Another Attempt to Post Martin Taylor's "Re: What is revolutionary about PCT?", Part 1

OK, one more try, sans url:


[From Rick Marken (2017.09.18.1620)]

This is an attempt to again post this essay from Martin Taylor. Martin has been unable to post it and I was unable to post it. We are in contact with the csgnet support people so I want to make sure that this inability to post this one thing is really happening.Â



[From Rick Marken (2017.09.16.1110)]

Martin Taylor has been having problems distributing this post to CSGNet. So he asked me to post it for him to see if the problem was on the CSGNet listserver side or his side. I see that two posts from Martin with the subject head "What is revolutionary about PCT? (Part 1)" have been posted successfully to CSGNet in the last couple hours but they seem to be only partial versions of the complete post, which (if it comes through to CSGNeet from me) is included below:


[Martin Taylor 2017.]

PCT is revolutionary. Let's take that as a starting point. But what makes it so is less easy to understand.Â

One could look at the effects that might be expected if it was widely accepted. Would anything change much? If a lot of things would change drastically, then that would be a reason for calling it revolutionary. But if just slipping it in "under the hood" as it were, in the way one can change software modules without changing their interface to the world, should it then be called "revolutionary"? I can't prove it, but my belief is that PCT is revolutionary in this sense.

Another approach might be to consider whether acceptance of PCT would change ways of looking at problems in different domains that are usually considered unrelated. The "Behavioural Illusion" might flag this possibility. If effects are first examined as possibly being caused by people controlling certain perceptions, then approaches to solutions for problems created by those effects might be quite different from the approaches that treat people as pawns in a greater game. The "Behavioural illusion" is only one indicator of this possibility. Maybe PCT could offer an approach to solutions for problems that seem to have no solution. Then it would be revolutionary. I believe PCT is indeed revolutionary in this second sense, but again I can't prove it other than by pointing to a few examples, which really is no proof.

Yet a third approach (and the one that seems most persuasive to me) is the Ockham's Razor approach, which looks at the theory itself rather than its influence on the conceptual world in which it lives. I believe this one can be argued more rigorously as demonstrating the revolutionary nature of PCT.

Occam's Razor (Okham, Ogham, ... Nobody worried much about spelling a few hundred years ago), is a basic scientific principle that has been considered "a nice idea", but that can be put on a firm analytic footing. The modern form of the Razor balances the range over which a theory claims to describe and predict data, the precision with which it describes or predicts the data it claims to do, and the complexity that is needed to explain the theory beyond the background knowledge of the person to whom it must be explained. This last, which links the acceptance of a theory to the culture background of the person who does or does not accept it, is often the most important, and it is the basis for the familiar expression of the Razor — when two theoriess explain the same data, the simpler is to be preferred.

The word "simple" seems simple, as do its relatives. But they really are not. What seems simple to me may not be simple to you, or to a person brought up having to hunt for food. To the latter, a trail may be simple, whereas to you and me it consists of a complex pattern of bent grass, shifted sand grains, broken twigs, and the like. A theory that depends on harmonic spectral analysis would be simple for someone well versed in calculus, complex for a student beginning to understand differentiation, and incomprehensibly complicated to the hunter for food. Is the idea that the perception of pitch is related to the placement of spectral peaks on a frequency scale simple or complex? That depends on who you are and what you have learned already. So Ogham's Razor is person-specific, and similarly specific to numbers of people with similar cultural backgrounds.Â

By itself, the surface simplicity of a theory is not enough to make it a preferred theory. For example, the theory "That's the way God made it" fits well with the background knowledge of many people, and has done so down through the millennia. It is indeed very simple to almost everyone, and on that basis maybe it should be preferred. But complexities emerge even in that "simple" theory, at least if the theory is to be accepted outside a well-delimited circle. For example, which God was it who made it that way, and what is the scope of his/her power? For people within the same circle, these are things they have already learned, and the theory is simple, but for others, the explanation of the correct God's properties and prowess may be complicated, and may directly contradict what the target person already "knows".

Even in its simple form as understood by members of the appropriate sect, "That's the way God made it" does not describe any data beyond what was actually observed, and predicts very few if any future observations with any accuracy. Over the millennia other theories perhaps less wide-ranging and requiring education in order to make them simple, but that describe and predict data beyond what was directly observed, have come to be preferred by large numbers of people. For example, Newtonian or Einsteinian gravity serve better than does a theory that imputes the fall of an apple to "natural affinity" of the apple for the earth because when the apple falls, it might generate a new tree. The affinity of a thrown ball to the earth must have a separate kind of rationale, such as that they are both round and have a natural affinity for each other.

So, what is a "revolution" in science? from the Occam's Razor point of view I would argue that a theory is revolutionary if it simultaneously has a wider range of claim than other theories that explain some of the same data, is more precise in explaining at least some of the data, and is at the same time simpler to describe to a wider range of people than popular theories.Â

I believe PCT is revolutionary in this sense, as it lays claim to explain not only laboratory experiments but also the observed actions of all living things, not only singly, but in groups of interacting organisms -- the sociosphere, the ecosphere, the political sphere, and the like. It is easy to describe in terms that people generally understand ("You act to make the world more as you would like to see it") and easily elaborated from that simple statement to deal with specialized situations. Even the simple basic statement is more precise than "That's the way God made it", because once you know what someone wants the world to be like, you can say something about what the person is likely and unlikely to do if they actually do anything.

If a theory has much generality, it requires various parameters to explain the data observed in specific circumstances. If it is very specific, it requires relatively few. In some area, specialized theories may describe the data more precisely, but to do so, they add complexity to their descriptions. You don't have to read many specialized books to get the basic idea of hierarchical perceptual control, but you have to do a lot of study if you want to understand how the brain might solve huge systems of simultaneous equations on the fly when the person wants to pour and drink a cup of coffee (as is proposed by some versions of predictive coding theory). Overall, Ogham's Razor suggests that PCT is a revolutionary theory that ought to be considered as a basis for matters that have to do with the behaviour of living organisms.

I proposed three reasons, any one of which would be sufficient to claim something to be revolutionary. I believe PCT satisfies all three criteria, individually and collectively.


Richard S. MarkenÂ
"Perfection is achieved not when you have nothing more to add, but when you
have nothing left to take away.�
                --Antoine de Saint-Exupery