Awareness and feelings of control

[From Richard Thurman (960424.1030)]

Bill, I'm still gyrating on a two day old posting:

Bill Powers (960422.1130 MDT)

I'm still puzzled about the relationship between consciousness and
control. Amid all the control processes that must be going on all the
time, at all the levels, I experience a sort of central control process.


My experience of this is that my consciousness is driving this activity
-- if I turned my attention to doing something else, what I am doing now
would stop happening and some other Main Thing would start happening
instead. If my attention turns toward something else, the present
activity won't keep going all by itself.

I am wondering if this feeling of a 'central control' is an emergent
property of hierarchical control processes. That is, it feels like one is
directing one's awareness, but in reality awareness is being driven by
whatever control systems are dominant (or experiencing the most error,
etc..). The point is, perhaps one does not turn ones attention to
something else, instead attention is turned. Our subjective experience is
one of being in control via a 'central control process' but perhaps this
is an illusion.

But what purpose would this emergent property hold? Perhaps it
(awareness) is a way of closing the loop. Could it be a feedback

While I have not thought much about this, the idea holds a certain appeal
to me. For example, it may explain why attention can seem to be directed
to unusual events. When something novel happens out in the world,
attention is focused there. Perhaps its the same with internal events,
whenever a new set of control systems become active (more active) the
awareness 'thing' focuses there. We experience it as if we (the central
processor) were directing attention there, but in fact 'we' are being
directed there.

This may also explain the gain thing. It appears that, as our attention
gets focused on other things the gain goes down. But what if the gain was
already going down and attention begins to wonder to the next set of
control systems that were ramping up. This was inspired by your

the typing pauses and when I have more to write, I find that my hands
are off the keys and I have to put them back (and put down my cigarette,
too, probably).

Could the nicotine control systems be increasing in error, and because of
that, attention begins to wonder away from the typing control systems?

If someone is looking for an idea for an interesting research project, I
think this would be a good one. Figuring out reliable ways to divert
attention from an ongoing control task should be fun. And since the
object would be to learn something about the relationship of control to
attention, no _a priori_ position has to be taken; you just do the
experiment and see what happens. You don't have to say you're looking at
Zen ideas, or operant conditioning, or levels, or self-concepts, or any
of that conjectural stuff. You just do the experiment and pay attention
to what happens. Then you will know more about this subject than anybody
else knows now.

I did not understand what you meant by this paragraph two days ago. I
could not understand what you were proposing as the research. Then this
morning it hit me! This is exactly the opposite of what I am trying to
research. My research involves ways to keep one in control, despite the
environments attempt (I realize how animistic that sounds) to divert
attention. We are doing research on how to help aircrews maintain
"situational awareness" in an environment full of distractions.

This will require some thought. It seems to me that we have no problem at
all diverting attention from ongoing control tasks. EVERYTHING is a
potential diversion. Where would we begin?



Richard Thurman
Armstrong Lab
Mesa AZ.
(602) 988-6561

[From Bruce Gregory (960424.1550 EDT)]

(Richard Thurman 960424.1030)

  This is exactly the opposite of what I am trying to research.
  My research involves ways to keep one in control, despite the
  environments attempt (I realize how animistic that sounds) to divert
  attention. We are doing research on how to help aircrews maintain
  "situational awareness" in an environment full of distractions.

Perhaps one problem is the phenomenon you describe. Some accidents
are no doubt due to failing to "pay attention". But others are
produced by paying "too much" attention. An anomalous instrument
reading such as air airspeed indication distorted by an iced pitot
tube so occupies the pilot's attention that he begins to do silly
things such as pulling back the power and the stick while the
aircraft is at a high angle of attack. In a sense, he is doing the
"right" thing -- paying attention to a variable that _seems_ urgently
to require control and attempting to exercise control while ignoring
things that seem less urgent (the attitude indicator and altimeter).
The way our attention becomes focussed on "surprises" may be our
undoing. Once confusion sets in, real trouble is not far behind.
Good luck.

By the way, I think the kind of research Bill is proposing is just
what is needed to provide clues to the solution of your problem.

Bruce G.