A Test of "Collective Control" Theory

I see no methodological problem there. Even if what you say about the Labov data “crucially depending on control of system concept perceptions” is true (and I don’t think it is) it is not relevant to my modeling, the aim of which was simply to see whether controlling for imitation within subgroups would produce the consistent difference in regional pronunciation observed by Labov; and it could.

Right, it is a measure of the average value of a controlled variable.

Labov’s data were average centralization scores. My model produced results for individuals randomly interacting within groups and it was found that the average of the centralization scores for those individuals, when separated into different groups, stabilized at different values. So a descriptive statistic (the mean) was used but none of the inferential statistics used in conventional social science studies were used. It was model fitting all the way.

I just want you to show me how the purported methodological problem that you clam exists in my research would affect the results of some PCT experiment and how you would fix the problem.

What am I not participating in? I’ve done studies of control of higher level variables – sequence and program – and you didn’t seem to think much of them. And I’m pretty sure Bill wasn’t saying that he was looking forward to seeing the model grow "to encompass more of what is observed and experienced’ by just having people make up extensions to the model – unneeded and confusing extensions like atenfels. Bill wanted the model expanded by testing the model he built, PCT – a model that includes hypotheses about the higher level perceptual variables that are controlled when we see people doing “therapy, politics, religion, etc.”

The people who would find my model of Labov’s findings “embarrassing” are the kind of people who are happy with their “understandingness”. They will never understand PCT so their opinion of my work is of no interest to me.

I am an experimental psychologist, not a roboticist. Building a model of people shaking hands would be something I would do only if I had data on people shaking hands and my goal was to see if a PCT model could account for the data.

Yes, and in my discussion of Tom Bourbon’s model two person interaction I explain how that kind of cooperative behavior happens; although, as I explain in my discussion of it, Tom’s model assumes that there has already been agreement between the parties regarding the the higher level variable to be controlled.

This is not the case at all. I set up a situation where I was controlling a variable while in conflict with another control system. I measured my control behavior in that situation (as RMS deviation from the cursor) and compared it to my behavior when there was no conflict. That is the data (phenomena) I observed.

I expected control in the conflict situation to be worse than that in the non-conflict situation. The actual result was the exact opposite of what I expected. So I tried to figure out why that happened and eventually discovered that I get that result if the higher gain control system has a non-zero transport lag. So I discovered how the PCT model explains the observed phenomenon.

But this discussion has gone on way too long. You’re not going to change your mind about how to do PCT research or about the merits of Kent’s “collective control” model and it’s very unlikely that I’m going to change mine. So good night and good luck.

Best, Rick

OK, so

  1. Descriptive statistics across populations of individuals are acceptable data for modeling individual behavior. This is dauntingly complex for perceptions of aspects of the environment that many individuals use in environmental feedback paths for controlling diverse perceptions (example: crosswalks on town streets).
  2. You have no objection to naturalistic observation comparing model behavior to subject behavior to validate a model when quantitative measures of Qo, Qi, and d for individual controllers are not feasible (a ‘Turing test’ methodology). This criterion was used in the Crowd demo.

You will have opportunities to voice such objections in the future. If you object that we must have quantitative data, and it is not clear to the writer or presenter how to quantify the observed phenomena, I hope that you will either help them understand how to do so or accept methodologies (1) and (2).

You don’t need to talk about aspects of the environmental feedback path for the low-level modeling that you limit yourself to, so vocabulary for that seems unneeded and is confusing to you. However, for PCT research into higher-level perceptions where such aspects are in the public environment of plural controllers some such vocabulary is necessary.

Yes, studies of control by isolated, asocial individual control systems, limited studies of conflict, and in this case a demonstration of convergence of a variable when each agent controls convergence with the value controlled by any other agent it ‘interacts with’. I suppose ‘interaction’ is defined in terms of proximity, as in the crowd demo. There must be an assumption of assymetrical frequency of interaction distinguishing the members of two populations, or else they would all converge to one value. The data indicate two populations, one whose members interact more frequently with members of a third population (and with members of their own population) more frequently than with members of the other population. The reason for “pairs of members controlling for imitating the pronunciation (CI value) of the other” (p. 109) is unstated. The failure of the third population to converge with the first two, with homogeneity the ultimate result, is unexplained.

All of that is over the conceptual horizon for you. In effect, you lack the perceptual input functions for it. We cannot ask you to participate in research into what you cannot perceive. And we’ll just have to anticipate more objections from you that what we’re talking about doesn’t exist and isn’t real. So be it. And you’re right, we can’t refer to such objections as resistance. Perceptions that you control can only be disturbed by side effects of our control of perceptions that you do not perceive.

