A self-introduction and a few questions

Since I've only recently joined this list, an introduction might be helpful.

By training, I'm a biologist -- a geneticist, actually. But some 25 years
ago or so, after a stint in the pharmaceutical industry, I started working
with animal behavior (reproductive behavior in rodents) and then began
studying human courtship, initially with two full-support grants from the
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation (upon whom many blessings). I've done
extensive ethological and ethographic participant-observer field studes of
courtship in both the US and parts of Canada. (I did a scholarly book about
the work back in 1985 and of course several papers.) Right now, I'm
working on a scholarly book for Praeger/Greenwood on the emergence of eros
in human evolution and history, with my wife Martha Cornog (whose name is
up there on the "From" line). I've done other books as well, and in fact
by tax return says I'm a writer. I don't have any academic affiliation --
haven't for decades -- and so I suppose officially I'm an independent
scholar. My other area of interest and publication has been with sexuality
education, specifically with libraries. But perhaps more important here is
that from adolescence, electronics has been a hobby of mine. I've designed
and built a number of audio/music systems, although of course not for a
living. My interests in PCT arose because I am in fact a biologist, and
was long ago fascinated by Ashby's work. Together with my electronics,
such a background naturally makes PCT very interesting, although not from
the viewpoint of a psychotherapist or an engineer.

And so to a question or two. My own work, as I said, has dealt with how
people meet and form intimate emotional and sexual relationships. A
central -- indeed, THE central -- theme is of course love, or, if you
prefer, eros. Love is not a unitary or simple phenomenon and has a
genuinely immense literature in Western history.

Among many other postings, I read Martin Taylor's editorial about PCT. He
exemplified control and servo mechanisms by describing how a gun is aimed,
without doubt a useful example. But it made me ponder something. Could
that editorial be written if, instead of firearms, one were discussing
love? Please understand that I am NOT asking if PCT can "explain" love,
whatever "explain" might mean. I'm asking something much more tightly
focused. Could one rewrite, so to speak, Taylor's example of aiming a
firearm by using instead a person seeking or attaining love from someone
else?

Nor am I asking the trivial question "What good is PCT to me?" Rather, I
am wondering if one can adopt -- or adapt -- a description based on
weaponry to processes that have other goals or intentions. At one level,
similar formalisms may apply, but I am trying to see something other than
formal parallels. What, if anything, is essential about weaponry and its
control that does -- or does not -- apply to other purposes?

My own reading of Taylor's editorial is that somehow -- I am not sure of
why -- the parallel between weapons and love misses something. In the
course of many years of listening to men and women talk about meeting each
other, I have not infrequently heard men saying that their search for sex
and/or for women is a "hunt" -- and such men do use metaphors of weapons.
(You may not know, for example, that the technical medical term "vagina"
means "sheath" or "scabbard" in Latin, as in sheath/scabbard for a sword.)
Yet such parallels elide some profound components of love, affiliation, and
connection that have always been contained in the Western idea of love.

I mentioned that Martha and I are writing a book on the emergence of love
in human history and evolution (I am not an "evolutionary" psychologist, by
the way, and in fact have some serious reservations about that approach).
The question, in part, resolves itself into why and how people have fairly
specific and extremely powerful emotions associated with positive
affiliation (a word I am using in its usual sense, and not as a technical
term from psychology). And so another question -- what changes need to be
made in Taylor's description, assuming they are needed at all, to discuss
love and PCT? Or is the implication that aiming a gun summarizes the
basics of all human behavioral systems to which PCT applies?

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to
the good stuff. And so I thought a starting place might be to ask if
Taylor's editorial could be rewritten by replacing the example of aiming a
gun with the example of someone falling in love.

Tim Perper

[From Bruce Gregory 980201.1425 EST)]

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to
the good stuff. And so I thought a starting place might be to ask if
Taylor's editorial could be rewritten by replacing the example of aiming a
gun with the example of someone falling in love.

