[From Rick Marken (950701.1200)]
Bill Powers (950630.?) --
I think that Bruce is talking about a somewhat more complex theory
than that simple version.
Yes. It's the version that can explain everything. That's why I have decided
to take over the role of reinforcement theorist and explain what their theory
If we can demonstrate by using disturbances that the SAME
consequence is associated with the entire possible range of behaviors,
then this consequence would have to be equally reinforcing of all the
behaviors that bring it about, and therefore incapable of reinforcing the
particular behavior needed to counteract a particular disturbance.
I am working on such a demo now; I should have it ready soon. My prediction,
however, is that reinforcement theorists will have no problem accounting for
the results, even if they can't account for them. Reinforcement theorists,
like OJ's defense team, can't lose.
The causal relationship between o and d is (approximately) the inverse
of the feedback function, h, relating o to q; it does not reflect a direct
connection between o and d and it does not reveal anything about the
nature of the organism that is controlling a perception of q (see Powers,
Martin Taylor (950630 17:30) --
That is very close to asserting that you could not, by observation
of behaviour, distinguish a sheep from a shepherd, since all you could
see would be the differences between their two environments.
You missed my point completely, Martin. You seem to think I was saying that one
cannot learn anything about the internal organization of a control system by
observing its behavior. In fact, you can learn plenty about the internal
organization of a control system by observing its behavior -- but you have to
know what behavior to observe.
Conventional psychological research is based on the idea that you can learn
about the internal organization of a living organisms by observing the nature
of the relationship between o (responses; dependent variable) and d (stimuli;
independent variable). If, however, organisms are perceptual control systems,
then the relationship between o and d reveals only the external organization of
the relationship between the organism and its environmentl; it reveals nothing
about the internal organization of the organism.
I think it is this fact about the nature of living control systems that causes
the most problems for conventional psychologists. Psychological research is
based on a causal model of organisms; it assumes that o = f(d). PCT shows that
the causal relationship between o and d reveals nothing at all about f. The
implication is clear, even if unspoken: all research results based on the
assumption that o = f(d) tell us nothing about the nature of organisms. Since
all psychological research is based on this assumption, it is not surprising
that PCT has made no inroads in conventional psychology.
Once you realize that organisms are perceptual control systems you simply stop
trying to understand their internal organization using conventional research
methods. But you certainly don't stop trying to understand their internal
organization; you just start doing it using different methods. The most
important method is, of course, The Test; the goal of The Test is to reveal the
nature of the environmental quantities that an organism controls. Once you
discover a controlled quantity, you are severly constrained in the nature of
the internal organization that can perceive and control that quantity.
The problem is in the juxtaposition of "(approximately)" and "does not
reveal anything." If the approximation is inexact, then the revelation is
not totally denied. And no living control system controls perfectly.
True but irrelevant. The relationship between o and d reveals nothing about
the internal organization of a control system even when that system controls
imperferctly. Imperfect control just means that the relationship between
o and d gives an imperfect picture of h, the feedback function; it doesn't
mean that it gives a better picture of f, the internal organization of the
I think that, ultimately, rejection of PCT (or failure to see it as anything
other than an "alternative theory of behavior") by conventional psychologists
is based on failure to grasp (or accept) the fact that, for a control system,
o = -1/h(d), NOT o = f(d).
It looks like o = f(d); just take a swing at a person's face, give them $100
every time the turn on a light, say they are stupid, etc. Each of these stimuli
(d) will be associated with an observable response (o). It is reasonable to
assume (as psychologists have assumed since the time of Fechner) that the
relationship between o and d reveals something about the organism. PCT shows
that this is not the case; the relationship between o and d only tells us about
the environmental link between the organism and the environmetal quantities it
controls. This is called the Behavioral Illusion; it is probably the most
important (and disturbing, to conventional psycholoigists) of the revelation
In his talk in San Francisco, Gary Cziko presented an excellent demonstration
(using a variant of the rubber band demo) of the "behavioral illusion"; the
fact that the relationship between o and d reveals nothing about the organism
but plenty about the environment in which it does its controlling. Gary's
innocent little demo is the litmas test for "getting" PCT; a conventional
psychologist who see Gary's demo and still thinks that it is possible to
learn about the nature of living organisms by studying functional
relationships between independent (d) and dependent (o) variables does not
"get it". They (understandably) prefer to labor in the grip of the Behavioral
Illusion rather than desert their peers and start over on the road to
understanding living control systems.