Yes to both. The main thing I want to see – that everyone doing PCT should want to see – is 1) the data (phenomena) that the model purports to explain and 2) how the model maps to the data. I’ve heard verbal descriptions of the data that Kent’s collective control model purports to explain but I’ve never heard a clear description of how the model maps to the data.

I don’t care if the data is quantitative or qualitative. I’d prefer quantitative since Kent’s is a quantitative model. But qualitative is fine. All I want to see is an example of how Kent’s model explains the stabilization of some variable. First give me an example of a social variable that is being stabilized in a reference state. Then show me how a collective of agents are connected to this variable and having a simultaneous effect on it.

Maybe you could give me an example of some of that research into higher-level perceptions where that vocabulary is necessary. To my knowledge the term atenfels was developed by people who don’t do any research at all, let alone research into higher level perceptions. And, by the way, it’s not just higher-level perceptions that are in the public environment. A lot of the lower-level ones are there too – lowly ones like drivers’ perceptions of the location of their car on the road, for example.

Boy, you just can’t seem to find anything of value in my research. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure people can learn a lot more about collective control from my (and Bill’s) limited studies of low-level control (like those described in the Social Control chapter of The Study of Living Control Systems) than they can from from your non-existent studies of higher-level control.

I’m pretty sure I can perceive what you are trying to explain. I just can’t see how Kent’s model explains it. So what I would like to see is what I described above: a clear description of a social variable that is being stabilized in a reference state and how a collective of agents are connected to this variable and having a simultaneous effect on it.

I know how Kent’s model works so once I have the information about the stabilized variable and how it is affected by a collective of agents I’ll know how Kent’s model accounts for that stability.

Best regards

What do you require in order to perceive that the descriptions of a handshake that you have been given are “clear”?

Why do you think that all the participants in collective control of “being able to see the crosswalks on Main Street in Northampton” are simultaneously affecting that variable? Are you supposing that absence of output signifies absence of control? Or are you supposing that episodic control by a large number of controllers, and readiness of many of them to resist disturbance quickly (high gain), does not have an average effect of continuous control?

I said before and I say again, it’s really good, as far as it goes.

It is quite natural that the methodology that is represented in that work does not take account of stabilized parts of the environment that are used within the environmental feedback paths of more than one autonomous control system for their diverse purposes, sometimes concurrently on purpose, more often concurrently as a happenstance, most often at different times depending on what each control system is doing and when.

It is notorious in the sciences that methodology determines what occurs to the researcher to consider as phenomena and as data. Within the methodological framework to which you are accustomed, social considerations are invisible. When you do turn to something like the social motivation of a sound change the phenomena and the data that you are able to perceive are simplified to fit the methodology to which you are accustomed. You are not necessarily aware of this, input functions do not receive inputs that are not connected to them.

The research that Kent and Martin have done into social phenomena for which the PCT model of collective control is a rapidly developing explanation is invisible to you because the perceptual input functions you have developed for recognizing phenomena and for recognizing research are blind to essential features of social phenomena, like the stabilization of aspects of the public environment which are evident everywhere and taken for granted by everyone (so long as they are stable), and terminology referring to these is confusing to you. (By the way, I thought the initialism ‘atenfel’ was ugly, but ‘atomic environmental feedback link’ is unwieldy, and I couldn’t think of any existing word that would suit.) In B:CP the label on the environmental feedback function refers to “physical laws”. That is certainly still true as far as it goes, and is why Kent emphasizes that sociologists need to pay attention to physical objects and processes, whereas they have almost exclusively concerned themselves with abstract perceptions which they represent symbolically or by association (as means of control).

As a sociologist, Kent has a great wealth of research into social phenomena to draw on, and in general that research does not depend upon behaviorist environmental determinism. The stories sociologists have told can be set aside, and the phenomena can be reconsidered within PCT. That’s what he’s doing.

As Kent said in Boulder in 2011 “the more feedback loops passing through any controllable environmental feature, and thus, the more people who will be seriously disturbed if that feature changes, the more resistant to change it will be.” That was when he had us imagine environmental feedback paths as though ‘gossamer threads’ passing through the environment, with the threads from different controllers intersecting through perceived aspects of the environment.

A decade later in the Handbook he developed this much more explicitly, with examples. The task Bill gave all of us was to discuss how PCT changes our particular science. That’s what he did in that chapter.