Tim Perper

It certainly could be. In fact, though I think Martin did an excellent job,
his choice of fire control as an example seems unfortunate to me. It has
historical roots, but otherwise seems off putting. We who are more pacific
tend to use driving a car as a familiar example. Loving, perhaps more than
falling in love, is a good example too.

Bruce

[From Bruce Gregory 980201.1632 EST)]

Tim Perper

I said,

It certainly could be. In fact, though I think Martin did an excellent job,
his choice of fire control as an example seems unfortunate to me. It has
historical roots, but otherwise seems off putting. We who are more pacific
tend to use driving a car as a familiar example. Loving, perhaps more than
falling in love, is a good example too.

You said,

That's an interesting and important distinction -- "loving" as different
than "falling in love." Can you explain more why you think loving is the
better example?

PCT is a description of the ways in which we maintain perceptions against
disturbances. This seems most suited to describing loving. Falling in love is
a process by which we establish new desired perceptions. This is trickier to
describe in terms of control, but by no means impossible.

Bruce

[From Bruce Gregory 980201.1425 EST)]

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to
the good stuff. And so I thought a starting place might be to ask if
Taylor's editorial could be rewritten by replacing the example of aiming a
gun with the example of someone falling in love.

Tim Perper

It certainly could be. In fact, though I think Martin did an excellent job,
his choice of fire control as an example seems unfortunate to me. It has
historical roots, but otherwise seems off putting. We who are more pacific
tend to use driving a car as a familiar example. Loving, perhaps more than
falling in love, is a good example too.

Bruce

Bruce --

That's an interesting and important distinction -- "loving" as different
than "falling in love." Can you explain more why you think loving is the
better example?

Tim Perper

[From Bruce Gregory 980201.1425 EST)]

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to
the good stuff. And so I thought a starting place might be to ask if
Taylor's editorial could be rewritten by replacing the example of aiming a
gun with the example of someone falling in love.

Tim Perper

Bruce Gregory
It certainly could be. In fact, though I think Martin did an excellent job,
his choice of fire control as an example seems unfortunate to me. It has
historical roots, but otherwise seems off putting. We who are more pacific
tend to use driving a car as a familiar example. Loving, perhaps more than
falling in love, is a good example too.>

Bruce

···

----

followed by:

TP:
That's an interesting and important distinction -- "loving" as different
than "falling in love." Can you explain more why you think loving is the
better example?

Bruce Gregory
PCT is a description of the ways in which we maintain perceptions against
disturbances. This seems most suited to describing loving. Falling in love is
a process by which we establish new desired perceptions. This is trickier to
describe in terms of control, but by no means impossible.

------

Tim Perper here.

I was not raising objections based on pacifism. Nor am I unfamiliar with
the idea that PCT concerns itself with maintaining perceptions against
disturbances. The questions I'm raising, Bruce, ask if that is ALL that
PCT can achieve. From what I've read of Bill Powers' work, I think there's
more to PCT than merely being a enfleshed version of a gunnery robot. Let
me explain, by giving a few more details about courtship, and thus focusing
on how shifts among different levels are made. For courtship, we need to
ask, I think, not how the organism stays on target, but how it CHANGES its
own behavior during an observable temporal sequence of interaction with
another organism. I will suggest that those changes are themselves
regulated.

I have made extensive observations of sequences of behavior between men and
women (the "courtship sequence"), the outcomes of which a skilled observer
can predict ahead of time. (One component of the sequence will be familiar
to psychotherapists who remember Scheflen's paper on quasi-courtship
behavior -- that's body movement synchronization. Another will surely be
known to those of you who have been discussing saccadic eye movements:
Karl Grammer's work with how a man's gaze flickers across a woman's face
and body.). It is also clear observationally that one crux of the
courtship sequence is the organism's internal ability to allow control to
drift, shall I call it, with the sequence of events. Thus, partner A, the
man, say, is responding to the woman's behavior, while simultaneously
influencing it, while she is responding and influencing his behavior.
Meanwhile, their emotional state -- the nature of which we are trying to
understand -- is steadily becoming more and more intensely focused,
exalted, aroused, and even ecstatic. The essence is stable
destabilization, to speak paradoxically.

