Basic PCT; PCT + guesses, and healing

[From Bill Powers (940131.1115 MST)]

Bill Leach (940131.1011) --

It appears to me that at least the following list of concerns
are all potential matters for PCT discussion:

1. of the global theory.
2. of details of the global theory.
3. of thought experiments to potentially test the theory (or a
4. simulation experiments.
5. of experiments with living beings.
   Particularly behaviour not explained by other methods.
6. of personal application of PCT.
7. of therapeutic application of PCT.
8. of use of PCT in the search for "higher truths".

Well said, Bill. One of our difficulties on CSGnet is that we
talk about PCT at many levels, from tracking experiments where we
know quite well what we are talking about to therapy, politics,
religion, etc. where we are adding a lot of personal opinion,
other experiences, and knowledge, and are really just testing how
it feels to try to apply PCT as a general notion. This is a
difficulty, but I'm happy to see it going on. The ideas that
others bring in at the higher levels help us to see what sorts of
phenomena and problems PCT will have to accomodate as the model
grows to encompass more of what is observed and experienced. I
think it's expectable that this process will be messy.

I echo Dag Forssell's question about your computing facilities
(and inclinations). We have done a fair amount of simulation, and
testing of real human behavior against the behavior of
simulations (that's really what we mean by models, when we're at
a level of discourse where we know how to do modeling). Rick
Marken, Tom Bourbon, and I are DOS (PC) programmers, but we're
just lately trying to adopt a common programming language,
Borland Turbo C version 2.0. Rick is porting over from Macintosh
Turbo Pascal (and others) and Tom, slowly, from Borland Turbo
Pascal. If we program in C, porting the programs to other
machines should at least be easier. One caution: time-sharing
machines are hard to use for real-time experiments, because you
can't count on the timing. I hope all that means something to

Even if you're not doing programming you should get a copy of our
demo disks (from Dag, $10) which have all sorts of interactive
programs about modelling control behavior. You'd have to find a
PC to run them on ...


Hal Pepinski (940130.1330) --

Your comments on Jennifer make a lot of PCT sense, but at the
levels where the application of PCT is still fuzzy and only
suggestive. I hope you understand that when I talk about PCT in
such contexts, I'm not saying that this is what PCT has to say,
but only that this is how I would go about making sense of the
subject by applying principles of PCT. The game is to see whether
the theory can offer a plausible explanation without forcing. If
it can't -- if too many assumptions or counter-intuitive
arguments have to be made -- there's a good chance that the
theory needs work.

With respect to what Jennifer and your other informants have said
about healing, there are some PCT-ish comments I can make, based
on some experience with therapeutic situations (others and my
own) and on work with David Goldstein, who is a bona-fide
psychotherapist applying PCT concepts in his practice.

Some time ago I proposed some general "principles of awareness,"
based on empirical but subjective observations. Let me go through
a little discourse on that, and then I will try to relate it to
what you report about Jennifer and others recovering from painful

One principle says that your awareness usually occupies some
preferred place in the hierarchy of control, so you consciously
see the world through the perceptual systems that are typical of
one level or a few adjacent levels. The preferred level can
change to other levels, higher or lower.

Another says that you are never aware OF the level you are being
aware FROM. If you're occupying the logical level, then you see a
world full of logical relationships and implications -- but you
aren't aware of the fact that you're interpreting the world that
way. It just seems to BE that way. What you're consciously aware
of is the lower-level world. The logic part just seems to be what
you think about that world, or what is true about that world.

Another empirical principle is that awareness is strongly
attracted to control systems in which there are large errors --
control problems. When something goes wrong, such as a conflict,
or pain, or strong emotion, the locus of awareness shifts so that
you become consciously identified from the point of view of the
systems having the problem.

There's one final principle involving reorganization. One of the
problems with the reorganizing system as presently conceived is
getting it to produce changes in control systems that are having
difficulties without altering systems that are working just fine.
The last principle, taken from general observation and not from
any theory, is that the locus of reorganization follows the locus
of awareness (or vice versa -- who knows?).

