Bowlby -- continued

[From Bruce Abbott (951026.1240 EST)]

Bill Powers (951025.1435 MDT) --

I was reflecting on why it is I find these materials so difficult to
read. The answer I seem to get is that I am not really very interested
in endless recitations of how people behave under various circumstances.
This is a terrible thing for me to admit, seeing how adamant I am about
experiments and demonstrations, but it probably accounts for some of our

It probably accounts for _most_ of our differences. As a psychologist, I am
interested in understanding psychological/behavioral _phenomena_. One can
address these phenomena at many levels, from simply describing what happens,
under what circumstances, to determining the variables having strong
influences, to elucidating the specific perceptions under control and the
organization of the control systems through which the observed actions and
outcomes occur. I want to know how we remember things, and why we sometimes
foget. I want to know what schizophenia is and what specifically goes wrong
to produce it. I want to know how skills are acquired and perfected. I
want to know what mechanisms are at work in attachment and loss. I want to
know what experiences lead to neurosis, and what part in its genesis is
played by innately-organized structures in the brain.

In some of the problems in which I have an interest, I see control theory as
providing the critical insights, the organizing structure, that explains
observations which are currently only poorly understood or even
misunderstood in the light of inappropriate theories. I want to know how
PCT can be applied to these problems and thus provide a coherent and
data-consistent explanation.

A person like Bowlby is interested in control theory mainly as a
launching-point for a broad survey of human behavior in all its richness
and complexity, as it relates to the subjects of interest such as
attachment and loss. A person like me, on the other hand, considers one
example of behavior as good as another as a way of ferreting out
theoretical principles, with no particular example being of much
interest in itself. When you've seen one example of attachment, you've
seem 'em all. This, of course, is very unsatisfactory to a person whose
principal interest is in the phenomenon rather than the theory it
illuminates. But to a person whose primary interest is in understanding
the underlying organization of a system, the only reason for discussing
surface phenomena would be if they suggest something new about the
theory under construction.

Have you considered the possibility that one example of behavior may not be
"as good as another as a way of ferreting out theoretical principles"? Some
may provide strong evidence for a structural organization that differs in
significant ways from any you have proposed. The strongest way to test a
theory is to look for evidence that is _in_consistent with the theory. Does
PCT describe the kinds of instinctively-organized systems operating within
the structure of the human brain? If, not, wouldn't it be important to know
about these systems, even if they function according to standard control
principles? If such systems exist, if they come into play to serve specific
functions in the life of the person, if they are found universally and if
they explain both what perceptions a person is likely to control at the
higher levels and why, would such information provide the needed guideposts
in the search for controlled perceptions and organized systems through which
this control is exerted?

It is easy to perceive that one's plans are organized into a hierarchy and
that everything one does is done to pursue some objective or to counter
disturbances to some current perception. The smallest adjustment of a
muscle is the product of a control process (excepting uncontrolled twitches
and tics); all activity must be carried out via this final level of control.
But why do we control some perceptions and not others? Why at one time of
life but not others? What are the basic "givens" in this complex hierarchy
of control systems and which are the products of circumstance? In these
"given" systems, what functions do they serve? What happens when they fail
to develop normally, fail to develop at all, or develop abnormalities? What
are the failure modes and what are their symptoms? What, if anything, can
we do to compensate for these system failures?

As a psychologist, these are the kinds of questions to which I seek answers.
For me, PCT is a means to an end, a torch that can illuminate the answers to
many of these questions. Bowlby's volumes are a beautiful example of this
approach, aimed toward understanding the origins of certain phenomena
involving a child's relationship to its mother, and to the loss of that

Most reserach begins in this way, with a specific phenomenon of nature and
the desire on the part of the investigator to understand it. When Ben
Franklin flew that kite, he wanted to explain lightning, not electricity.



<[Bill Leach 951026.20:03 U.S. Eastern Time Zone]

[Bruce Abbott (951026.1240 EST)]

... When Ben Franklin flew that kite, he wanted to explain lightning,
not electricity.

Not to "pop your bubble" in your example but that is precisely what ol'
Ben did do. Ben was already considered to be one of the worlds' foremost
researchers of the "electric" phenomenon. What he was trying to
determine was whether lighting _was_ electricity or not. I believe that
he was QUIT satisfied that it was!