But it’s clear that you haven’t read and understood Kent’s chapter, nor developments of his work since 2012, much less Martins chapter and his ongoing work. Just starting to read them gives you the heebie-jeebies, I bet. Too much conflict with system concepts and principles of PCT and science that you control, and too few of the perceptual inputs required by your input functions for those system concepts and principles. So essential aspects of what they are doing are invisible to you, and the aspects of what they are doing that you are able to perceive are disturbances for you.

I don’t remember what your description was of the commonly controlled variable but I suppose it’s the distance between the hands. If this is a collectively controlled variable, per Kent’s model, then could you explain what the stable result is and how that result would remain stable even if the parties were in conflict (different references for the commonly controlled variable), as Kent’s model predicts.

I don’t think that. Why in the world would you think I do? And I don’t see why you would call “being able to see the crosswalk on Main Street in Northampton” a collectively controlled variable.

That’s just not true. I show how the methodology represented in my (and Bill’s and Tom’s) work can do that – take account of stabilized parts of the environment-- in the Social Control chapter of The Study of Living Control Systems.

This is arrant pedantry up with with which I will not put. Not just for my sake but for the sake of Bill Powers and Tom Bourbon, both of whom made brilliant starts to a PCT-based understanding of social phenomena. If only you “collective control” theorists had followed their lead. What’s missing from your new methodological framework is methodology; it’s all theory and no tests. There are claims that the model can account for this and that social stability but absolutely no demonstration that this is the case.

Your “collective control” theory has very little to do with PCT inasmuch as empirical tests of the theory were as important to Powers as the theory itself. So until you can show me an empirical test of your “collective control” model , one that my “input functions” can perceive, I’ll just consider it a “just so” story which, unlike the just so story of creation in the bible, isn’t even poetic (indeed, with the atenfels it’s downright ugly).

Best, Rick

Because you used the words simultaneous effect here:

That is correct. You don’t see it. It’s invisible to you.

A handshake is not the distance between two hands. When a physical object symbolizes or signifies another perception (as a flag symbolizes patriotism), motor control of and relative to the physical object is means of controlling the abstract perception (saluting the flag, burning the flag, etc.). Controlling the distance between one another’s hands is part of the means of controlling touching each other’s hands, which is part of the means of controlling clasping each other’s hands, which (with moving the clasped hands up and down in synchrony) is part of the means of controlling ‘a handshake’, which may be means of controlling a great variety of perceptions such as a contract, part of a happy reunion, a farewell, and so on. The reference for performing ‘a handshake’ comes from controlling one of those abstract perceptions and the performance is accomplished by controlling the more concrete perceptions.

Yes, they made brilliant starts. Your model of Labov’s dialect data is a good start. But it is only a start. It omits everything above motor control. It’s like saying that ‘a handshake’ is no more than control of the distance between two hands.

I was asking you for an example of a social variable that is controlled by a collective of agents that have a simultaneous effect on that variable. I asked for that because that is the situation to which Kent’s “collective control” model applies. Kent’s original computer implementation of his model had two agents simultaneously controlling the position of a cursor relative to different references and he found that under certain circumstances this would result in the cursor being stabilized in a “virtual” reference state.

I presume that he later expanded this computer model to show that this virtual reference state would result when even more agents were added to the collective. Indeed, I believe he found that the stability of the virtually controlled cursor increased as more agents were added to the collective that was simultaneously controlling the position of the cursor.

What I’ve been asking for is a real world example of the phenomenon demonstrated in Kent’s simulation; that is, an example of a social variable (analogous to the position of the cursor in Kent’s simulation) being simultaneously controlled by multiple agents with different references for the state of that variable, with the result that the variable is maintained in a virtual reference state.

What is invisible to me is seeing the variable “seeing the crosswalk on Main Street in Northampton” as being equivalent to the collectively controlled variable (the position of the cursor) in Kent’s simulation of his “collective control” model. If by “collectively controlled” you just mean that a lot of people control for seeing the crosswalk on Main Street in Northampton, then I can see that variable being collectively controlled. But it is certainly not “collectively controlled” in the way that the cursor is being collectively controlled in Kent’s simulation; the degree to which people see the crosswalk on Main Street in Northampton does not depend on two or more of them having a simultaneous effect of this variable. It’s a situation that is nothing like that in Kent’s “collective control” model.

