Continuing the conversation:
RM: what we call “behavior” IS controlled perception seen from the point of view of the observer.
BN: Yes. We’ve noticed many times that there are two senses of ‘behavior’, behavior from the control system’s point of view and behavioral actions or outputs as seen from an observer’s point of view. “Behavior (from the organism’s point of view) is the control of perception” is consistent with “behavior (from the observer’s point of view) is the means by which we affect and, hopefully, control our perceptions.”
RM: There is only one sense of “behavior” in PCT because behavior is the phenomenon explained by PCT. PCT starts with the observation that behavior IS control. What this means is that most of the things we see organisms doing that we give names to, such as “walking”, “talking”, “begging”, “flying”, “nesting”, “courting”, “reading”, “pursuing”, “evading”, “analyzing data”, sewing, “biking”, etc, etc – are consistent results that are produced in the face of disturbances.
RM: “By paying careful, even compulsive, attention to detail…”(Powers, LCS I, p173) Powers was able to see that these behaviors are the reference states of controlled variables. And that “in these reference states…we have the heart of the problem to which control theory is addressed.” (Powers, LCS I, p. 175). These reference states are the data which PCT is designed to explain!!
RM: As Bill says “The existence of these reference states is not conjectural; once behavior has been defined in terms of an appropriate variable [or variables–RM], such reference states always exist. They can be discovered experimentally and defined in terms of observable relationships. Whether or not they should exist according to anyone’s theory, they do exist… To dismiss the existence of reference states as an illusion is simply to discard data” (Powers, LCS I, p175).
RM: So the “behavior” that PCT explains – the “behavior” in the title of Bill’s book Behavior: The control of perception – are the objectively observable reference state of controlled variables. The theory that explains the existence these reference states posits that controlled variables correspond to perceptual signals that are kept matching constant or varying reference signals by the actions of the behaving system.
RM: Because the word “behavior” is not a technical term it is often used to describe the means by which a controlled variable is brought to and maintained in a reference state. Bill uses it that way right in the middle of the very same chapter of LCS I where he is explaining that what we call “behaviors” are the reference states of controlled variables: “What kind of a system can behave in such a way that a variable will, under a variety of unpredictable conditions, always approach the same state?” (LCS I, p. 175, emphasis mine).
RM: I think there is really no way to avoid this usage of “behave” (as a synonym for the more appropriate “action”) and I don’t think it’s necessary to try to avoid it. Once you understand that the lay meaning of “behavior” corresponds to observed reference states of controlled variables you’ve got your PCT glasses on correctly. And the fact is that virtually all of the observable “actions” that keep a controlled variable in a (constant or varying) reference state are themselves “behaviors” inasmuch as they are controlled variables being kept in reference states by still lower level actions. Indeed, the only “actions” that are not controlled variables are probably the firing rates of neurons – such as motor neurons – that are at the lowest level of the nervous system. And only neurophysiologists using special equipment can see the action of those neurons when looking at some overt “behavior”, such as turning the head towards a food reward.
RM: What Bill is describing (and recommending) in the quotes from the “Cybernetic Model for Research” chapter of LCS I (which I highly recommend!) is what I call the “Phenomena Phirst” approach to understanding the PCT model. I think it’s the only approach to understanding PCT that will produce any progress in our understanding of human nature (and the nature of living control systems in general).