate -- an understandable
mistake because there was no science of feedback control at the time.
Now we understand how such systems work -- so WE CAN START ALL OVER
AGAIN -- because we have to (if organisms are feedback control systems
and I think the evidence that they are is rather overwhelming).

The revolution we propose is to hit the reset button -- ignore all
or most of the existing data. It's crumby, statistical stuff because
TO STUDY INPUT-OUTPUT SYSTEMS!!! PCT does not have the solution to existing
problems; it can't because existing problems are not problems at all --
they are just what you see when you work from the wrong premise.

We don't know where the science of PCT is going or what data it
has to explain because the reserach HAS NOT BEEN DONE YET -- IT
HAS ONLY BEEN STARTED (and I mean just basely; by a handful of
people doing the very elementary balls rolling down planes kind
of stuff -- the much maligned "just tracking" studies).

On this net we speculate about what PCT has to say about all kinds
of wild and crazy stuff --- religious behavior, language behavior,
clinical processes, etc etc. But it's all just (well informed and
fascinating) HOT AIR.

The reason I want people to get into PCT is not so that they can
solve their existing problems -- it's so that they will stop
chasing that chimera and start doing PCT science (whatever that
is) -- because there ain't many people doing it and we won't get
to the interersting stuff until we get a pretty credible base of
solid PCT facts.

The message of PCT may still be crazy -- but it's a different kind
of crazy than what Avery suggests. PCT is not asking people to
see it as the new grand,unifying explanation of everything. It wants
people to forget everything they've done (if it was based on a pre-PCT,
open loop view of behavior) and START OVER. That's what a real
revolution is, though, isn't it?

Best regards




Richard S. Marken USMail: 10459 Holman Ave
The Aerospace Corporation Los Angeles, CA 90024
E-mail: marken@aero.org
(310) 336-6215 (day)
(310) 474-0313 (evening)