Behind the power curve

[From Bill Powers (940517.2120 MDT)]

Rick Marken (940516.1900) and Tom Bourbon (940517.0815), etc. --

There was an article in the Durango Herald today about a 13-year-old
boy in a class for students who have been expelled from school. The
article said "He says he would fight anyone who challenged him
because 'that's how life is'". I wanted to know what he meant by
that, but of course the article didn't say. The reporter wasn't a
therapist, and knew nothing of PCT.

When I read those words, I realized that to this boy they made
sense. Behind all the details of his behavior -- which included
bringing to school the gun that got him expelled-- there is a system
of thought, a set of principles that fit that system, and a logical
structure that supports the principles. All this in a boy 13 years

Right now, of course, that structure is still incomplete in that
boy; it must contain all sorts of contradictions and would collapse
if explored in any detail. But, we can imagine, he isn't finished
with school yet. He will first go to college, in a few years, in
some sort of youthful offender program. This will firm up the basis
of his structure and eliminate some of the contradictions. Then, a
while later, he will attend graduate school, where he will be
taught, behind bars, by advanced practitioners of the art:
professors of crime. He will learn the logic, the principles, and
the system concepts of crime so well that he will become an expert.
He will no longer be part of the society that we know, but will live
in a different world.

But let's suppose that something happened to turn this boy around.
Let's suppose that he encountered a charismatic teacher who managed
to get him interested in physics and mathematics, and that he found
he had a talent for such things. Let's suppose that his former
structure collapsed and was replace by a new one, and he became an
avid student. Now the defective logic with which he started would be
replaced by proven methods of reasoning, by techniques and
procedures of the intellect. The principles he would learn would be
all those that science has developed, and instead of thinking of
himself as a lone eagle, an outcast, a Robin Hood, he would begin to
get a picture of himself as a real scientist, a pursuer of truth, a
member of a great community of scholars and thinkers. He would learn
the logic, the principles, and the system concepts of mathematical
physics so well that he would become an expert. He would rise above
the society that we know, and would live in a different world.

So we have two imaginary versions of this boy, living in alternate
futures. Which one, I wondered as I mused about the article, would
be most likely to grasp PCT and join in the quest for understanding
of human nature that goes with PCT? And I answered myself, _neither

The reason is that this boy is behind the power curve, an expression
that I probably need to explain.

Some decades ago there were some spectacular and widely-publicized
airplane accidents involving powerful delta-wing aircraft. The
engines in these aircraft were almost powerful enough to drive the
plane straight up from the standing start -- but not quite powerful
enough. Furthermore, because of the design, these planes had to land
in a sharply nose-up attitude, with a considerable amount of lift
being provided by the thrust of the jet engines, in order to keep
the landing speed low enough to be handled.

The problem was that if the nose-up attitude became too extreme, the
airplane would begin to slow, requiring more power from the engines
to keep it in the air, and beyond a certain point it was not
possible to recover from the configuration while landing. Putting
the nose down to gain airspeed would let the plane drop hard into
the ground; raising the nose to maintain altitude would require
greater and greater power from the engines, and eventually more than
they could produce. Once this regime had been entered, the aircraft
was said to be "behind the power curve" -- adding more power would
just make the situation worse and the crash would occur sooner. And
not adding power would result in a crash anyway. Some of you might
remember the pictures on television, as the aircraft trying to land
nosed farther and farther up, just above the runway, with the
engines on afterburner, and finally crashed tail-first into a ball
of flames that killed the pilot. About then, the expression "behind
the power curve" became popular for a little while, although I doubt
that many who used it understood what it meant. (Somebody will
probably point out that this term also applies in automotive
engineering. No quibbles, please).

The boy growing up under my two imaginary scenarios is working, I am
saying, behind the power curve. In either case, he is simply coping
with his environment by learning a system of logic and principles
that inevitably settles into a groove from which, after enough time,
it is impossible to escape. All the mental resources that are
available become more and more tied up in supporting the system of
thought that has been learned, in coping with its internal problems
and in warding off disruptions.

What is missing here? For all I know, it's not missing in this boy
and he will not live out either of my imaginary futures. But what
would be missing that would prevent slowly becoming frozen into a
way of thought -- either a "good" way or a "bad" way? What is it
that enables some people to look at their own convictions with
skepticism, to stand back from them and to avoid becoming literally
lost in thought until it's too late to recover?

If I really knew I would probably disappear in a cloud of ectoplasm,
but I don't really know. I can only guess. I think it may be some
glimmer of a higher level of organization, perhaps what we call
awareness. I think that everyone has it, but that in the attempt to
learn how to control what matters in a complex and uncooperative
world, many people gradually fall behind the power curve, with less
and less awareness left free to ask what is going on, and more and
more of it committed to the demands of learning ever more complex
modes of control. Beyond a certain point, there isn't enough
influence from this higher level or awareness or whatever-it-is
thing to permit any more major changes in the organization that has
come into being. There's no way to recover from the attitude any
more, without crashing. The only choice is to crash, or to keep the
throttle at full bore as long as possible.