In courtship, each partner can recruit new modalities of communication to
their interaction (a process I've called "escalation"). Escalation does
not mean tracking a moving target by minimizing deviations in a feedback
loop, but of allowing those deviations to grow. This process is called
"arousal" in the sexuality literature.

In great brevity, it goes like this. Although the courtship sequence has
been known since Ovid, my favorite description comes from a 12th century
monk named Honorius Augustodunesis: visus, alloquium, contactus, osculum,
and factum -- look, talk, touch, kiss, and "the deed" (Matter, 1990:63).
Honorius' description is quite accurate, although more steps can be added.
Thus, my own version of the observed sequence goes look, approach, talk,
turn, touch, synchronize body movements, and, in greater privacy, caress,
kiss, and intercourse. At each point, the lover shifts upward to a new
modality, thereby once again to increase the level of intimacy with the
partner. As I mentioned, the process is also called "arousal."

People who describe these events do NOT usually speak of control, but of
reaching states of ecstasy and entrancement where one loses the sense of
control. (Later I'll suggest that the process IS controlled but a higher
levels.) One can describe such things in many ways, but I don't think I've
ever heard someone say it's like driving a car. :wink:

Participants in such interactions insist that falling in love -- or being
in love, at least at first -- is an *exalted* state of self-transcendence.
Indeed, for them it is -- the world is beautiful, everything is happy, the
daylight is glorious, and one wants to be with the other person forever.
(Cynical on-lookers shake their heads at such madness.) Being in love is a
nice example of how an entire world view is redefined! But I don't know
how to model the sequence with ideas that depend only on tracking a target,
either in gunnery or in the visual-motor feedback of keeping a moving
vehicle on a road in the presence of other moving vehicles. It seems very
much that courtship involves movement **among** levels of internal
operation, an idea akin to several points Bill Powers posted recently.

I have done extensive computer simulations of courtship interactions.
Among a variety of models, the most fruitful depend on postulating two
signal-exchanging entities, each endowed with a transfer function, and that
interact according to one of several possible regimes (half and full
duplex, for example). The exact details are less important than a crucial
observation: upward escalation is achieved only if the entities are
endowed with certain sorts of transfer function. Other transfer functions
produce either downward escalation (which means the two stop interacting),
damped oscillations (ringing) that produce a stable state from which there
is no exit, or various chaotic states. It seems clear that since in the
day-to-day banalities of living, people don't go into ecstasies when
talking to someone else, the behaving organism can *shift* among its own
transfer functions. The process of shift is *itself* therefore regulated,
and I would suggest, of course, that it is regulated by levels higher than
itself. If so, then courtship as at least I have observed it seems quite
consonant with PCT, although not with gunnery robots by themselves.

In these simulations, an interaction involving feedback stability (like
driving a car or aiming a gun) can be simulated only with a limited number
of transfer functions -- and those are NOT the transfer functions that
achieve escalation. I also might add that the situation in courtship is
very different from an amplifier with feedback that starts operating in the
right side of the s-plane, if I may slip into EE jargon for a moment.
Oscillations involve increases in amplitude that swing back and forth from
+ to -, like an AC signal. In fact, wildly oscillating emotional shifts --
which are experienced on their own level as turbulence -- are *extremely*
unpleasant. (The same should hold for chaotic interactions.)

But in escalation, the state of the organism trends upward ultimately
towards what the participants call "love." That is the sort of phenomenon
I'm asking about. It seems to involve more than merely tracking a target.

Tim Perper

Matter, E. Ann 1990 The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in
Western Medieval Christianity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

[From Bruce Gregory (980202.1310 EST)]

Tim Perper here.

I was not raising objections based on pacifism.

I did not think that you were.

Nor am I unfamiliar with
the idea that PCT concerns itself with maintaining perceptions against
disturbances. The questions I'm raising, Bruce, ask if that is ALL that
PCT can achieve.

