Article, second in series on PCT

[From Dag Forssell (940226 1200)]

Here is the text from my latest article. Sorry, no ASCII exhibits to
show my gorgeous illustrations this time. Also no indications to show
italics or bold. The article runs 13 pages, including the last page of
references. I'll be happy to send the article to anyone who sends a
generous contribution by snail mail.

Comments on the text are solicited, of course.



               PERCEPTUAL CONTROL:
  Dag C. Forssell, Purposeful Leadershipr


This article continues the introduction to Perceptual Control Theory
(PCT) begun in Perceptual Control: A New Management Insight, (Forssell,

This article provides more background and perspective on how PCT is
different from contemporary psychologies, and develops the architecture
of HPCT suggested in exhibit 4 (of the first article). Focusing on one
of the many control systems active within the hierarchy, you can perform
a do-it-yourself demonstration with a friend. This will show you how
invisible control is (because it has never been demonstrated or
explained) and provide an AHA experience for both of you. This will
illustrate conflict and cooperation.

This article asks the reader to learn several unfamiliar concepts before
the payoff comes in the applications. It is important to understand the
structure and some details of HPCT to fully appreciate the universal
application and practical effectiveness of the demonstration and
applications that follow. Out of context, the demonstration of a person
acting as one control system may be dismissed as a curiosity. The idea
of a person as a hierarchical system of control systems seems both
preposterous and incomprehensible unless some of the elements are
understood. Without understanding, conflict resolution by means of
teaching effectiveness becomes just another prescription without

The careful student will find this a fully integrated, uniquely useful
explanation of how thought gets turned into action. It answers many
questions about how we grow up and live our lives.

Evolution of Perceptual Control Theory

The foundation for PCT originates in 1927, when an engineer completed the
analysis of a closed loop control system. This led to a new engineering
discipline and the development of goal-seeking machines. The explanation
for the phenomenon of control is the first alternative to the linear
cause-effect perspective ever proposed in any science.

In 1973 William T. Powers published Behavior: the Control of Perception.
This book spells out a model of how the human brain works as a perceptual
control system.

More recently, Bill Powers (1992) writes:

   Perceptual Control Theory explains how organisms control what happens
   to them. This means all organisms from the amoeba to humankind. It
   explains why one organism can't control another without physical
   violence. It explains why people deprived of any major part of their
   ability to control soon become dysfunctional, lose interest in life,
   pine away and die. It explains why it is so hard for groups of people
   to work together even on something they all agree is important. It
   explains what a goal is, how goals relate to behavior, how behavior
   affects perceptions and how perceptions define the reality in which
   we live and move and have our being.

Perceptual Control Theory is the first scientific theory that can handle
all these phenomena within a single testable concept of how living
systems work.

How is PCT different?

Let us contrast PCT with the cause-effect perspective of contemporary
schools of psychology.

First, let me ask you: What is the most common explanation for why people
behave? -- People respond to stimulus in their environment, right? How
they respond depends on how they have been shaped or conditioned by their
environment. This means that what people experience determines what they

Some management programs tell you how to push people's "buttons" so they
do what you want them to do. Some programs advise you to assess what
situation you are in to know which behavior to use.

Some sales training gives you a choice of "17 different ways to close,"
depending on how you read the customer's situation and attitude. Of
course, you must know what situation you are in and what buttons to push.

Would you agree that this does not work all the time?

Another explanation is that our thoughts, our plans and decisions
determine what we do. This is a cause-effect perspective too, only with
an internal cause. This, too, appears true some of the time, but does not
work all the time, because it is not the whole story either. As an
example, think of how you play solitaire. You sit quietly and think.
There is no stimulus from outside you. You decide to place an ace on a
king and do it.

PCT gives you a complete picture of how both the environment and internal
goals relate to action. PCT provides diagnostic tools that help you see
how a system of perceptions, goals and actions is working continuously
all the time. This means that you will always understand the nature of
what is going on in yourself and in others, and know what questions to
ask to learn details at any time.

If you do something that works well, PCT explains why it works. If you
are doing something that does not work well, PCT will indicate why and
suggest new approaches. For example, if you use a wise, principle based
management program, PCT will make it more understandable and easier to
teach. If you use a respectful, non-manipulative sales approach, PCT will
make that more understandable too.

There are many natural leaders, successful salesmen, wise parents and
good communicators. But they cannot explain what they do in any depth.
Their insights and skills are intuitive. Executives who learn PCT can
lead better than intuitive people.

Hierarchical Perceptual Control Theory (HPCT)

Exhibit 5 shows more of the architecture first presented in exhibit 4.
Two dimensions of this model of the human mind are 1) Levels of
perception and control and 2) Kinds of perception. Neither of these are
definitive as labeled here, and the levels of perception shown for each
"kind of perception" are suggestions only, but there is much evidence
that this is the nature of the organization of our minds. You will find
that thinking in terms of these two dimensions is very helpful when
counseling associates and resolving conflict. A control system at the
center of exhibit 5 has been emphasized. The demonstration that follows
shows how you can focus your attention on control of something, in this
case a single visual relationship, and how your mind makes it come true,
working through your entire body. But first, let us examine how the
proposed architecture works.