As I noted above, Kent’s “collective control” model is based on no more than what you dismiss as mere “motor control”. Unless you know about a different model than I do, Kent’s model of collective control – the one I’m familiar with anyway – is just as “motor controlly” as Bill’s or Tom’s or mine, for that matter; the agents in his collective, like those in ours, control a variable that is a simple function of the position of points on a two-dimensional display. But I think our models are actually superior to Kent’s inasmuch as the behavior of our models is evaluated by comparison to actual examples of collective behavior. But maybe that fact is invisible to your input functions;-)

Best, Rick

I have avoided this discussion because very little of it seems to have much to do with the way I think of “collective control”. As far as I remember from one scan through this voluminous set of messages often at cross purposes with each other, much of the discussion has been about bunches of people independently controlling their perceptions of the same one-dimensional variable. Kent’s 1993 demo was of such a case. and in his demo he showed how the reference value and the gain of what came to be known as a Giant Virtual Controller (GVC) could be ascertained by performing the TCV on the only commonly controllable variable in the simulations. In the real world, there are occasions of this kind, as where collective Palestinians conflict with collective Israelis about the location of a borderline or some other identifiable variable.

But much more often no two members of a collective control perceptions built from identical perceptual functions fed identical sensory data, so we should never look for collective control of a variable controlled by any member of a collective. One is always looking for what virtual perception may be controlled by a virtual controller to a virtual reference level.

On CSGnet I described stochastic collective control (control executed in distinctly separate unitary actions), in a set of four gedanken experiments, the fourth of which showed how a GVC controlling a two-dimensional location perception may have a reference location for an object different from the reference location held by any of the individuals involved. A stochastic effect is like the firings of individual neurons in one of Powers’s “neural bundles”. The collective effect is like the neural current.

I don’t think discussions, experiments, or simulations of controls by many individuals of “the same” variable is very interesting or at all representative of most real-world collective control (if any two people could ever perceive the same variable exactly).

Could you give me a real world example of this kind of collective control? What I would like is a description a real world situation where a collection of people, each controlling different perceptual representations of the same sensory data, are acting as a virtual controller maintaining a virtual perception in a virtual reference level.

I would first start with the word “control”. One knows whether an apparent stability is the result of control or simple “ball-in-a-bowl” equilibrium by using the Test for the Controlled Variable (TCV). The TCV is more than the simple observation that if you disturb the stable variable it returns to its original value. The ball in a bowl will do that. The TCV includes seeing whether blocking the ability of the controller to sense or to influence the variable eliminates its stability.

In principle, it would be possible to perform the TCV on a collective controller. For example, in Kent’s 1993 demo of the tug-of-war equivalent, you might be able simultaneously to blind both opponents from the bone of contention — difficult, but possible. You might be able to paralyze them both so that they couldn’t influence it. Unethical and difficult, but in principle possible.

Now let’s consider an actual tug-of-war, with two teams pulling on a rope, the variable being the location of a handkerchief tied to the middle of the rope, as perceived by an umpire. Now, you might perform the TCV by cutting the rope on each side of the handkerchief, but then the location of the handkerchief would remain stably on the ground. The TCV would tell you that the rope had nothing to do with the stability of the handkerchief location.

These are really trivial situations as compared with the kind of collective control observed or used as an analytic simplification of the full PCT analysis of what perceptions each individual in, say, the 2021/01/06 invasion of the US Capitol building were controlling. For sure, there would have been many different perceptions controlled among the thousands of participants, and as we are often told in PCT 101 people ordinarily do not know all the perceptions they are controlling at any moment.

I realize you [RM] know all this, so I am left wondering what perceptions you might have been controlling by the actions involved in creating and posting this query?

The TCV is about looking for lack of effect of a disturbance on a hypothetical controlled variable. It is not about looking to see if a the variable “returns to it’s original value” if you disturb it – unless the return to the original value occurs while the disturbance is in effect. You can learn more about how to do research based on an understanding of PCT in my book “The Study of Living Control Systems”.

Ok, that’s one example of where Kent’s collective control model applies.

And there is a second one, but I can’t see how Kent’s collective control model apples. The model clearly applies to the tug of war because the position of the handkerchief is the variable being held in a virtual reference state by the opposing teams, at least until one of the teams wins.

But I don’t see how the model applies to the January 6 insurrection; what variable was held in a virtual reference state by the actions of the mob and the opposing police?