Yes. But this is enough for most purposes. PCT is a theory of
purposeful action. If courtship is purposeful, then PCT is
germane.

From what I've read of Bill Powers' work, I think there's
more to PCT than merely being a enfleshed version of a gunnery robot.

Not really.

Let
me explain, by giving a few more details about courtship, and thus focusing
on how shifts among different levels are made. For courtship, we need to
ask, I think, not how the organism stays on target, but how it CHANGES its
own behavior during an observable temporal sequence of interaction with
another organism. I will suggest that those changes are themselves
regulated.

Indeed. In order to achieve our purposes we must change our
behavior.

I have made extensive observations of sequences of behavior between men and
women (the "courtship sequence"), the outcomes of which a skilled observer
can predict ahead of time. (One component of the sequence will be familiar
to psychotherapists who remember Scheflen's paper on quasi-courtship
behavior -- that's body movement synchronization. Another will surely be
known to those of you who have been discussing saccadic eye movements:
Karl Grammer's work with how a man's gaze flickers across a woman's face
and body.). It is also clear observationally that one crux of the
courtship sequence is the organism's internal ability to allow control to
drift, shall I call it, with the sequence of events. Thus, partner A, the
man, say, is responding to the woman's behavior, while simultaneously
influencing it, while she is responding and influencing his behavior.
Meanwhile, their emotional state -- the nature of which we are trying to
understand -- is steadily becoming more and more intensely focused,
exalted, aroused, and even ecstatic. The essence is stable
destabilization, to speak paradoxically.

Too paradoxically, perhaps. What you describe is the interaction
of two control systems. Destabilization only occurs when they
are trying to achieve incompatible ends.

In courtship, each partner can recruit new modalities of communication to
their interaction (a process I've called "escalation"). Escalation does
not mean tracking a moving target by minimizing deviations in a feedback
loop, but of allowing those deviations to grow. This process is called
"arousal" in the sexuality literature.

One can certainly control for increased arousal. I'm told that
is the function of erotic material and that it accounts for much
of the traffic on the Internet.

People who describe these events do NOT usually speak of control, but of
reaching states of ecstasy and entrancement where one loses the sense of
control. (Later I'll suggest that the process IS controlled but a higher
levels.) One can describe such things in many ways, but I don't think I've
ever heard someone say it's like driving a car. :wink:

I doubt anyone likes to lose control. But being able to maintain
that you did lose control has some attaction. (The devil made me
do it!)

I have done extensive computer simulations of courtship interactions.
Among a variety of models, the most fruitful depend on postulating two
signal-exchanging entities, each endowed with a transfer function, and that
interact according to one of several possible regimes (half and full
duplex, for example). The exact details are less important than a crucial
observation: upward escalation is achieved only if the entities are
endowed with certain sorts of transfer function. Other transfer functions
produce either downward escalation (which means the two stop interacting),
damped oscillations (ringing) that produce a stable state from which there
is no exit, or various chaotic states. It seems clear that since in the
day-to-day banalities of living, people don't go into ecstasies when
talking to someone else, the behaving organism can *shift* among its own
transfer functions. The process of shift is *itself* therefore regulated,
and I would suggest, of course, that it is regulated by levels higher than
itself. If so, then courtship as at least I have observed it seems quite
consonant with PCT, although not with gunnery robots by themselves.

Courtship is quite consonant with PCT. Your models however seem
to open loop rather than closed loop. If this is the case, they
are not consonant with PCT.

In these simulations, an interaction involving feedback stability (like
driving a car or aiming a gun) can be simulated only with a limited number
of transfer functions -- and those are NOT the transfer functions that
achieve escalation.

Keep in mind the fact that one can have a reference level that
changes and therefore in some range produces escalation.

I also might add that the situation in courtship is
very different from an amplifier with feedback that starts operating in the
right side of the s-plane, if I may slip into EE jargon for a moment.
Oscillations involve increases in amplitude that swing back and forth from
+ to -, like an AC signal. In fact, wildly oscillating emotional shifts --
which are experienced on their own level as turbulence -- are *extremely*
unpleasant. (The same should hold for chaotic interactions.)