When I think of that poor doomed son of a bitch trying to keep that
airplane in the air, I get a vivid picture of what life does to us
all. We become committed to whatever seems to work for us, and end
up being trapped inside of it because we have come to depend on it
totally for our survival and well-being. The harder we try to get
ahead of the process, the farther behind the curve we get.

Is there a way out? I think there is, and that one way is to become
aware of the phenomenon, the earlier the better. I think that at a
certain age, which I can remember and have seen many others (in
retrospect) going through, there develops a strong resistance to
being educated any further. There is a sense that a committment is
about to be made, and that if you go any further down the same path,
a certain kind of freedom of the mind is going to be lost. There is
an awareness that if you do accept the premises that are now
presented to you, your own logic will suck you in the rest of the
way and there will be no turning back. It feels the way I imagine it
would feel to sign a consent form for a lobotomy: the last act of
free will you will ever make.

The way out, I think, is to avoid making that committment, forever.
No matter what it is: to crime, to a science, to a profession, to a
religion, to a political movement, to a theory, to anything. I'm
talking about the phenomenon of belief. To believe is to seal off
the system from any further major modification, from the development
of any higher levels of control. To believe is to eliminate all
inner conflict, and therefore all need to develop any higher levels
of perception. Belief offers relief from inner turmoil; it provides
peace of mind, a sense of inner unity, and blessed calm. That is why
people want to believe, and why they do it by the hundreds of

The problem, of course, is that people commit themselves to very
different and very incompatible beliefs, in each case the whole
point being to eliminate any trace of thought that they could be
wrong. Belief is behind the nazis and neo-nazis, the KKK and the
John Birch Society. It is behind the new-age crystal gazers, the
flat-earthers, the Lemurians and Atlantaeans, the Hesballah, the
Mafia, the survivalists, and the man up in the mountain town of
Nederland, Colorado, who (before being deported back to Norway as an
illegal alien) had been keeping his father and his father's friend
in a crate in a shed behind his house, packed in dry ice against the
day when they can be cloned back into life.

To a person who has managed to avoid committment to any particular
belief, there is one simple perception that applies to all beliefs
that exist, whether we think of them as nice or nasty. _They can't
all be right._ By definition, each person who has made a committment
to a belief no longer even considers that it might be wrong. So it
is obvious that if a belief, such as the belief that the United
States is being systematically and purposively undermined by Jews in
the banking and entertainment industries, is incorrect, those who
believe it will never know that it is incorrect. If our 13-year-old
boy believes that the right thing to do when challenged is to fight,
then he will never consider that this belief could be wrong, and he
will conduct his life accordingly. If our boy becomes a mathematical
physicist who believes that mathematical physics contains the
answers to all problems, then he will never consider that this
belief might be wrong, and he, too, will conduct his life

But the person who has not found relief from inner conflict by
settling on a belief will see clearly that all these other people
are mistaken -- or if any of them are right, they will never be able
to settle among themselves who is right. It is, after all, possible
to believe something that is true: there are many more Round-
Earthers than Flat-Earthers. But from within any framework of
belief, it is impossible to verify a belief. To test a belief means
to conceive of a circumstance in which it could possibly be proven
wrong. And even to conceive that, seriously enough to perform a
test, is to see the belief from a higher level and to be free of it.

If people lived in small groups isolated from all other small
groups, belief could be a satisfactory end-point of human
development. Elimination of inner conflict, inner doubt, frees the
energies for productive use and leads to great inner peace. The
"truth" of a belief, if the belief is at all well constructed, is
irrelevant. The question of truth becomes relevant only when one
belief system leads to behavior that conflicts with another belief
system. Then believing is no longer a satisfactory end-point.

We no longer live in small isolated groups; we ceased to do so at
the dawn of history. For something like 10,000 years, and with
increasing urgency, there has been a need to develop a new level of
perception and control from which conflicts between belief systems
-- which I associate with system concepts -- can be resolved. I
suspect that this new level is in the process of appearing,
unrecognized but becoming increasingly effective. How else would we
be able to make sense of the very concept of a system concept? Even
to name it is to make of it an object to be observed, not a place
from which to observe everything else.

If system concepts were the highest level of perception, we would
not know about them or even suspect that they existed. We would
simply adopt them as beliefs, and see the world as organized
according to the belief. The Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Muslim
would not even say "I believe in God." They would simply refer to
God, as they refer to a river or a mountain. They would not say "I
believe God is punishing me." They would simply say, humbly
reporting the truth, "God is punishing me."

This essay has about exhausted its theme. It lacks a conclusion, but
perhaps this sort of thing is best left unconcluded.



Bill P.