My query was : Could you give me a real world example of this kind of collective control [the kind performed by Kent’s collective control model"? I am controlling for a perception of significant social stabilities that can be explained by Kent’s model. You have given me two, one of which (the tug of war) does seem like an example of a social stability (the virtual reference state of the handkerchief) that is explained by Kent’s collective control model and the other of which (the 1/6 insurrection) doesn’t. I have also been given the example of the border between Israel and Palestine as an example of a social stability that is explained by Kent’s model. So I guess I will revise my evaluation of the Kent’s model. I will no longer think that it explains nothing. It explains the existence of the sometimes long term stable states of variables over which different groups of people are in conflict.

I’m much more interested in understanding stabilities that emerge when no conflict is involved, such as the fact that Beethoven’s 9th comes out almost exactly the same way – a very stable result – every time it is played in public. Have you got any positive examples of social stability that are explained by Kent’s collective control model?

Since we are talking in a group who largely understand the basics of PCT, I’m not going to waste space on this version of a tiny aspect of the TCV.

Why do you keep referring to Kent’s model, which I haven’t read when you could have referred to any of the six varieties of collective control that I have described. For reference, here are the six as they are worded at the moment.

"We thus have at least three types of Collective Control in which all the members act on the same CCEV as a means of controlling their own perceptions.
1. Conflicted Control: The participants have independent reference values for perceptions whose CEVs are closely related to the CCEV. The CCEV remains as if it corresponds to a controlled perception, but the outputs of the individual controllers tend to increase as in any conflict. Several people push on a rock, all wanting it in a different place.

2. Collaborative Control: The participants control a higher level set of perceptions of belonging and being seen to belong to “the group”, bringing toward a common value their references for their perceptions of the CEVs that combine to form the CCEV, eliminating the conflict while maintaining strong control. Several people push on a rock trying to move it to a place on which they agree.

3. Coordinated Control: All members who are controlling for being perceived and perceiving themselves as belonging to the group accept reference values provided by an agreed leader. Several people push on a rock trying to get it to a place chosen by the leader.

In addition, there are at least three forms of Collective Control in which the participants act on different aspects of the environment in order to achieve a common higher-level purpose — a reference value for a higher-level CCEV — that all have in common, rather than all trying to influence the common CCEV in the same way. We will consider some of them in more detail later.

4. Guided Control: A plan, with or without a specific planner, determines who does what (I’ll hold the pole if you hammer it into the ground; I’ll get the supplies if you guys get the the tents put up.) The similarity should be clear between this form of collective control and a two-level hierarchy.

5. Giant Real Control Unit: Different people or groups of people use protocols in ways that mean that some play the roles of the different units of a control unit (Sensors, Perceptual Function, Reference Function, Comparator, Output function, Effectors), so that the whole social structure acts as a controller.

(I described type 5 at CSG 2005 https://www.mmtaylor.net/PCT/CSG2005/CSG2005cSocialControl.ppt).

6. Hierarchy of Social Control Units: Same as 5, with different levels of controller interacting as in the Powers hierarchy for control units within an organism.

These six forms of collective control are not definitive, but apart from the first form, they all achieve the power of increased loop gain without the cost of conflict, except possibly during the process of selecting a leader or otherwise developing the collective control structure."

You talk as though control only exists when the control is near perfect. That’s very misleading, don’t you think? Anyway, I would say that type 4 control applies to the mob, with one unsuccessful objective (reference condition) that the certification of the electoral vote total would not be completed. Some parts of the mob appeared to have the collective objective of killing members of congress, but one cannot tell whether given the opportunity, they would actually have done so.

As for the police, I would say they formed a collective controller of type 6.

Your question about the stability involved in an orchestral performance also clearly refers to collective control of type 6.

I have no idea whether any of this actually answers your question about Kent’s collective control model that I have not read. I answered according to how I currently understand collective control.

Whether it’s tiny or not depends on what you meant when you said: “The TCV is more than the simple observation that if you disturb the stable variable it returns to its original value.” It sounded to me like you might have meant that the disturbance is transient and you wait to see if the variable returns to its original value after the disturbance is removed. This, of course, if not at all a correct description of how the test is conducted.

If, however, you meant that the disturbance is present continuously while you wait to see if the variable returns to its original value then you are closer to being correct. The only problem is that you don’t really look to see if the variable returns to its original value; you would only expect that to happen if the reference for the variable remained constant throughout the test. But you can test for controlled variables even if the reference for those variables are not constant, as is the case in my MindReading demo, where the computer is able to tell which of three possible variables you are controlling even when the reference for that controlled variable is continuously changing.

