[From Rick Marken (2014.11.30.1640)]
RM: I’ve changed the subject head because I think I may have found what seems like a very satisfying compromise position on the “control of behavior” debate.
On Sun, Nov 30, 2014 at 8:08 AM, “Boris Hartman” firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
RM: But there is a lesson here. And that is that, because we are control systems, we can’t help trying to be in control and among the most important things that we try to control is the behavior of other people.
HB : I can agree. Emphases is on »try« to control«, but you can’t control behavior of other people.
RM: You can, but certainly not as reliably as you can control the behavior of non-living systems. Maybe that’s where the sticking point is in this discussion. It’s not that you can’t control the behavior of a living control system; it’s just that you can’t control that behavior as reliably as you can control the behavior of a non-living system, such as the temperature of the water in your morning shower.
Control of a variable, X, requires that the controller’s output have a reliable effect on X. This is the feedback connection in a control loop. When the feedback connection from output to controlled variable, X, is causal, then control of X can be certain. This is the case when we control the behavior of a non-living system. For example, such a connection exists between your handle turns (outputs) and the temperature of the shower water (X). Unless there is a problem with the plumbing, turning the handles one way will reliably increase and turning them the other way will reliably decrease the temperature of the water. This reliable, causal connection between your outputs and the state of the controlled variable means that you can control the water temperature with certainty as long as you know in which direction to turn each handle to increase and decrease the water temperature.
RM: When the feedback connection from output to controlled variable is not causal then control will be uncertain. This is the case when we control the behavior of a living control system. The feedback connection between the controller’s output and the behavior that is controlled, X, is not a causal connection! Rather, it depends on the controllee controlling a particular variable. For example, in the rubber band demo, E’s (the controller’s) connection to the controlled variable, X (the position of S’s finger) depends on S controlling a variable (distance between knot and coin) to which E’s output is a disturbance. This makes the connection between E’s output (pulls on E’s end of the rubber bands) and X (S’s finger movements) non-causal because S can, for whatever reason, stop controlling the variable to which E’s outputs are a disturbance. When this happens E losses control of S’s finger movement. This was not the case with the shower water, since the handles can’t autonomously decide all on their own to stop increasing or decreasing the flow of water when you turn them appropriately (although they can break, so even control of the behavior of a non-living system isn’t completely certain).
RM: So if you are arguing that it is not possible to control the behavior of a living control system with certainly, then I agree. Control of the behavior of a living control system is uncertain, unlike the way it is (almost always) certain when you are controlling the behavior of a non-living system. And this is because the feedback connection from the controller’s output to the controlled variable (behavior) is causal in non-living control systems but not in living control systems. How about that as a compromise? We can control the behavior of living organisms. But because we are not causally connected to the behavior of these systems we can’t control their behavior with certainty, in the way that we can control the behavior of non-living systems, where our outputs can be causally connected to the variables we want to control.
RM : I think we are unaware of how often we are involved in controlling other people’s behavior because the behavior of the people we want to control is usually what we would like it to be.
HB: I really don’t understand how can we be involved often in »controlling other people’s behavior« if most constantly people »control their perception« which can be disturbed in different ways. Remember you corrected *barb :
RM: People are always controlling and among the the perceptions they control (or try to contro) is the behavior of other people. I agree that our efforts to control others are often unsuccessful – indeed, as I mention above, control of the behavior of a living control system is not deterministic in the way that control of the behavior of a non-living system can be. It’s still control when it works. But I can see your problem with the word “control” in this context; control of the behavior of a living organism is not the same as control of the behavior of a non-living system.
RM: But I do occasionally have students who are engaged in disruptive behavior – such as fairly loud conversations while I am lecturing – and then my controlling is revealed in the fact that I take action (usually by just stopping my lecture and looking at the offending students) aimed at stopping the behavior – controlling that is virtually always successful.
HB : You didn’t control their behavior.
RM: I gave the example to demonstrate my own controlling, not necessarily my control over others (though I did control them in this case) . I am always controlling for having an orderly class. Since my class is usually orderly – my perception of the orderliness of the class is typically close to my reference for what it should be – I rarely have to do anything to try to get the perception of orderliness back to my reference specification for it. So it can seem (to onlookers and to myself) that I am not controlling for an orderly class since I am generally not doing anything to maintain order. (It’s like what would happen if the cursor in a tracking task just stayed at the target; I would be making no movements of the mouse to keep it at the target so it might seem to an onlooker that I’m not controlling for keeping the cursor on target). But my controlling – the fact that I am controlling for a perception of an orderly class – is revealed when there is a disturbance – the disorderly students – to that perception. If I weren’t controlling for an orderly class, the students talking and making noise would not be a disturbance and I would do nothing.
RM: When I do do something and the students quiet down I have indeed controlled their behavior since my goal was to get their behavior back to “orderly”. But, as I said above, this controlling is not deterministic; the students could have said “screw you” and kept on talking. But they didn’t this time (and, actually, I’ve never had that happen) but it’s always a possibility. So in this sense my control of the students behavior is considerably less deterministic than my control of the behavior of my felt tip pen as it writes my brilliant thoughts on the white board.
You disturbed their »control of perception«. Students control perceptions which you can’t even think off, during your lectures. You don’t know what they are controlling. Maybe one is thinking how to eliminate you, or do something to your car. Even if you think that you »controlled their behavior«, you don’t really know what »perceptions they are really controling« during your hours. But you have »perceptual illusion« that you »controlled« their behavior, which you are mixing with the way they stopped »disturbing« some of your important perceptions. Students control on many levels, and it’s hard to say which perception did you disturb with »just stopping my lecture and looking at the offending students«. But I hope that you don’t think that you were the »cause« of stopping them »control some perception« that disturbed yours. There is whole array of levels and references and I really wonder why they really stopped. Maybe affraid of punishment, or that Institution will inform parents after you »complaint« or maybe that you will give them bad marks. Who knows which important perceptions did you disturbed. But one thing is sure. You didn’t for a moment »controlled their behavior«. Because even they can’t do that. It’s just your perceptual illusion. Everything is in »control of perception«.
Richard S. Marken, Ph.D.
Author of Doing Research on Purpose.
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In nature there’s no blemish but the mind
None can be called deformed but the unkind.
Shakespeare, Twelfth Night