Levels of perception

The vertical dimension in exhibit 5 is Levels of perception. Exhibit 6
shows details of this. Starting from the bottom, a low level input -- a
neural current created by a nerve ending "tickled" by some physical
phenomenon in the world, such as light falling on a single cell in the
retina -- is combined with other inputs, creating a composite perception
signal at a higher level, which is in turn combined somehow to create a
composite signal at a still higher level. At the higher levels, a branch
of the perceptual signal can be stored in memory and later played back
as a reference signal*.
* It is beyond the scope of this article to present the integration of
   distributed memory in HPCT, and the explanations for imagination,
   automatic control and passive observation.
Levels of perception are central to HPCT. They were introduced by Powers
(1973), and have been further described in detail by Robertson and Powers
(1990). Some of the computer demonstrations (Forssell, 1994) show how
hierarchical control of perception works, and the file percept.lvl
explains how to think about the levels. I will not describe the proposed
levels in detail in this introduction, but the basic postulate of PCT,
simply put, is this: it's all perception. We are looking at and
experiencing the brain's perceptual activities, not the objective world

Levels of perceptual control

Exhibit 7 incorporates exhibit 6, and completes the picture with control
at the same levels as perception. This arrangement is shown in exhibit
5 in the two areas of [muscle] action and physiology, but not in the
other senses. All the control systems shown in exhibit 5 act on the
outside world through muscles, and on the body outside the brain through
both muscles and physiology.

You can think of the chain of control systems in exhibit 7 as an
organization with a worker at the lowest level, a supervisor at the
second level and a manager at the third level. An equivalent metaphor is
to think of a driver and two rows of backseat drivers. The driver
(control level 1) sees the road through a TV screen and does the
steering. The driver at level 2 can either see the road through the same
television signal or get a summary report passed on from an
interpretation of the driver's TV, combined with reports from other TV's.
The driver at level 3 has similar options. You can easily imagine that
this third level driver combines wants of his own superiors of different
"kinds of perception", then shows where to go by addressing a map in
memory. The second driver reads the map and specifies which streets to
use. The first driver converts these more detailed instructions into
action -- turning the wheel. If the communication is fast and reliable
enough, this arrangement will work fine in real time.

The human body has about 800 muscles. Therefore, the action chain in
exhibit 5 represents at least 800 interconnected control units at the
first level. When you walk, you may address a memory stored at the event
level, which holds a certain pattern of walk. This memory plays back a
reference signal which is converted with additional inputs at the
transition level into a certain speed of this walk. The configuration
level converts this reference signal into smoothly varying leg positions,
which result in changing velocities at the sensation level. Changing
velocities require changing accelerations, which the tendon reflex loop*,
* See "A basic control system," featuring the tendon reflex loop in
   Psychological Theory: The Achilles' Heel of TQM, (Forssell, 1994).
at the intensity level, accomplishes by varying muscle contraction. If
your toe hits an obstacle, the tendon tension and limb acceleration are
immediately disturbed. Within milliseconds, the tendon reflex loop
compensates by changing the muscle force. This explains why you recover
from a stumble before perceptions of the stumble have been combined and
reported all the way up your internal chain of command. You don't just
react with some mysterious reflex: all your body's muscles are under
exquisite control at all times. When you specify a stored perception at
a high level, the dedicated chain of command delivers a real time
perception very close to what has been specified, through the interaction
of a multitude of interconnected control systems acting on your
environment. The PCT term for this is that perceptions behave. The
Hierarchical Behavior of Perception, (Marken, 1993) describes this in
greater detail and reports on experiments and response times.

Kinds of perception

The horizontal dimension in exhibit 5 is kinds of perception. At lower
levels, we perceive vision, hearing, touch, temperature, our own
movements in space, smell, taste and physiology (which we sense as a part
of feelings). At higher levels, we form perceptions of things and
concepts like clothing, food, personal relationships, honesty and
courtesy. At the highest levels, HPCT calls them principles and systems
concepts. These are explanations and models of the world, in many areas
of knowledge, which we learn as we are educated and decide to believe in.
Patterns of such principles and systems concepts taken together
constitute what we call culture, science, religion, ethnicity and so
forth. The insight PCT offers is that these principles and systems
concepts are perceptions in themselves. In daily language we talk about
understanding, belief, or more generally "the way the world is or should

Based on the systems concepts we have internalized, in comparison with
the world as we see it, we select principles to live by: priorities,
values, standards. These in turn, again in comparison with perceptions
of the current world, determine the programs or action plans we carry
out. From these follow sequences, or methods made up of events, work
elements needed to carry out the programs we have chosen. Events require
control of muscles and body chemistry at the lowest levels.

With this brief outline, I hope you can see how your own perceptions
"behave" all the way from your highest systems concepts down to muscle
fibers and chemistry. You don't have to have a detailed outline of HPCT
to realize that what you really want -- what is important to you -- you
make come true as best you can. We are designed to control our world as
we perceive it from the time we are conceived until we die.

When as manager, teacher, parent, or counselor, you want to help people
control their world better, to be more effective and satisfied, exhibit
5 suggests that one of the things you can do is to help people improve
and expand on their internal control capability by clarifying and
developing their perceptions at higher levels, in relevant subject areas
-- see Teaching Effectiveness on page 12. The world portrayed in exhibit
5 is internal to a person's mind. The person is the only one who can
question the validity (from their own point of view, of course) of the
perceptions stored in their own mind. Therefore, a good way to assist
people is to ask them questions about their systems concepts, principles,
and programs in the areas or kinds of knowledge that is relevant to their
problem or conflict. When you respect people as autonomous living control
systems, you realize that you cannot offer your opinions or suggestions,
unless they ask you for advice. You gain their trust when they realize
that you are helping them control their lives more effectively. Freedom

From Stress, (Ford, 1989) is a very readable introduction to PCT that

illustrates these principles with a counseling story that touches on
work, marriage, family, and school.

