Behavior as Controlled Perceptions

[From Fred Nickols (970921.1751 ET)]

Bill Powers (970921.1751 MDT)--

Fred Nickols (970921.1325 ET)--

I see no
need and not much value in drawing a distinction between my
control of my behavior and my control of my perception of it.
The reason, I guess, is that my perceptions are the product of
my perceiving. However, I'll assume that you are drawing this
very fine line between my controlling my outwardly visible
behavior and my controlling my perceptions of it for a good
reason. So, what is it?

If I may horn in, it's because any visible action is likely to have more
than one perceptual effect, on both the actor and the observer. The
observer can see the action, but not which of its perceptual effects is
intended to be controlled.

Agreed. Motives, goals, objectives, intended outcomes, desired states, and
all those sorts of things are typically known only to the seeker, making the
deciphering of intent or the interpretation of outwardly observable behavior
most difficult and extremely prone to error.

If you define behavior in terms of visible actions, you aren't looking at
what is being controlled.

Agreed again.

                             >Because of that, you may see the action change

(due to disturbances of the controlled perception) and think you're seeing
a different behavior, when in fact the new action is maintaining the same
perception at the same reference level. The actor knows that, but the
observer does not. So the actor claims he is doing "the same thing" while
the observer claims that the actor is doing something different. The
observer is wrong.

To test my understanding, Bill, it seems to me you're saying that the
question of what someone is (or isn't) "doing" is answerable in terms of the
perception being controlled, not in terms of their activity. This is much
the same as if I were to ask someone, "What are you up to?"

So, it further seems to me that, when conversing with PCTers, I must keep in
mind that, to them, "behavior" refers to the maintenance of a controlled
perception, not to any of the actions used to maintain it, no matter how
varied these actions might be. For example, if my aim is to maintain the
appearance of a neat and tidy office, then whether I happen to be "running
the vacuum," "emptying the trash," or "filing papers," these terms (in the
PCT scheme of things) do not refer to my "behavior" as that term is used in
PCT land. Those terms refer instead to my outwardly visible, often
discrete, and generally recognizable "actions."

Would it then be a fair conclusion to say that, if you were to observe me
running the vacuum, emptying the trash, and filing papers, and if you were
to ask me what I was doing, and if I answered, "Maintaining the appearance
of a neat and tidy office," that my answer fits the PCT definition of behavior?
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Senior Consultant
The Distance Consulting Company
nickols@worldnet.att.net

[From Bill Powers (970923.0806 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (970921.1751 ET)--

To test my understanding, Bill, it seems to me you're saying that the
question of what someone is (or isn't) "doing" is answerable in terms of the
perception being controlled, not in terms of their activity. This is much
the same as if I were to ask someone, "What are you up to?"

Yes.

So, it further seems to me that, when conversing with PCTers, I must keep in
mind that, to them, "behavior" refers to the maintenance of a controlled
perception, not to any of the actions used to maintain it, no matter how
varied these actions might be. For example, if my aim is to maintain the
appearance of a neat and tidy office, then whether I happen to be "running
the vacuum," "emptying the trash," or "filing papers," these terms (in the
PCT scheme of things) do not refer to my "behavior" as that term is used in
PCT land. Those terms refer instead to my outwardly visible, often
discrete, and generally recognizable "actions."

Would it then be a fair conclusion to say that, if you were to observe me
running the vacuum, emptying the trash, and filing papers, and if you were
to ask me what I was doing, and if I answered, "Maintaining the appearance
of a neat and tidy office," that my answer fits the PCT definition of

behavior?

This is correct. There are two factors, however, that this discussion
omits: levels of control and disturbances.

When you ask what a person is "doing", the reply you will get describes the
main perception of which the person is aware, at the moment, of
controlling. Suppose the person replies, "I'm vacuuming the rug." It's true
that vacuuming the rug is being accomplished, and both you and the person
can perceive this. The vacuum cleaner is whirring, it is moving back and
forth in a pattern, and dirt is disappearing from the rug. The person's
hand and arm, attached to the vacuum cleaner, are extending and retracting.

What is it about this situation that you _don't_ observe? For one thing,
you don't observe that the vacuum cleaner, because of the nap of the rug,
keeps veering to the left. The forces the person is producing don't just
push and pull on the handle; they steer the vacuum cleaner so it travels in
straight lines despite its tendency to turn left. You don't see that it
takes more force to push the vacuum cleaner away than to pull it back. You
don't see that extra passes are made where the person sees a speck of dirt
that wasn't picked up. And of course you don't see that these motions
require any effort at all to produce. You don't see that the forces making
the vacuum cleaner move are overcoming variable forces opposing them, some
from variations in the pile of the rug and some from inertial effects at
the end of each stroke. You don't see that each time the person starts to
push the vacuum cleaner away, the first move is to unbalance the body a bit
so it tends to fall forward; this is necessary in order to push on the
handle without being toppled over backward by the reaction force.

The motions you see are consequences of many interacting forces, some
generated by the person's muscles, some generated by the physics of the
moving head of the vacuum cleaner interacting with the rug, and some being
interactions among the body's mass, the mass of the vacuum cleaner, and
gravity.

Now which of these effects are due to activities in the central nervous
system of the person vacuuming the rug? Only the production of forces by
the muscles. What you observe is the resultant of many forces, not just
effects of the forces produced by the person. The only reason the vacuuming
continues in its systematic pattern is that the person is varying the
muscle forces and directions in just the way needed to keep the pattern
going despite all the other forces being generated by the interacting
physical objects.

What you observe is the _outcome_ of all these processes, only one of which
is due to the person's motor activities. You are seeing the perceptual
outcome, and a perceptual outcome is what the person, too, is controlling.
Most of the actions involved are invisible to you and of no concern to the
person. The actual outputs of the person are highly variable as well as
being unobservable from the outside; what you call "vacuuming the rug" is
repeatable and regular, because it is a controlled _consequence_ of the
actions.

Then, more briefly, there is the matter of levels of control. If you ask
the person who just said he was vacuuming the rug whether he is also
keeping the office neat and tidy, the person would probably agree that this
is true, too. Vacuuming the rug, itself a process of controlling
perceptions, is also a means of accomplishing a higher goal, producing a
perception of a neat and tidy office. Here, of course, there can be
differences of reference levels. The man might go on vacuuming, dusting,
rearranging, filing, and so on long after you see a perfectly neat and tidy
office -- or quit well before you think it is neat and tidy. But as you
say, whichever detailed control process is going on at a given moment, the
person would still say "I'm tidying the office." The tidying of the office
continues even though the actual control processes vary radically; it will
continue until the perceived tidiness of the office matches the reference
level for tidiness. That reference level may be set high or low; the person
many, for other reasons of still a higher level, decide that all he wants
is a reasonable degree of tidiness, or anticipating a visit by the boss,
may raise the reference level to an extreme degree.

What all this comes down to is that no matter what level of behavior you
attend to, the process is still one of _varying_ actions to _control_
perceptions. And what you call behavior, at any level, is going to consist
of the perceptual regularities, not the randomly variable means.

Best,

Bill P.