But in escalation, the state of the organism trends upward ultimately
towards what the participants call "love." That is the sort of phenomenon
I'm asking about. It seems to involve more than merely tracking a target.

Tracking is simply a conventient example of purposeful behavior.
It is easier to model than falling in love, but again I presume
that the latter is not without purpose.

Bruce

Tim Perper here.

Thanks for the comments, Bruce, most of which I agree with, with some areas
that represent not disagreement, I think, but legitimate differences in
what we're seeing as important. What do you think?

TP
Nor am I unfamiliar with
the idea that PCT concerns itself with maintaining perceptions against
disturbances. The questions I'm raising, Bruce, ask if that is ALL that
PCT can achieve.

Bruce Gregory

Yes. But this is enough for most purposes. PCT is a theory of
purposeful action. If courtship is purposeful, then PCT is
germane.

TP: Yes, it's purposeful on a number of levels!

···

--------

TP

From what I've read of Bill Powers' work, I think there's
more to PCT than merely being a enfleshed version of a gunnery robot.

BG

Not really.

TP: Well, yes and no. A gunnery robot itself can be used a reasonable
model of kinesiology (as I've said several times in other posts), but by
itself it needs to be modified to make it work for other phenomena. I
think that part of the problem is that when I say kinesiology, I literally
mean hand and body movements. What applies to higher or other levels is
not the gunnery robot ITSELF, but the *principles* upon which it works.
That distinction may seem blindingly obvious, but is essential because in
biology, as you of course know, we eventually want to understand the exact
physiological details of the systems we're studying. Moreover, kinesiology
has its own place in biology, and models of nerve-muscle activity have a
long history (Sherrington comes to mind if no one else!). So, one cannot
use a gunnery robot per se to model the endocrinology of the estrous cycle.
Instead, one must *abstract* certain principles of feedback and apply them
-- and then be prepared to see how those feedback loops are themselves
regulated by systems higher than themselves, e.g., events in the
hypothalamus. In fact, in biology, neuroendocrinology opened whole new
vistas for seeing how hormonal feedback (e.g., between estradiol and the
anterior pituitary) actually operated. And as a result what seemed
initially to be a simple "push-pull" model involving no more than blood
levels of hormones regulating each other turned out to involve the brain.
So events in the brain -- that is, higher level systems -- are now known to
be involved in lower level feedback systems.

------------
snip<

TP
I have made extensive observations of sequences of behavior between men and
women (the "courtship sequence"), the outcomes of which a skilled observer
can predict ahead of time. (One component of the sequence will be familiar
to psychotherapists who remember Scheflen's paper on quasi-courtship
behavior -- that's body movement synchronization. Another will surely be
known to those of you who have been discussing saccadic eye movements:
Karl Grammer's work with how a man's gaze flickers across a woman's face
and body.). It is also clear observationally that one crux of the
courtship sequence is the organism's internal ability to allow control to
drift, shall I call it, with the sequence of events. Thus, partner A, the
man, say, is responding to the woman's behavior, while simultaneously
influencing it, while she is responding and influencing his behavior.
Meanwhile, their emotional state -- the nature of which we are trying to
understand -- is steadily becoming more and more intensely focused,
exalted, aroused, and even ecstatic. The essence is stable
destabilization, to speak paradoxically.

BG
Too paradoxically, perhaps. What you describe is the interaction
of two control systems. Destabilization only occurs when they
are trying to achieve incompatible ends.

TP A very good description of certain, perhaps many aspects of courtship!
An infamous -- and today, very problematic -- example occurs when he wants
sex, and she doesn't. Seems to me that I've stuff in the newspapers about
that recently.

----------

TP
In courtship, each partner can recruit new modalities of communication to
their interaction (a process I've called "escalation"). Escalation does
not mean tracking a moving target by minimizing deviations in a feedback
loop, but of allowing those deviations to grow. This process is called
"arousal" in the sexuality literature.