Early development

An exciting aspect of HPCT is that it provides a rational, consistent
explanation for our development all the way from conception to adulthood
using the same basic building block of control all the way. An infant has
developed some ability to control both muscles and physiology. The fetus
has been able to hear, taste, touch, smell and move about, and thus
practice these perception and control capabilities, but has not
experienced vision, nor coordinated it with eye and body movement.

In their article: Developmental Transitions as Successive Reorganizations
of a Control Hierarchy, (One of the articles in Purposeful Behavior: The
Control Theory Approach. Marken, 1990), the Dutch researchers Frans X.
Plooij and Hedwig C. van de Rijt-Plooij report their observations on
mother-infant development among free-living chimpanzees. They identify
and describe progressively higher levels of control capability (giving
examples all the way up to the emergence of the principle level at about
18 months of age), with short periods of regression and crisis between
them, as if the infant takes one step back and two forward to develop.
They note that movements are rapid in the beginning, as when the newborn
roots for the nipple on the mothers breast, and slow down as higher
levels of control develop and the infant no longer searches by means of
sensing temperature of the skin and nipple (second level control --
sensation), but instead perceives the visual image of breast and nipple
(third level control -- configuration), then moves directly to the
nipple, but more slowly. This is consistent with the engineering
requirement that lower control systems be faster than higher ones. If
they were not, the hierarchy could not be stable.

The Plooij's have later studied human infant development (Rijt-Plooij,
1992 and 1993), and have identified 10 highly predictable periods of
mother-infant crisis in the first 18 months of life. They have found that
the newborn infant controls at the second level, with perception of
configuration emerging at 7-8 weeks, perception of transitions at 11-12
weeks, events at 17 weeks, and so forth. The principle level emerges at
14.5 months and the systems concept level (including the notion of self)
towards 18 months. Their book Oei, Ik Groei! (Wow, I Grow!), based on
this work, is written for all parents and reports both on infant
development and the mother-infant conflicts that go with it. It is easy
to understand, very practical and became the top nonfiction book in
Holland in 1993. Available in German, it is slated for publication in
English by early 1995.


When an organism (young or old) fails to control its world well, perhaps
due to conflict, large differences (error signal, dissatisfaction) arise
between what the organism wants and what it experiences. This large error
signal creates large neural and biochemical signals both. (See also the
explanation for feelings in Psychological Theory: The Achilles' Heel of
TQM). HPCT postulates that such chronic error signals are undesirable and
that they are perceived by a very basic, "dumb" biochemical control
system which as its output causes random changes in the organization of
the control hierarchy. This is called reorganization. It is thought to
take place at a basic neurological and biochemical level as well as at
the high levels of principles and systems concepts, and explains both the
development of infants and changes in adults, even dramatic ones. The
idea is that chronic error and reorganization (being random, it can be
good or bad) continues until some change happens to rearrange the control
systems in a way that works better. At that point, the chronic error and
reorganization both stop. The process of reorganization manifests itself
as crisis, frustration, and discomfort. Many different neural and
biological rearrangements may be considered or tried until something
serves to restore control or the person eventually dies. We recognize
mild reorganization when we have a complex problem that troubles us. Our
mind churns ideas and we say: "Let me sleep on it, a solution will come
to me." A manager can support an associate who is reorganizing by
explaining the process, reassuring the associate that (most of the time)
there is light at the end of the tunnel, and if asked, offer more
effective ways to perceive the situation and more effective choices to
make, thus reducing the randomness of the process.


The horizontal lines shown in exhibits 4 and 5 represent connections with
other control systems, both adding perceptual signals together as
higher-level perceptions are formed, and distributing reference signals
to several lower-level control systems. Exhibit 8 suggests the full
complexity of such interconnections. Such hierarchies can both be stable
and satisfy many different high-level specifications. In this
illustration, each of the four low-level "workers" work on a different
process to satisfy the combined demands of four different intermediate
"supervisors" who in turn satisfy the combined demands of four different
"managers." This sounds like an impossible nightmare in terms of a matrix
organization in business, but is clearly illustrated by the "Spreadsheet"
demonstration on the DOS demodisk. This demonstration shows that the
control systems either

a) converge on a stable "worker" solution that satisfies the disparate
   demands of both "supervisors" and "managers" quickly and efficiently,

b) develop severe internal conflict with large outputs which cancel one
   another, maintain chronic errors, and waste energy.

One real world application of this kind of capability in a human being
is to maintain our balance. We don't usually think of ourselves as a
tower made of sticks, swivel joints and active rubber bands carrying out
a balancing act all day long, but how would you describe us? When you
stand at a blackboard and write, you focus on your hand movement. But
hand movement upsets your balance, so in order to maintain that
specification at the same time, most of your skeletal muscles are
continuously compensating. You cannot stretch out your hand without the
muscle in your big toe getting involved, can you? Exhibit 8 and the
Spreadsheet demo provides a graphic, "live" demonstration of how smoothly
a hierarchy of control systems can take care of multiple demands, without
your giving it any conscious thought at all. While you are still at the
blackboard, select a memory that specifies some rhythmic changes in your
balance and position, and you find yourself dancing, still maintaining
harmony and cooperation among all 800 muscles in your body. A hierarchy
of control systems is simple and does the job out of sight and (most of
the time) out of mind.