So I think it’s not really a trivial point that the test for the controlled variable is correctly described as looking for lack of effect of a disturbance on a hypothetical controlled variable.

Good question. I guess the main reason is that Bruce Nevin often says that some social phenomenon can be explained by “collective control”, which suggested to me that he was referring to one particular model of collective control. And since he is always referring to one with many agents controlling the same variable relative to different references and, thus, keeping it in a virtual reference I assumed he always meant Kent’s model.

But it’s nice to know that “collective control” refers to many different models of collective control. I just wish that those who have been talking about “collective control” being an explanation of some social phenomenon or other would be careful to note which of the several different collective control models are being referred to. Especially because “collective control” has been invoked as an explanation of what seem like some very different types of collective behavior.

It would also be nice if you actually showed how these different collective control models account for data. You can see examples of what I’m looking for in the Social Control chapter of my book The Study of Living Control Systems.

Neither is it a trivial point to note that only when the proposed variable is categorical, as it is in the demo to which you refer, and the TCV is asked which of these few possibilities is the one being controlled, can the TCV provide an exact answer.

Nor is it a trivial point to note that if the proposed variable is an analogue variable, there cannot be a case in which a disturbance has a lack of effect on the variable, even if the proposal is exactly right. Any disturbance has an effect on any analogue variable, no matter how well it is controlled.

After decades long experience I know that when I get bored with some argument with RM, he doesn’t, and only rarely has the argument had any effect on anything that was related to the initial bone of contention, (Kent’s 1993 Demo version of collective control), there will come a time when I decide to stop and RM claims victory.

I think that this thread has followed its orbit in this well developed basin of attraction close enough to the attractor (limit cycle in this case) that I have lost interest in the details of how it continues. Unless some disturbance jogs it into a new area, or even better a new basin of attraction, I’m not going to bother with it any more.

True. Neither are trivial points. They are just baffling.
But you don’t really care for controlled variables, do you?


Yes, the understanding of collective control has advanced since 1993, as you will see when you read and understand his chapter in the Handbook.

Consider when an abstract perception like ‘a greeting’ is mutually controlled by means controlling an abstract perception like ‘a handshake’. The ‘handshake’ perception is mutually controlled by each partner controlling a sequence of proximity, contact, grasping, equivalent pressure, up-down motions, and release of their hands. The sequence, and each of the perceptions in it, are all mutually controlled by the two partners. The recognition of it as such by observers, and their recourse to a ‘greeting’ in this form for other purposes, is collectively controlled.

This is a case convenient to your wish to see the participants controlling ‘the same’ variables that the observer/experimenter/modeler observes in the shared environment. As Martin has said, most cases of collective control that constitute social and cultural phenomena are analogous to the blind men and the elephant. The fact that each participant engages only some aspects of the variable does not deny the presence of the elephant.

This comment does not seem to me to be in the basin of attraction to which I referred, so I will simply ask what about either point is baffling. To me they both seem so self-evident as not to need further explanation.

I don’t see what this ad hominem comment has to do with anything in this thread. Why does what I care about relate to these two simple technical points. It’s very similar to arguing that if I say “two plus two equals four” I therefore don’t really care about subtraction.

Ad hominem comments of this nature often seem to be attempts to start a nasty conflict, and I prefer not to engage in those, which is why I said I would not continue to engage in the well-formed cyclic argument style evident in the earlier part of this thread. Unless you have a technical point to make, I intend not to participate in the argument that your comment seems designed to initiate.

I’ve read Kent’s chapter in the Handbook and understood it as step backward in our understanding of collective control since 1993. By that time we already had Bill’s program modeling Crowd behavior and Tom Bourbon’s models of two-person collective control. In both cases, the models were shown to fit observable data, qualitatively in the case of the Crowd model and quantitatively in the case of Tom’s two person interaction models.

This is exactly the kind of “collective control” that is accounted for by Tom’s two person interaction models.

My wish is to see models fit to data. This is the kind of modeling Bill and Tom did – they developed models tested against actual data. It’s the kind of modeling of “collective controlling” that has not been done since.

Best, Rick

These points are baffling because they reflect either a remarkable lack of understanding of what’s involved in testing for controlled variables or a desire to justify never doing such testing.

Your first point is that the test for controlled variables (TCV) can only provide an “exact answer” when there are a known (categorical) set of possibilities. But the aim of the TCV is not to get an “exact answer”; the aim is to get as close to a correct answer as possible. And this closeness is measured either by passing the last steps of the TCV procedure (as described in Runkel (2003, p. 77)) or by determining that a model controlling the hypothetical controlled variable fits the data better than a model controlling other possible controlled variables, as described in Shaffer et al (2013).