BG
One can certainly control for increased arousal. I'm told that
is the function of erotic material and that it accounts for much
of the traffic on the Internet.

TP: Absolutely one can control increases in arousal. In a social setting
-- e.g., an office -- he and she may be acting in ways that strongly
control their mutual interest. The reference level is zero or is negative
(that is, they avoid each other to prevent people from thinking that
"something is going on between them"). Then, in private and perhaps even
in secrecy they release, shall I say, those controls, and let arousal
increase. (Formally, one might say that a set point has been adjusted
upward from zero for the slope of the arousal curve.) But even so, they
control that upward slope in ways unique to them -- they have a candlelight
dinner, for example. So once again the slope of the arousal curve is
regulated.

--------

TP
People who describe these events do NOT usually speak of control, but of
reaching states of ecstasy and entrancement where one loses the sense of
control. (Later I'll suggest that the process IS controlled but a higher
levels.) One can describe such things in many ways, but I don't think I've
ever heard someone say it's like driving a car. :wink:

BG
I doubt anyone likes to lose control. But being able to maintain
that you did lose control has some attaction. (The devil made me
do it!)

TP: Yes indeed!

---------

TP
I have done extensive computer simulations of courtship interactions.
Among a variety of models, the most fruitful depend on postulating two
signal-exchanging entities, each endowed with a transfer function, and that
interact according to one of several possible regimes (half and full
duplex, for example). The exact details are less important than a crucial
observation: upward escalation is achieved only if the entities are
endowed with certain sorts of transfer function. Other transfer functions
produce either downward escalation (which means the two stop interacting),
damped oscillations (ringing) that produce a stable state from which there
is no exit, or various chaotic states. It seems clear that since in the
day-to-day banalities of living, people don't go into ecstasies when
talking to someone else, the behaving organism can *shift* among its own
transfer functions. The process of shift is *itself* therefore regulated,
and I would suggest, of course, that it is regulated by levels higher than
itself. If so, then courtship as at least I have observed it seems quite
consonant with PCT, although not with gunnery robots by themselves.

BG
Courtship is quite consonant with PCT. Your models however seem
to open loop rather than closed loop. If this is the case, they
are not consonant with PCT.

TP: Hmmm... yes, a very good point. Some of the models are open loop, but
courtship itself is not. I posted something elsewhere, in response to Rich
Marken, I think, that addresses this issue. As you know, it is very
important.

-------------

TP
In these simulations, an interaction involving feedback stability (like
driving a car or aiming a gun) can be simulated only with a limited number
of transfer functions -- and those are NOT the transfer functions that
achieve escalation.

BG
Keep in mind the fact that one can have a reference level that
changes and therefore in some range produces escalation.

TP: Indeed so.

--------------

TP
I also might add that the situation in courtship is
very different from an amplifier with feedback that starts operating in the
right side of the s-plane, if I may slip into EE jargon for a moment.
Oscillations involve increases in amplitude that swing back and forth from
+ to -, like an AC signal. In fact, wildly oscillating emotional shifts --
which are experienced on their own level as turbulence -- are *extremely*
unpleasant. (The same should hold for chaotic interactions.)

But in escalation, the state of the organism trends upward ultimately
towards what the participants call "love." That is the sort of phenomenon
I'm asking about. It seems to involve more than merely tracking a target.

BG
Tracking is simply a conventient example of purposeful behavior.
It is easier to model than falling in love, but again I presume
that the latter is not without purpose.

TP: I assume you mean tracking a moving object -- and I agree that it's a
good example. Since I don't teach the principles of PCT -- I'm not in
academe -- I can't say how students understand gunnery robots as examples
of PCT. But I hope that students aren't left with the impression that the
ONLY value of PCT is for tracking moving targets, like a man with rifle
tracking a deer he is hunting.

Falling in love is certainly purposeful, and at many levels.

Once again, I think our seeming disagreement is more in how we emphasize
certain things than in anything substantive.

Tim Perper