A demonstration of control

Now, let's do a practical demonstration. You can perform it, wherever you
are, with the simple prop of two rubber bands joined by a knot. Just get
a friend to help you play a game. This game will illustrate all the
elements of human control, their interactions and functional
relationships. You are now turning your attention to the highlighted
control system in the center of exhibit 5. Notice how all the control
systems in your hierarchy connects your visual experience and difference
signals to your muscular control systems, which move your hand while
maintaining your balance.

This rubber band demonstration is the classic PCT demonstration. For more
demonstrations, I suggest Portable PCT Demonstrations (Williams, 1993).

I am hopeful that placing this demonstration in the context of the larger
hierarchy gives it more meaning in your mind, and that you can see that
when dealing with innumerable other aspects of your own life --
requesting water instead of juice to drink; insisting on telling the
truth because that is honorable, for example -- you are specifying and
controlling more complex perceptions in ways fundamentally equivalent to
the control you or your friend exercise in this demonstration. The visual
relationship (between the knot and your target) that you select in this
game represents anything you want, and the relationship as you perceive
it, instant by instant, represents your perception of the world,
corresponding to your want.

Join two rubber bands by a knot. You hook a finger into the end of one
rubber band and your friend hooks a finger into the other. Exhibit 9.

Tell your friend something like: "You are the experimenter. Move your
finger as you like. Watch what I do. When you can explain what is causing
me to do what I do, let me know."

When you sit down with your friend, place yourself so that the knot
joining the rubber bands lies above some mark you can see but which your
friend probably will not notice -- a small mark on a table top or paper,
a piece of lint on your knee. As your friend's finger moves, move yours
so that the knot remains stationary over the mark.

By deciding to keep the knot over a target, you have adopted a standard
for the position of the knot as your want -- an output of your own
higher-level control for learning and cooperation. When something acts
to disturb the position of the knot, you will restore the knot to its
position over the mark. You will move in any way necessary to do that.

Of course, you can't keep the knot stationary if your friend moves faster
than you can handle. Some people playing this game seem to want to move
abruptly, too fast. If that happens, ask your friend to slow down. The
lessons to be learned will be much more obvious to both of you if you are
able to keep the knot continuously over the mark. You might say: "Don't
move so fast. I can't keep up with you."

Your friend will soon notice that every motion of her finger is reflected
exactly by a motion of yours. When she pulls back, you pull back. When
she moves inward, you move inward. When she circles to her left, you
circle to your left. You must do that, of course, to keep the knot
stationary in this particular environment. Your action illustrates
plainly the phenomenon of perceptual control -- we act in opposition to
a disturbance to develop and maintain a perception we want.

Notice that you perform many different acts to maintain your perception
of the knot remaining over the mark. You move your finger to the left,
to the right, forward, backward, and diagonally at varying speeds.

Most people, when they announce that they can explain what is causing you
to do what you do, will say that you are simply mirroring what they do,
or imitating it, or words to that effect. Some will put it more
forcefully: that whatever they do, you are acting in opposition to it.
Almost all will say or imply that they are the cause of your behavior.

A few people will notice that the knot remains stationary. That is an
excellent observation, but not quite an explanation of cause. Agree, but
keep asking: "What is causing me to do what I do?" Most people will say
that your intent is to do something in reaction to them. But then you
deny that. They will eventually give up and ask: "All right, what is
causing your behavior?" You explain that you have been keeping the knot
as close to the mark as possible, and that any difference caused you to
do what you did.

You moved to oppose any motion of the knot away from the mark, not to
oppose her. Your motivation had nothing to do with what your friend might
have been trying to do; you did not care. You watched only the knot and
the mark. Indeed, if you had not been able to see your friend's moves,
your actions would have been identical. Watching the knot and the mark
carefully, you cannot pay close attention to her movements at the same
time. There is no need to.

Reactions of "experimenters" will vary widely. A few will accuse you of
being devious and go away grumbling. Most will be surprised, even
dumbfounded, to have missed the obvious. A few will find many of their
previous ideas so shaken that they will think about it for days or weeks

Play the game with your friend. Play it with several friends! This game
is an important part of this introduction. It only takes a few minutes.
Please be sure to actually do the demonstration with another person. If
you just visualize it, you will miss the insight of just how invisible
the phenomenon of control is.

Suppose you played this game with 10 of your friends. Let us say that one
was in fact able to explain (without coaching) that you were only holding
the knot steady over the mark and acted to keep it there. That still
means that 9 out of 10 failed to recognize the phenomenon of control when
it was right in front of them. They have never been shown what control
is or how to recognize it. Without an understanding of control, they are
literally blind to a phenomenon that is fundamental for all living

Let us repeat this game with more visibility to both you and your friend.
This time you are the experimenter. When your friend has seen the simple
explanation that the action is a function of the experimental setup --
the rubber bands, and follows from her want to keep the knot over a mark,
ask your friend to do it once more and use a pen to trace her action.

Exhibit 10 shows what the trace might look like. Notice that the knot
moves about the target. If you think of this as a production process,
this movement is variability of production quality. The slower you
perform this demonstration, the better quality you can achieve, because
your control will be better.

Now we focus on your friend's visible behavior and ask the question:
"What can a reasonable observer conclude about your friend based on what
the observer can see of your friend's behavior?" What is your answer? Now
that you have acted out this demonstration and considered the question,
would you agree that you cannot draw any conclusions about your friend
from her behavior? Your friend's behavior is clearly a product of what
your friend wants (a visual relationship, specified in her mind),
combined with the disturbances (your pulling on your band) acting on what
she is controlling (her current perception of what she is controlling)
. Her behaviors are what they have to be under the circumstances, given
all the functional elements, their influences and interactions. Exhibit
11 suggests what a reasonable observer can see. Hidden from view are: a)
your friend's want, b) the disturbing influence the experimenter has on
what your friend wants, and c) many aspects of the environment. What your
friends and associates want at any moment and what disturbs it is seldom
visible to an observer.