So, summing up:

1. Awareness can operate from the point of view of various levels
in the hierarchy of control.

2. You are never aware of the point of view from which you are
conciously operating, but only of perceptions being generated in
lower-level systems.

3. Awareness tends to move to the point of view of control
systems in which there are serious control problems occurring.

4. Reorganization follows awareness.

There is nothing in PCT to justify these principles: they are
strictly guesses based on experience, an attempt to find some
regularities in the relationship between consciousness and the
automatic functioning of the learned hierarchy of control
systems. They fit my own experiences with psychological problems,
and others have told me that the picture seems to fit what they
experience. David Goldstein, a bona fide psychotherapist, has
used an approach that derives from these principles, and has
reported that they seem to hold up, and to lead to good results.

These principles led me many years ago to propose a basis for
psychotherapy called the "method of levels." This method involves
simply trying to observe/describe the point of view you presently
occupy, without trying to label levels. According to the second
principle, the only way to do this is to move your awareness into
a higher level of the hierarchy, so that it becomes the base of
observation while the old base of observation is now visible (so
you can observe/describe it). Subjectively, this feels like
noticing something you have been doing, thinking, feeling, but
without being IN it. You are now talking _about_ a point of view
from which you had been unconsciously operating, and you are
necessarily talking about it from a new point of view. The new
point of view is not for the moment an object of awareness, but
the old one now is.

This is what we mean by "going up a level." We mean making the
point of view from which you are being aware of the world into
part of the world of which you're aware -- now from a higher
point of view. The method of levels entails going up a level
again and again until there's no place left to go.

In my explorations of this method, I have found that people tend
to find it easy to go up a level when there are no problems at
the higher level (in the context of a particular discussion), but
that if there is a problem, such as a conflict, people get stuck:
they have difficulty going up another level. The reason seems to
be that bringing a level of organization that has a problem into
conscious awareness (by occupying the next level up) causes the
problem to become painful. Instead of just ignoring it, or
"knowing" the problem is there, one experiences the problem as a
real present-time problem and feels all the feelings that go with
having that problem. You may now be starting to anticipate what I
am going to say about Jennifer et. al.

Now according to PCT, what is it that drives the process of
reorganization? It is a departure of the mind-body from the state
specified by inherited reference signals. The learned systems are
learned precisely for the purpose of preventing situations that
cause such departures. And those departures have sensory
consequences that are accessible, most often, to the learned
perceptual systems. We experience them as _negative affect_, or
pain, or illness, or some other physical or emotional
manifestation of a gross state of malfunction.

So in order for a problem in the learned hierarchy to be healed,
it is necessary for the person to experience consciously the
physical and emotional manifestations of the malfunction. That
will start the reorganizing process. And if reorganization
follows awareness, the healing process can be started by moving
awareness to the point of view of the systems where the problem
exists, so the right aspect of the person's organization can be
reorganized, instead of just changing things at random and in
irrelevant ways.

Of course we learn how to control our perceptions precisely to
_avoid_ having those bad experiences. So a very likely outcome of
experiencing pain is to change the locus of awareness and bring
other control systems into play that work in removing or
preventing the pain. That means that one natural reaction can be
to avoid bringing reorganization to bear on the systems that are
having problems!

Now put this together with the method of levels. When a person
changes point of view by going up a level, all is well until the
systems coming into awareness have a problem. Then any attempt to
move up another level will cause consciously experienced pain or
negative affect to arise, and one's learned control systems will
immediately act to avoid that experience. The way up yet another
level will be blocked, because it hurts.

The avoidance of painful experiences is learned; it can be
unlearned. One can learn to observe the pain without being in it.
And as long as it is being observed, reorganization is going on.
That, with a little luck, is healing. It happens without
conscious direction or choice: all that is required is continued
observation. There is no predicting what changes will occur,
except that at some time one will realize that the problem is no
longer a problem. This is not a process of either the intellect
or the emotions. It is a process of awareness.

