Boy's success; handwriting; influence vs determination

[From Bill Powers (960204.1310 MST)]

David Goldstein 02/04/96

David, I think you've made your point about the judicious use of drugs.
The Prozac obviously took the edge off the situation enough that your
patients, even the ones in the situation who didn't get any Prozac, were
able to start getting somewhere. You must be feeling extremely good
about this tough case, a real test of your skills as a psychotherapist.

One suggestion, based on Mary's experiences with Prednizone (for
asthma). Mary and I worked out that previous bouts with Prednizone
didn't have a good result because the drug was stopped too suddenly. As
I imagined it, the Prednizone was a large disturbance for many (unknown)
physiological systems. When it was suddenly removed, the result was that
all the body's defenses against it were suddenly the only forces left.
They caused an immediate crash on two occasions. So on a previous
occasion we modified the doctor's recommendation and distributed the
remaining doses over an exponentially declining curve (roughly) which
took a week longer than the nominal course of treatment. That time there
was no crash. This time around, the decline in dosage was spread out
even longer, ending up with 5-mg doses which the doctor said were only
half the amount (10 mg) that he would dismiss as "nothing at all." No
crash so far, and the last dose was several days ago.

When the time comes for your patient to get off Prozac, I suggest a
similar course of action: a _very_ gradual withdrawal such that the drop
in dosage is as small as practicable. I have no experience saying that
this will work, but on the general principle that any effective drug is
a large disturbance to the biochemical systems, I think one should avoid
rapid removal of the disturbance simply to prevent putting in a large
_negative_ disturbance. The whole system will have to reorganize to
operate without the drug, so the steps of reorganization should be made
as small as possible.

I am very glad for your small patient and his parents, as I expect you


Bruce Abbott (960204.1435 EST)]
Rick Marken (960204.1000) --

In some ways, introduction of this silly term "spontefaction" may have
had an effect similar to that of Prozac. Suddenly we aren't arguing
about what control "really is." Imagine how your discussion would be
going if the word "control" had been used in each place where you are
now saying "spontefaction."

I suggest a gradual withdrawal, without any sudden large changes.
RE: handwriting

It's interesting that handwriting remains typical on any scale. I've
heard it said that even if you write script with your foot (or a
paintbrush held in your teeth), a signature still looks pretty much the
same. This would seem to be an excellent demonstration that what is --
uh -- spontefacted is a perception, not an action. Shape perception is
largely scale-independent, but the motor actions involve in handwriting
aren't. Ordinary handwriting uses the fingers as much as the arm;
blackboard writing involves the whole arm and hardly uses finger
movements all. And of course writing with your feet involves a
completely different set of motor systems. What is common to all these
ways of writing your name is the visual appearance of the result, and it
is that which is spontefacted.
RE: influence versus determination

Another passing thought. I think that behind the use of "control" in EAB
and other informal applications, there is really a concept of
spontefaction, which you could verify by asking certain questions.

For example, if an experimenter is shaping an animal's behavior, you
could ask whether it's necessary for the experimenter to _see_ the
behavior in order to control it. I'm sure the answer would be yes. But
if the shaping procedure is just the application of environmental
influences to an organism, what does the experimenter's vision have to
do with it?

In general, I think most people realize that perception has something to
do with what they call control; they just don't know what. It's easy to
think of turning the brightness control as a simple action that
determines the brightess of the picture. But could you do that if you
couldn't see the picture? Turning the knob on a gas stove controls the
boiling of the oatmeal -- but why do you have to be looking at the
oatmeal (or hearing it) to control its boiling? The answer is not self-

I've mentioned the mathematical psychologist which whom I had an
argument about driving. He insisted that perception had nothing to do
with it: he simply turned the steering wheel to make the car stay on the
road. I asked if he could keep the car on a winding mountain road
blindfolded, and he said "Of course, why not?" He was obviously totally
unconscious of perceiving! I can only guess that to him, the world
simply exists, so the fact that he is seeing it never enters his mind.
It's just there.

How much of our difficulty in explaining spontefaction comes from a
general failure of people to realize that perception is an essential
part of their own ability to control things -- even when they think
they're operating open loop? They may be perfectly aware that there's a
world out there, with their actions controlling things in it, but be
completely unaware that they are perceiving it!

One kind of question that would be interesting would concern the
"influence" meaning of EAB control. Would anyone be happy with saying
that giving a reward to an animal controls its behavior if it were known
that the same behavior was being significantly influenced by some other
factor in the environment, at the same time? Somehow I don't think so.
People who want to control an animal's behavior want to be able to make
it happen or not happen as they choose. What they really want, I think,
is to be able to _determine_ the animal's behavior, not merely influence
it. They want to be able to announce, "I am going to make this animal
walk in figure-eight patterns," and then astound the audience by
proceeding to do so. It isn't really control if something else can
influence the behavior, too -- if the animal you are going to train to
sit up and beg strolls into the room and sits up and begs before you can
do or say anything. If you then said "Spot, beg!" and Spot sat up and
begged again, would you have the nerve to claim that you were
controlling Spot's behavior, in any sense of the word "control?" It's
just as important for the behavior NOT to appear when you're NOT trying
to control it as for it to appear when you ARE trying to control it. And
that means determination, not just influence.
Best to all

Bill P.