This demonstration, and the diagram in exhibit 12 clearly recognizes
wants (reference signals) and perceptions, the difference between them,
output signals that provide instructions for action, the actions
themselves, which influence the variable we control, and other influences
(disturbances) on the variable.

It is easier to demonstrate and build on this in a live class situation
where you can see the diagram as it unfolds and ask for clarification.
Please notice that everything is out in the open. Every participant is
able to see, question, appreciate and discuss the elements and their

This is a simple but complete way to understand what is going on. The
control model provides complete diagnostic tools for any interaction
between people -- whether in cooperation or conflict.


Repeat the experiment with your friend, but this time with both of you
controlling your own visual relationship. Your target is the one closer
to you. The moment you start, you will both pull as far and hard as you
dare (not wanting the rubber band to snap and hurt you) in your own
direction. If you repeat the experiment with a rope instead of rubber
bands, you will find that the stronger person can reach her target, while
the weaker is frustrated. The waste of effort is obvious. Conflict can
arise in other ways, as for instance, if the two players perceive one
target differently.


With a three-part rubber band and tree players, you can demonstrate
cooperation. Two players can both influence the knot with one agreed upon
target, with the third player providing a disturbance. The cooperating
players can pull in different directions, but in such directions and
strengths that the net result compensates for the disturbance, or they
can work in perfect parallel and unison to compensate with a minimum of
total effort.

An assertive person

The concept of assertiveness demonstrates clearly our human nature as
control systems. In exhibit 15, the assertive person claims the right to
control himself in several different ways. If you claim these rights for
yourself, how about granting them to others? That means recognizing your
fellow man as an autonomous living control system, just like yourself.
Depending on just exactly what it is your fellow man understands and
wants, you may be happy to work side by side, or want to put great
distance between him and yourself. As shown in the conflict and
cooperation demonstration, what we want and how we look at the world does
make a difference.

An effective person

While all people are equal in that we all control, some people are more
equal than others in that they control well most of the time. Exhibit 16
is my attempt to summarize the qualities of a well balanced, productive
person as one control system. In the reference box, I have shown the
concept of levels of perception collapsed to the statement: Informed
understanding U Considered priorities U Major wants, indicating that a
person's wants (right now, in relation to present circumstances), are not
selected at random in a vacuum, but derive from higher understanding. The
wording in the other boxes must also be read as a composite of the
capabilities of the entire hierarchy, taken together. My point in
offering exhibit 16 is to suggest that a person who is cool, calm and
collected in most circumstances, is a pleasure to deal with and very
productive, can properly be portrayed this way -- a very capable system
of control systems.

This portrait allows for a great variety of wants and perceptions, It is
easy to see how people can be labeled as having different
"personalities," classified in popular books as many kinds of "difficult
people," and even stereotyped as "dysfunctional." People develop
different understandings, priorities, wants and ways of perceiving their
experiences. The entire structure of perceptual functions and stored
perceptions is our individually subjective reality. Our ability to
control our lives varies, depending on how effective this subjective
reality is in helping us deal with the REAL world outside our minds.

Thinking of a person this way gives the manager obvious diagnostic tools:
In any situation, ask questions about what the other person wants (and
what higher level priorities determine the wants), how the person
perceives the situation, how satisfactory the comparison appears and what
outputs the person has considered.

People interacting

Exhibit 17 shows a framework for understanding the interaction between
two people, whether in conflict or cooperation. Here, two brains are
shown, acting in a common environment (outside the body, of course). Each
person is controlling (acting on) some physical variable as that person
wants to. If the chosen variables are related or even the same one (say
the balance of a tandem bicycle), it quickly becomes obvious that a
variable is subject not only to disturbances from the environment in
general, (such as crosswind), but also that each persons action becomes
a disturbance to the other. Even side effects of independent action
become disturbances to the other. (The balance is upset if one turns
around to admire the view).

Let us say that person #1 is your associate and that person #2 represents
another associate (not present), or a prospective customer, or your
organization, here thought of as one person. Exhibit 17 provides the
framework only; the boxes are not filled in with specific understandings,
wants, perceptions, output options etc. Your challenge as a manager is
to improve the productivity of person #1. This can best be done by
teaching effectiveness.

Teaching Effectiveness

When you have learned and accepted that we are all hierarchical control
systems, you realize that we are all driven by our wants as they relate
to present perception. We act in order to affect our perception of what
we experience. When you find yourself in a situation where you want to
teach a person (a male this time) to be more effective because you are
concerned about how he acts, your knowledge of HPCT suggests that you
must work "inside his head" if for no other reason than that he is the
only one who can access and change his priorities, wants and perceptions
which determine his actions.

He must recognize your intention to support him, by helping him manage
his own life better in relation to #2. We suggest that you ask permission
to enter into his world, give permission for him to enter into your
world, listen well and paraphrase what you have heard.

You can question wants, question perceptions, offer information, help
resolve want conflicts, and help him recognize disturbances for what they
are -- influences he can handle. Finally, you assist him when he develops
a plan of action which will resolve his problem.

At no time do you criticize him. Offering your opinions defeats the
process of working in his head. His opinions are the only ones that
count. You conduct the entire teaching effectiveness session by asking
questions, offering advice only after asking his permission to do so.