Your second point is that a disturbance will always have some effect on a proposed controlled variable that is analogue even if that variable is extremely well controlled. I guess this is supposed to show that if “lack of effect” of a disturbance is the criterion by which the TCV determines that a variable is controlled then the TCV can’t reveal controlled variables. But in the TCV “lack of effect” doesn’t mean “no effect at all”. There are different degrees to which there will be a lack of effect of disturbances, depending on the nature of the effect of the disturbance on the controlled variable. You can see this fact demonstrated in my “What is Size”? demo. In that demo, if the hypothesis is that a person is controlling the rectangle’s area when they are actually controlling its perimeter (both analogue variables, by the way) the disturbance (variations in the height of the rectangle) will have more of an effect on area than on perimeter, as measured by the stability factor.

The stability value, which can range from 0 to 1, is printed at the end of a trial in the demo; a low stability number (close to 0) means more effect of the disturbance, so the higher the stability number (closer to 1.0) the more the “lack of effect” of the disturbance. A stability value of 1.0 would mean a total lack of effect of the disturbance on the variable. Even though there is never a trial that results in a stability value of 1.0 it’s easy to tell from the relative values of the stability values for area and perimeter which possible controlled variable is the better description of the true controlled variable.

Oh, and this measure of “lack of effect” is based on comparing the observed to the expected variance of a hypothetical controlled variable. It’s done this way because the effect of the disturbance on a controlled variable is (contrary to your “self-evident” point) not necessarily detectable; with analogue variables in particular the effect of the disturbance is always mixed with the effect of the system’s output. So we measure the quality of control of a hypothetical controlled variable by comparing the observed variance of this variable to the expected variance that would result if it were not under control.

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it as an ad hominem comment, though I can see how you might take it that way. I meant it as ad cognitum – against how you think about PCT. In particular, I meant it as a comment on how you think about the role of controlled variables in PCT.

You seem to agree that controlled variables are part of the PCT model but not a particularly important part; or, at least, not a part of the model that merits, or that it is even possible to, study. I base this conclusion on your two technical points because both seem to be aimed at describing limitations on the ability to study controlled variables using the TCV – limitations that don’t exist, or, at least, are no greater than those that exist in conventional behavioral research.

It’s in that sense that I think you “really don’t care for” controlled variables. Of course, I was trying to be cute by using Leonard Cohen’s words from “Hallelujah”. That was probably what made my comment sound ad hominem. I should have said that it seems like you really don’t seem to care about (not care for) controlled variables very much. But then I couldn’t quote one of my favorite songs.

Best, Rick

Unfortunately, no, because control of the higher-level perception ‘a greeting’ is not modeled. ‘A greeting’ is a complex perception with many possible inputs which may be concurrent or not. The perception of a handshake is just one of them. A brief look and nod followed by turning back to a conversation might be met quite justly with the comment ‘that’s not much of a greeting’, but it would still be a greeting.

There’s a parallel in your model of Labov’s data. You modeled the assumption that individuals control to talk like those with whom they most frequently talk. Your model demonstrated that when that is the perception that the individual agents control, and there are no disturbances that prevents control (there are none), they control it successfully. That’s not the topic of Bill Labov’s paper. It’s taken for granted by linguists, no Columbia U MA thesis for him in that. Eh, says your audience, isn’t that kind of obvious? Linguists have observed that forever. A CT explanation is nice, but there are lots of exceptions of various kinds. And it’s not what Labov’s paper was about.

Quotations now are from your book The study of living control systems (SLCS) rather than from your post.

Labov found that there was a substantial difference between Up and Down Islanders in their average CI index for both /ai/ and /au/. For Up Islanders, the average CI index was 0.61 for /ai/ and 0.66 for /au/; for Down Islanders, the average CI index was 0.33 for /ai/ and 0.35 for /au/.
(SLCS 109)

That is part of what he found, but was not the topic of his research. The diachronic (historical) sound change that was the research topic is in the unexpected fact that the centralization index is virtually identical for the two diphthongs in each of the Islanders.

Unexpected? Why was that unexpected? The significance of this is that earlier in the 19th century ~0.35 for /ai/ and ~0.65 for /au/ were the norm for all Islanders, preserving pronunciations of 17th- and 18th-century English.* The first-order question was why did that change at the beginning of the 20th century. What was the motivation for Islanders reversing this trend and reverting to the pronunciation of their deceased ancestors?

