Bill on Brooks

[From Dick Robertson]
(Bill Powers 920630.0800)

I read your blast on Brooks with some mischievous pleasure and amusement,

Brooks knows nothing about my work, or at least dismisses it (he never
cites it).

It's frustrating, isn't it, to see the confirmation of HPCT in action and not
be able to use it to make things more the way you'd like them to be. What I
mean is that we know, in principle, from the theory that behavior realizes the
reference signals of the highest level in one's hierarchy. So, it's really no
surprise that Brooks

did not object to anything I said or to anything in these programs -- at least
not to my knowledge, as he has never replied. Unless he simply dropped
everything in the wastebasket without looking at it, he evidently found
nothing of any interest in the letter or the programs.

How could he have found anything of interest? If he had, he would have had an
enormous error signal somewhere in his self-system--something along the lines
of: "I am a leader in my field, a scientific pioneer, a great man, an explorer
opening paths that others have yet to travel...(NOT??)"

It's not hard to make these speculations about his self-system, even though I
have had no opportunity to put him to The Test. The attributes that
characterize a person indicate the self-image and principle level perceptions
that he/she most strongly controls. So, reasoning backwards from Brooks's
actions we infer that the perceptions being controlled by them requires that
any input that would cause error signals in his image of himself would
immediately be corrected. And we know all this already, but it's still hard to
swallow, isn't it?

It's not really surprising that most people control for higher order
variables involving achieving and maintaining status, income,
recognition, comfort, etc. Far more interesting, I think, is the case where
someone doesn't. Like you, for instance. Oh, I think you do too, to a
reasonable extent, except that you have been controlling for something else
even more and that puts constraints on the length to which you can
go in controlling for the conventional stuff.

I'm pretty sure I have never heard you identify just what that something else
is. I think it's an important question. I think it bears indirectly on the
discussion that you and Martin (among others) have been having about the
workings of the top level and its connection with reorganization. Yes, I know
your biography fairly well, and I have heard your history of how you got
started and the early days. But, while that higher priority perception might
be implicit in that story it's not explicit, and I think it's worth
investigating. I might well be projecting from myself, but I would guess that
you made key choices at certain developmental choice points, which were both
free choices and which you couldn't have made any other way without violating
the self-system you already had. (And that self system was never triggered to

That looks like a paradox to me. Were the choices free or were they
constrained by a prior requirement?

I say I might be projecting from myself because way back at the beginning of my
career I heard W T Powers and his two cronies present a view of how behavior
works (in hardly more than one hour) that exploded across my horizon so
strongly that I felt no hesitation about working for nothing a day a week for
the next couple years. In those couple of years a pair of my peers (and still
close friends) layed down the foundations of their present international fame
as researcgers and got positions at much more prestigious schools than little
old northeastern. I'm not saying they didn't deserve it; they have done good
"normal science," as Kuhn calls it.

I still have no idea as to what it was in me that turned in the opposite
direction. In one way it was a conscious choice, but I have a sense that I
couldn't really have done otherwise. Why is that? There is a scent of
determinism in there that I distinctly don't like. For one thing it doesn't
jibe with my favorite speculation that free will exists at the highest level,
because, maybe, the self-system is in chronic reorganization throughout one's
life. I seem to get support from that speculation from time to time when I
observe in both myself and others moments of "not being oneself today." I
detect some random strayings from the familiar self image. That reminds me of
the spontaneous reversals of control that you and Rick, I think it was,
observed while people were learning certain tracking tasks.

I've also collected what seem like observations on the other side of the
paradox. While I was in Belgium I finally got to read a copy of Francois
Jacob's* The Statue Within. (*The Nobel geneticist.) I first read a
review of it in Science ten or more years ago and tried to get it, but its
US publisher reneged. Anyway, what he meant by the "statue within" was his
impression of his life as the unfolding of a set of implications that he felt
he perceived in his earliest memories. (A not too radical idea for a
geneticist I guess.)

What this boils down to is that I'm impatiently waiting for you modeling
guys--you, Rick, Martin Taylor and all--to get around to modeling the highest
levels, so we can see how they have to work in an autonomous organism.

Best-, Dick Robertson