As you explore what he wants, consider exhibit 18, which shows local
detail from exhibit 5 with a few connections emphasized, suggesting how
a particular want is derived from higher, related control systems. It is
not important at what level a particular want is located, how many levels
of perception there are or what they might be called. What is important
is the recognition that one want follows from other, higher
considerations. Therefore, as an experienced person, you can ask
questions about wants that are related to the one that starts a
discussion, and ask about higher levels of concern. Keep in mind that if
he has internal conflict -- incompatible wants -- the only way to resolve
it is to invite him to examine his higher levels, which will allow him
to resolve the conflict.

A basic methodology might be as follows:

1) Ask for a meeting

2) Ask #1 about his concerns (in relation to #2).

3) Ask #1 about his own wants.

4) Ask #1 about what he thinks #2's wants or rules are. (If he is unsure,
   you may want to offer suggestions).

5) Ask him to compare; if he sees any conflict between his own wants and
   those of #2.

6) If yes, ask him if he wants to commit to work on a way to resolve the

7) If yes, coach and support him as he develops a plan to change wants,
   perceptions and capabilities to eliminate the conflict.

Things to avoid:

o Don't ever tell him what you think unless he views you as a caring
   teacher. If you impose your opinion on him, your message becomes a
   disturbance he will resist, as he maintains his sense of self. Now,
   the focus has changed in his mind, and your role has changed
   drastically. You are now the enemy.

o Don't talk about "feelings." They are secondary.

o Don't take over his responsibilities. That does not allow him to

o Don't ask him why he is behaving in a certain way. Action is a
   by-product of his wants and perceptions.

o Don't bring up a negative incident from the past. It is beyond his
   control at this point.

o Don't challenge or comment on statements about disturbances. Help him
   deal with them in his plan.

o Don't accept comments about the environment as excuses. Put them in
   perspective if needed.

A first impression may be that this approach is soft and wishy-washy,
leaving everything up to your associate, and you powerless. Surely, a
leader is supposed to clearly state what she wants to happen, how and
when -- set clear goals!

You will find that the approach outlined here is more effective than
setting goals for people. (See Soldani, 1989). Through careful and
persistent questioning, you focus your associates' attention on the
issues of your choice and get their minds in gear to come up with
solutions to what they now agree are their problems. And you become their
trusted friend, teacher and coach!


In this brief introduction to PCT and the HPCT model, I have touched on
most aspects of HPCT and indicated how much of human experience this
model can explain. I have shown a questioning approach to conflict
resolution and counseling which fully respects the other person as an
autonomous living control system, facilitating the development of trust,
cooperation and high productivity.

In the third and final article in this series, the concept of teaching
effectiveness will be expanded to show effective ways to develop team
spirit and caring relationships, conduct performance coaching reviews in
a supportive way, and sell without manipulation with full respect for
your prospect. I will also show how HPCT defines important elements of
effective vision and mission statements, and discuss the essence of TQM
as a control process.


Entries preceded by an asterisk are available from The Control Systems
Group, 460 Black Lick Road, Gravel Switch, KY 40328. Mail included world

Cziko, Gary A., "Purposeful Behavior as the Control of Perception:
Implications for Educational Research." Educational Researcher, 21:9,
(November 1992), pp.10-18, & 25-27.

Ford, Edward E., Freedom From Stress. Scottsdale AZ: Brandt Publishing
(1989,93). PCT in a counseling framework.

Forssell, Dag C., "Perceptual Control: A New Management Insight." In
Engineering Management Journal 5:4, (1993) pp. 17-25.
Introduction of PCT as an answer to leadership issues.

Forssell, Dag C. (Ed.), Perceptual Control Theory: DOS computer
demonstrations, tutorials, simulations, explanations. (1994). 1.44 MB 3
+"disk (1 ea) or 1.2 MB 5,"disk (2 ea). May be copied freely. Price: $10
U.S. by air world wide. Write: Purposeful Leadership, 23903 Via Flamenco,
Valencia, CA, USA.

Forssell, Dag C., Psychological Theory: The Achilles' Heel of TQM
Defining useful theory and assessing TQM.

Gibbons, Hugh., The death of Jeffrey Stapleton: Exploring the way lawyers
think. Concord, NH: Franklin Pierce Law Center (1990).
A text for law students using control theory.

Marken, Richard S. (ed.). Purposeful Behavior: The Control Theory
Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (1990). 11 articles on
control theory. (Priced lower for individuals than companies).

*Marken, Richard S., Mind Readings: Experimental Studies of Purpose.
Gravel Switch, KY: CSG Books (1992). ($18 postpaid)
Research papers exploring control.

Marken, Richard S., "The Hierarchical Behavior of Perception." In Closed
Loop: Threads from CSGnet Vol3:4, (Fall 1993). $6 postpaid from The
Control Systems Group, c/o Mary Powers 73 Ridge Place CR 510, Durango,
Colorado, 81301-8136.

McClelland, Kent., "Perceptual Control and Social Power." Sociological
Perspectives, (1994), in press.

McPhail, Clark., The Myth of the Madding Crowd. New York: Aldine de
Gruyter (1990). Introduces PCT to explain group behavior.

McPhail, Clark., William T. Powers, and Charles W. Tucker, "Simulating
individual and collective action In temporary gatherings." Social Science
Computer Review, 10:1, (1992) pp. 1-28.
Computer simulation of control systems in groups.

Petrie, Hugh G., The dilemma of enquiry and learning. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press (1981). Resolving Plato's dilemma with Control Theory.

