Animism; state diagrams; puzzles

[From Bill Powers (951111.1210 MST)]

Fred Nickols, 951111, 0805 EastCoastTime --

     Is the use of "animism" above a special, technical definition of
     that term peculiar to PCT? Animism is customarily and widely taken
     to mean a belief that natural objects and phenomena have souls.

This term doesn't have any particular technical meaning in PCT.
Attributing "souls" to natural objects and phenomena isn't in itself the
point; the main point is the mistaken attribution of purposes and
intentional behavior to systems that don't have the kind of organization
needed to support purposes and intentions.

An example would be saying that evolution has made the giraffe's neck
long so the giraffe can reach the leaves on a tree that other animals
can't reach. This makes evolution into an active agent which intends for
giraffes to be able to eat the highest leaves, and adjusts the length of
the giraffe's neck in order to achieve this goal. Another example would
be to explain that an animal presses a bar in a certain way because
reinforcements have caused it to do so. This attributes to
reinforcements the ability to pick a particular behavior that, if it
occurred, would produce a certain consequence (producing more
reinforcement) and then to act on the behavior to achieve that goal.
Since a reinforcer is often nothing but a bit of food or a drop of
water, it certainly doesn't have the organization necessary to do this.
A property of a living control system is being attributed to an
inanimate object.

When primitive peoples attributed souls to a natural phenomenon like
lightning, the reason was that souls can act purposively to create
intended ends; the effect of the lightning was treated as if it were
created on purpose. If lighting destroyed your neighbor's house, you
would go through rituals in which you implored the lightning not to
destroy your house, too. You saw the devastation of your neighbor's
house as though the lighting had some way of selecting that effect and
then bringing it about, just the way a person can select effects and
then bring them about.

Control theory describes and explains systems that can vary their
actions to bring about preselected ends. In that sense, control theory
supports the concepts that led to animism. However, it also shows what
kind of internal organization is needed in order to demonstrate this
effect, and thus it shows that primitive attributions of purpose were
often misplaced. The best way to keep your house from being destroyed by
lighting is not to try to dissuade the lighting from its purposes, but
to get a lightning rod.


Bruce Abbott (111195.1230 EST) --
Re: state sets

     ... such [state] diagrams could also document the relationships in
     a sequence-level control system. Different states would define
     different active control systems.

I would say they're mnore likely to document relationships in a program-
level control system. A sequence is strictly a linear ordered list of
occurrences. There are no tests or choice-points. In a state diagram
like the one you used for illustration, there's at least one implicit
test. Switching to a different state depends on which state you're in
and can be just a sequence, but a time-delay entails a test repeating
until the elapsed time reaches a predetermined value. Only if the device
can operate without any tests at all would it be treatable as a
Gary Cziko 951111.1722 GMT --

Nice reprise of your rubber-band demos. It strikes me that we ought to
be generating some demos as puzzles that people can use as self-tests to
see if they grasp the principles of PCT. One of our explanatory problems
is that people reach varying degrees of understanding of PCT without
realizing what they have left to learn. Your rubber-band-and-string demo
could be structured as a series: first the straight demo and a request
for an explanation, then the demo using the string operated by the other
hand again followed by a request for an explanation. When we just run
through these demos from beginning to end, we supply not only the
questions but the answers, so the watcher gets no practice in PCT

Here's a demo that Ed Ford thought up, which can be used as a test

Connect eight rubber bands in this pattern:

                  \ /
                    \ /
                    >> >>
                    >> >>
                   / \
                 / \

Get four people to hold the free ends. Ask them to "make a square." They
will do so. One question that can be asked is, how do they do this?

But the real puzzle question is, what can one of the people do to make
the square be some different size, and still square? What can one person
do to change the orientation of the square without changing its shape?
(Assume nobody else is doing the same things)

Here's another puzzle.

Link three rubber bands end-to-end in a chain, with an experimenter
holding one end and the controller holding the other. This means there
are two knots. The controller-person is allowed to pick one knot to
control; the experimenter-person has to determine which knot is under
control. How can the experimenter prove that one knot is most likely
under control and the other most likely isn't? Second question: can the
experimenter find the answer by calculating the correlation of the
experimenter's hand movements with those of the controller? Third
question: how could correlations be used to determine which knot is
under control?


Knot three rubber bands together at a common point. E grasps one, C
grasps the second, and the third is left dangling. E moves one end
around and C maintains the knot over the dot. What will C do if a third
party grasps the third rubber band and pulls it toward the direction of
C's hand?


C and E are interacting as usual, but C is making the knot move in a
repetive SLOW sine wave laterally across the dot (at right angles to the
line of the rubber bands). What can E do that will bring C's hand to a
standstill while the knot continues to move side-to-side in a sine-wave
as before?

A person who understands PCT can work out the answers to all these
puzzles just by applying basic principles. Since they are all rubber-
band demos, the same person can then perform a test to see if the answer
was correct. Subjective correlations will be good enough to answer the
question about using correlations. Doing the demo before working out the
answer is cheating.

Tell me how you make out, folks. If you got the right answers, fine, but
if you made a mistake, I'd like to hear about it: it's the errors we
learn from.
Best to all,

Bill P.