The reason that Bill put the phrase “social motivation” in the title of his paper is (I’m putting PCT terms into his mouth now) that his data identify different perceptual inputs for control of a perception of being, or intending to be, a person of one kind (on Island) or another (off Island). Call these Si and So. Those who control Si have the higher CI values because hearing oneself producing higher CI values for /au/ has been an input to Si for generations of Islanders. Gain on controlling Si, was weakening until the rise of tourism and the promotion of it by business interests around the turn of the 20th century, after the collapse of demand for whale oil and the demand for corsets braced with baleen from right whales and other baleen whales. Differentiation from ‘summer ginks’⁑ (schismogenesis, Bateson 1935) was controlled by higher gain on control of Si. One of the many inputs to the complex perception Si is pronunciation of /au/ with a higher CI index, hence, the return of higher CI values, among the diverse inputs to Si.

Control of Si and So (or equivalent) is not mentioned in SLCS and has no place in your model.

But that is a secondary matter in Bill’s findings. The sound change that is the topic of Bill’s paper is not the restoration of /au/ to CI ~0.65. It is the change of /ai/ from CI ~0.35 to ~0.65 also, which is not a restoration of the ancestral pronunciation at all. Your model does not explain this, and your description in SLCS does not mention it. Why did that happen? And in what individuals did it happen, because it wasn’t uniform.

The age of individuals is an important variable in Bill Labov’s data. His data showed that teenagers who controlled Si with higher gain raised Ci of /au/ higher than most adult Islanders did. And here was the social motivation for the sound change which is the real topic of his paper, the raising of Ci for the /ai/ diphthong as well as for the /au/ diphthong. The kids were doing what is called hypercorrection, and what I called ‘overshooting the mark’.

Bloomfield gave a nice example of hypercorrection in his classic book Language (which has been not-PC in the politics of linguistics). Scotch-Irish immigrants to the mid-Atlantic states brought a dialect in which “sofa” was pronounced “sofie”, as in “set raht theah on the sofie and have a drink”. Little Johnnie’s family moved westward to Ohio and Missouri, and when he went to school his teacher taught him “it’s not ‘sofie’, Johnnie, sofa”. So for Johnnie and his family and their population of immigrants from Kaintuck it wasn’t “Missouri”, it was Missoura.

However substantiated or not that story may be, it’s a real phenomenon, and Bill documented a real instance of it on this Island. Neither SLCS nor your model recognizes this phenomenon or its social motivation in controlling one’s perception of oneself as perceived by others socially.

Bill further found that not all of the kids did this. Only those who self-identified as intending to continue to live on the Island, differentiating themselves (schismogenesis) from their peers who intended to ‘get off the rock’ (it’s actually more a sandbar, a glacial moraine), go to school, and build a life on the mainland ‘in America’. Those kids who were controlling So instead of Si maintained lower CI values that they heard from summer visitors, and from the hoteliers, restaurant owners, and merchants who catered to them in the down-Island port towns. (There are no large ports up Island; Menemsha is a fishing harbor.) For that portion of the population and for those kids your model would be adequate if those were the only people they talked to. In 1960 the tourists did not outnumber natives 5 or 6 to 1 as they do today, so your model would predict that the summer residents would raise their CI values. As I recall, that wasn’t investigated.

Your model could be extended to model control of these other variables, control that avoids talking like another kind of people as well as control of talking about one’s own kind of people, presence of an off-Island population with their own CI references, and control by a subset of the population (the teenagers) of a decision which kind of person they will be. With these kinds of further development a model could provide a CT explanation of Bill’s data. As it is, it’s a beginning. Please keep going.

* No: 19th century pronunciations were not quantified in terms of ‘centralization index’, which depends upon sound spectrography invented in the early 1950s, however it may have been adumbrated by Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Sweet, and others, but descriptions by dialect geographers competent in phonetics are quite reliable. And no: dialect geographers were not actively surveying pronunciations in the 16th and 17th centuries, but inferential evidence about historic pronunciations is pretty good, Sturtevant’s The pronunciation of Greek and Latin is a good example.

** Note that these are different inputs to a complex higher-level perception, not scalar values of one CV. Perceptions at the system concept level have lots of perceptual inputs. Perceiving oneself as wearing one kind of clothing or another would strengthen the desired perception or be a disturbance to controlling it, for example.

⁑ A term from my mother’s childhood, disused for many decades.