Powers, William T., Behavior: The control of perception. Hawthorne, NY:
Aldine DeGruyter (1973). The basic text.

*Powers, William T., Living Control Systems: Selected papers. Gravel
Switch, KY: CSG Books (1989). ($16.50 postpaid)
Previously published papers, 1960-1988.

*Powers, William T., Living Control Systems, Volume II: Selected papers.
Gravel Switch, KY: CSG Books (1992). ($22 postpaid)
Previously unpublished papers, 1959-1990.

Richardson, George P., Feedback Thought in Social Science and Systems
Theory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1991).
Historical review of systems thinking, including PCT.

Rijt-Plooij H.H.C van de, & Plooij, Frans X. (1992). "Infantile
Regressions: Disorganization and the Onset of Transition Periods."
Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 10, 129-149.

Rijt-Plooij H.H.C van de, & Plooij, Frans X. (1993). "Distinct periods
of mother-infant conflict in normal development: source of progress and
germs of pathology," The journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 34,

Rijt-Plooij H.H.C van de, & Plooij, Frans X. Oei, Ik Groei! (Wow, I
Grow!) Utrecht-Antwerpen: Kosmos-ZK (1992). Best-selling book on infant
development and parenting. In German: Oje, Ich Wachse!, M
nchen: Mosaik
Verlag, (April, 1994).

*Robertson, Richard J. and William T. Powers (eds.), Introduction to
Modern Psychology: The Control Theory View. Gravel Switch, KY: CSG Books
(1990). ($25 postpaid) College-level text.

Runkel, Philip J., Casting Nets and Testing Specimens. New York: Praeger
(1990). When statistics are appropriate; when functional models are
required. With explanation of PCT.

Soldani, Jim, "Effective Personnel Management: An Application of
Perceptual Control Theory." In Advances in Psychology 62, New York:
North-Holland, (1989), pp. 515-529.
Results in a manufacturing environment.

Williams, Greg, (ed). "Portable PCT Demonstrations" In Closed Loop:
Threads from CSGnet Vol3:2, (Spring 1993). $6 postpaid from The Control
Systems Group, c/o Mary Powers 73 Ridge Place CR 510, Durango, Colorado,

Zuker, Elaina, Mastering Assertiveness Skills; Power and Positive
Influence at Work. New York: Amacom (1983).


The following was cut from the article as being too much, too soon. Some
of you may enjoy it, so here it is:

Levels of perception

The vertical dimension in exhibit 5 is Levels of perception. Exhibit 6
shows details of this. Starting from the bottom, a low level input --
a neural current created by a nerve ending "tickled" by some physical
phenomenon in the world, such as light falling on a single cell in the
retina -- is combined with other inputs, creating a composite perception
signal at a higher level, which is in turn combined somehow to create a
composite signal at a still higher level. At the higher levels, a branch
of the perceptual signal can be stored in memory and later played back
as a reference signal*. Levels of perception are central to HPCT. They
were introduced by Powers (1973), and have been further described in
detail by Robertson and Powers (1990). Some of the computer
demonstrations (Forssell, 1994) show how hierarchical control works, and
texts on the disk include discussions of perception levels. Here, Powers
explains how to think about the levels. For the full text, see the
demodisk file percept.lvl: (If you are in a hurry, skip to levels of
perceptual control on page 5, and read this later).

   What lies behind HPCT is not any proposal as to how each level of
   perception is derived from the one below it, but a proposal as to what
   the levels of perception are and how they are related. This is the
   phenomenon that any model must in the end explain....

   The definitions of levels define the modeling problem. We can see
   that the sensation level is probably derived by weighted summations
   of intensity signals, the weights defining a vector in a perceptual
   space having fewer dimensions than there are different sources of
   intensity signals. But that answer to the modeling problem comes
   after noticing that sensations seem to depend on intensities in a
   particular way, a way that could be modeled as weighted summation.
   The phenomenon to be modeled comes before the model....

   Behind this exploration of perception lies a fundamental postulate;
   if you don't internalize it, I don't think you can even get started
   on the problem of modeling the brain's perceptual systems, or for that
   matter, in understanding HPCT. The postulate, simply put, is this:
   it's all perception.

   By that I mean that no matter what you attend to in the world of
   experience, whether you refer to inner or outer experiences, concrete
   or abstract, verbal or nonverbal, the object of your attention is a
   perception. You are looking at or otherwise experiencing the brain's
   perceptual activities, not the objective world itself.

   Vision is the most important sense to understand this way if you're
   sighted; understand vision and the rest (touch, taste, sound, etc.)
   will follow. The world you see begins as pixels (individual picture
   elements). The pixels are so close together that you see no spaces
   between them, although the sensory nerves do not overlap and in fact
   do not completely fill the retina.... Building up definitions of the
   rest of the levels in the hierarchy is then a matter of noticing
   persistent types of structure in this world of picture elements. The
   first level above the pixels themselves is sensation, a type of
   perception that can't be analyzed in any way except into variations
   of intensity. Color is a sensation, as is shading.

   Perhaps things like edges are sensations, derived in one step from the
   pixel distributions. When analyzing perceptions, however, don't use
   any data but your own experience... Look at the edge of a sheet of
   paper on a dark tabletop. There is no outline. The closer you look
   at the edge, the more nearly it seems to be an infinitely sharp line
   separating uniform white from uniform dark. The edge itself is there
   -- but you can't see it as an object. It's just a sense of
   edgeness... Whatever model we come up with for how the nervous system
   processes pixel information, it must result in edges that look this
   way, without borders. If it doesn't, the model is wrong.