  The path Jennifer has chosen instead is to let go of
  preparing for whether the pain is going to strike her now or
  in the next moment, and concentrate instead on maintaining a
  rhythm of resting quietly as in meditation to observe one's
  pain as it passes, alternating with periods of validation in
  which one's efforts to deal with one's pain become matters
  of common concern with others.

I think that we are talking about the same thing. I'd like to
know what Jennifer and others in similar situations think of all

Incidentally, David Goldstein has gone through a highly
successful application of the method of levels with a woman who
had multiple personalities (horrible abuse as a child). The
integration of all the personalities is almost complete. The
woman found that this general picture fit her experience exactly,
and once the existence of this mobile Observer had been mutually
understood between her and David, it was always possible for
David to contact the Observer, whatever personality was
operative. I won't say that validates my tentative model, but it
certain doesn't throw it in the trash.

Something along these same lines seems to have been discovered
independently by a group of psychologists, who publish in
something like the Journal of Dissociation (!). They have found
an underying thingamajig that they call the Helper. This is
really not a Helper in the sense that it produces solutions; it's
more like a point of view, a center of awareness, from which the
operation of the learned systems can be observed without
participation. Hence, I suppose "dissociation."

There is, by the way, a highest level that can be reached by the
method of levels. It isn't really like a learned system; it's
simply observation without a point of view. It's an interesting
state to be in. I'll wager than Jennifer would know what I'm
talking about.

Is all this PCT? Well, I've tried to relate it to PCT, but there
are obviously things going on that a hierarchy of neuromuscular
control systems fails to cover.

Bill P.

<Bill Leach 01 Feb 1994 18:46:24

[From Bill Powers (940131.1115 MST)]

Again thanks Bill. I appreciate helping to understand the nature of what
is pretty much acceptable and what is not as far as discussion topics is
concerned. BTW, the process may be messy but it appears that at times it
is the fact that it is messy that "pops" a new insight into the picture.

I echo Dag Forssell's question about your computing facilities ...

I think I must have missed his question -- sri Dag. It probably came up
while I was "subscribed via two different networks for testing purposes".
That proved to be hectic!

I am not a terribly proficient programmer. I can usually handle C ok
though I am rather weak on non-standard I/O. That is, if the output is a
table to disk or whatever, no problem. It is a color changing, rotating,
geometry changing object, then I'm definately not the right programmer!
I usually can handle Rexx or Forth also. Pascal would require relearning
the language (which is irrelevent as I don't have a Pascal Compiler
anyway). I have not started learning C++ or OOP yet but likely will.

I have a Toshiba Notebook around here somewhere but do not have any
programming tools for it that I know of. I use either an Amiga or a Unix
machine for all of the programming that I do. I have at least two C
compilers for each machine. I also have a VAX but I am barely able to do
more than log on so that one is out :slight_smile:

I know that it is available for DOS but personally do not know how good
it is but, the GNU C compiler "gcc" is available for more machines than
any other compiler and it doesn't "cost anything." The gcc compilers
that I have for both the Amiga and the Unix machine are both excellent.
The other C compiler that I have for the Amiga is SAS/C which is one of
the world's most outstanding compilers on any platform however it is not
available for DOS.

Timing is tricker for "multitaskers" but not necessarily a problem. The
Unix box has syscalls specifically intended for obtaining CPU time vs.
real time. In the case for my particular Unix machine there is even an
external command that provides tenth second resolution (which often isn't



...getting it to produce changes in control systems that are having

difficulties without altering systems that are working just fine.
Is it not true that in cases of real psychological trauma that people
often modify working systems such that they are now also not controlling

I should think that this question is at the level of nearly global
modeling. That is where knowledge of relationships between control
systems probably breaks down.

Your entire response to Hal is one worthy of a great deal of pondering.
Though this thought is of no practical value, I have to say that
"flavour" of your discussion just "feels" right.