   The next step is to notice that the edges and corners and broad white
   areas of the piece of paper add up to -- a piece of paper. If you've
   made this transition properly, it will come as a surprise. Where did
   that piece of paper, or piece-of-paperness, come from? It wasn't there
   in the edge, or the corner, or the whiteness, or the darkness. It
   comes into being only when all those elements are seen grouped into
   a thing, a configuration with a familiar shape, orientation, distance,
   size, and so on....

   You have to go slowly and by the smallest steps you can devise. If
   you go too fast you'll miss the smallest steps; if you miss the
   smallest steps you'll lose the sense of examining perceptions, and
   start projecting the visual field into an external world again.
   You'll jump to the more abstract levels and lose the connection from
   one level to the next. This is, if you like, a form of meditation on
   experience in which you distance yourself from experience and look at
   it merely as a display. You're not trying to see anything about the
   world, but only something about the display. You're trying to see
   what features the person who constructed it thought of putting into
   it, just as when you read a program you think to yourself "Now he's
   setting up an array to hold the results" instead of just reading the
   code, or when you read a novel as a literary critic you think "Now
   he's introducing tension" instead of just getting tense. Who the "he"
   is is immaterial -- the point is to see what is before you as a
   construction that has inner organization, and try to see how it is put

   The general principle is that when you have found a level, like
   sensation, the next level is going to depend on it; also, the current
   level depends on the one below it. If you analyze a perception to see
   what it is made of, at first you see just more perceptions of the same
   level -- big configurations are made of little configurations. But
   when you analyze in just the right way, you suddenly realize that all
   configurations, of whatever size or kind, are made of sensations,
   which are not configurations of any kind. And you realize that if it
   weren't for the presence of those sensations, there couldn't be any
   configuration to see: a field consisting of a single sensation, such
   as white, can't lead to any sense of configuration. There's a
   relationship between these levels of perception. That gives us a hint
   about building models of perception, a hint about how the brain's
   perceptual system is constructed.

   Sometimes you will identify what seems to be a higher level of
   perception, some characteristic common to all perceptions, unconnected
   to lower levels you have previously seen. Then you can use this kind
   of analysis to try to fill in the gap. What is this new perception
   made of, besides smaller perceptions of the same kind? When the gap
   is large, the missing steps are obvious. You can, for example, look
   at spatial relationships such as "on" -- something being "on"
   something else. You can see the on-ness clearly, it's right in front
   of you. But what is it made of? If you said "sensations" you would
   clearly be making too large a jump, because on-ness involves objects,
   things, configurations. Some kind of object is "on" some other kind
   of object. If it weren't for the impressions of distinct objects,
   there couldn't be any sense of the relationship between them. But is
   that step small enough? I've had to put two levels between
   relationships and configurations: transitions (which can be zero), and
   events (which can be as simple as mere duration). Seeing something
   "on" something else involves more than a brief contact; there must be

   Perhaps someone else could find smaller steps still, or would
   characterize the intervening steps differently. There's still a lot
   of room for improving the definitions of the phenomena we're hoping
   ultimately to model.

   I'm not talking here about the models themselves. I'm talking about
   the attitude you take toward your own experiences when you're trying
   to notice phenomena that need modeling. If you were a physicist you
   wouldn't be taking this attitude. You'd treat the world of perception
   in the normal unanalytical way as if it lay outside yourself where
   everyone could see it, and you'd search for laws relating changes of
   one kind of perception to other kinds of perceptions. You would call
   these "natural laws" or "behavioral laws" and assume you were
   discovering truths about an objective universe.

   As a PCT psychologist, however, you have a different objective: to
   grasp the natural world as a manifestation of human perception (your
   own), and to ferret out of it some regularities that tell us about
   perception rather than about the world perceived... I don't recommend
   this attitude as one suitable for ordinary living. It's difficult and
   uncomfortable, and it tends to strip the meaning from experience
   (until you get past a certain point, after which you realize that
   meaning, too, is perception, and let it back in). If you're afraid
   that understanding your girl friend as a set of intensities,
   sensations, configurations, transitions, events, relationships,
   categories, sequences, programs, principles, and system concepts in
   your brain might strain your feeling toward her (and hers toward you),
   don't do this with your girl friend. Do it with somebody else's, or
   a laboratory rat. It doesn't matter who or what you do it to, because
   you're really talking about your own perceptions. This is a private
   experience valid only in one person's world. It can become public
   only to the extent that different people independently arrive at the
   same analysis. I've always hoped for that, but only a very few
   people, to my knowledge, have tried this for themselves. Most people
   just memorize my definitions, which unfortunately are in words. It's
   easier to push words around than to shut up and examine direct

   Instead of treating relationships like on, beside, after, with, and
   into as properties of the external world, look on them as perceptions
   constructed on a base of lower-level perceptions. Instead of seeing
   categories as made of things that are inherently alike, think of
   categories as ways of perceiving that make things appear to be alike -
   - things that are actually, at lower levels of perception, different.
   Instead of seeing sequential ordering as a fact of nature, see it as
   a way of putting ordering into an otherwise continuous flow. In
   short, take nothing about experience for granted, as if some aspects
   of experience were really outside and others were inner
   interpretations. Put the whole thing inside, and see what you come
   up with when you understand that it's all perception. All of it.

Best to all, Dag

Dag and Christine Forssell Purposeful Leadership
23903 Via Flamenco Valencia, California 91355-2808 USA
Phone (805) 254-1195 Fax (805) 254-7956
Internet: MCI mail: 474-2580