CEVs and perceptions; upalevel

[From Bill Powers (940902.0845 MDT)]

A really interesting bunch of posts today.

Martin Taylor (940901, various) --

Some roadblock seems to have been removed; your exposition on CEVs and
perception is not only coming into agreement with mine, but makes my own
understanding of these sticky matters clearer.

What I see both of us doing now is trying to get the basic implications
of the PCT model laid out in an orderly way, so _that_ part of the
problem doesn't contain any more loose ends. This still leaves us with
some interesting problems, but by making the part we understand as clear
and simple as possible, we also define the remaining problems more

What remains is hinted at by Avery Andrews (940202.1216):

     Maybe some people are wondering if all this is worth fussing about
     - I think it is, partly because Realism is `in' in philosophy these
     days, and if Realist concerns can be catered to without impairing
     the actual content or PCT, they should be, so as not to distract
     people with irrelevant objections.

We agree that while CEVs are arbitrarily defined and that perceptions
have no knowable relationship to what is really out there (as far as we
have carried the argument, anyway), we also agree that there IS
something out there and that its properties determine the behavior of
any arbitrarily-defined perception. This is implied by the model, too. I
am, by the way, delighted that you see this point, because it is the
critical point that differentiates this approach from solipsism. The
organism, through its reorganizing capabilities, determines what
functions of external variables shall become perceptions. But once those
functions are chosen, the behavior of the external world determines how
the perceptions will behave both individually and in relation to each
other. This is why we must learn what acts to produce in order to
control even an aribtrarily-defined perception; we must act through the
external world to alter that perception and our actions must be
consistent with the properties of that external world.

And Avery comes up with the next problem we have to work out, the
hardest one of all (940902.1451):

     >PCT assumes the existence of brains and nervous systems, so it
     seems to me to be inconsistent to doubt the existence of everything
     else, or in fact anything else for which there is good evidence.

Of course we aren't doubting the _existence_ of everything else, only
that our perceptual representation of it is veridical. But the picture
of the relationship of perception to the external world that we come up
with depends on perceptions: perceptions that we call "the nervous
system" and "the brain" and "physics" and all the parts thereof. We must
obviously treat those perceptions just as we treat any others: as
arbitrary. So this brings up the Great Question.

The Great Question is, "Is it possible that through some process of
reorganization and evolution the perceptual representations we develop
are _forced_ into certain forms by properties of the external world?" I
think we have both suggested, tentatively, that this might indeed be the
case. But the problem is how to prove it, or to find out to what extent
it is true, or for that matter how to disprove it.

What we have so far is, I think, a very clear statement that under our
assumed model, perceptions are not NECESSARILY representational of the
real world. But this does not rule out those perceptions that happen to
correspond exactly to some external variable. It says only that we can
show definitely that under PCT we can't know whether they do or not,
because we are examples of the same kind of organization.

We have some clear cases in which it seems they do not, but this still
leaves open the possibility that some of our perceptions are as they are
because nothing else will work in the real world, and that in that set,
some perceptions might actually covary with objective variables. Right
now I don't see what tests we could possibly apply that would tell us
which are which. No matter how we approach this problem, we end up
comparing one perception with another.

Perhaps the only strategy available to us is that of modeling and
simulation. I have proposed, for example, that once negative feedback
comes into existence in the "primordial goo" (Q, in the last episode of
Star Trek, The New Generation), whatever self-reproducing molecules may
exist at that time with that property will quickly turn into the
dominant population. What we need is first a real demonstration of this
in simulation, and then for some mathematician to prove that this is in
fact the inevitable result.

We also need simulations showing how an individual organism,
reorganizing because of effects of the external world upon it, converges
to controlling a stable set of perceptions. We need to see what degree
of pre-organization must be inherited to make this process feasible, so
it can occur at all, and so it can occur at the fantastic rate we see in
young human beings.

We must do this in simulation so we can play the God Game: so we know
what the actual environmental variables are, and all the actual rules
that govern their behavior and interactions. Given such an environment,
the Great Question boils down to this: will the simulated organism learn
to survive in this environment by learning to perceive SOME kinds of
variables that suffice to keep it alive over its finite lifespan, or
RELATED AS THEY ARE ACTUALLY RELATED? This obviously has to be played as
the God Game, because we can't actually know what the environment really
is, or so it seems now, and there seems to be no line of argument by
which we can bootstrap ourselves to that level of knowingness.

What the simulation will do is show us whether an environment made in
one way can be perceived in some very different way, but without
destroying the capability of the organism to control its perceptions and
ultimately to control the real effects that the environment has on it.
If it turns out that even in a limited environment non-veridical
representations eventually fail to work and get reorganized away, we
will have one step toward a proof of principle. Of course it may still
be true that in a limitless environment there are many choices of
representational systems that will work equally well, leaving the
question unanswered. But again, mathematicians may be able to take the
final step, showing that at least some perceptions are bound to be true
representations -- or else that the constraints that exist are
insufficient in any kind of world. The things that mathematicians can
prove are sometimes mind-boggling, such as the one showing that at least
at one point in the world the wind velocity must be zero (I think --
don't quote me).

Obviously, I would be delighted to find that it is possible to perceive
the environment in some True way. I'm also obviously not willing to make
the Gibsonian jump and arrive at this conclusion simply by choosing to
believe it. In fact, veridical perception would be so convenient that I
would view any positive proof with immense suspicion; we are just too
good at arriving at the conclusions we would prefer to be true. I will
not believe any proof that involves any step that is even slightly
suspect, particularly at the level of premises. The fact that I would
really like the universe to be just what it seems to be -- and that I
know I would like that -- means that I will have to be forced into that
conclusion, struggling against it all the way.


Avery Andrews (940902.1240) --

What we can do, however, is construct measuring instruments of various
kinds, and stick them various places, and record the results. When we
find results that covary with a PIF, then we're identifying a CEV.

What we're doing then is comparing one perception with another. We have
to look at the measuring instrument with our eyes to see what it reads,
and we have to apply an underlying theory to say what the reading means.
The measuring instrument itself doesn't tell us what is causing the
reading; that, we have to imagine. There really isn't any way to get
outside the perceptual barrier.
Bruce Buchanan (940902.0131) --
A really excellent post.

In reading some of the correspondence among Rick, Bill Leach, and Tom
Bourbon on the subjects of politics and ideology it seems to me that
many of the concepts being used are like balloons with the loosest of
tethers, or at any rate tethered to basic experiences best known to the
speaker. As such, the discussion appears (to me, at any rate) somewhat
off the reservation as far as PCT is concerned. This would not matter
much except that it is somewhat like the pot calling the kettle black
when advocates of PCT stray afield with pronouncements in areas in
which they lack expertise, and neglect the grounding within their home
base which could give their cogitations real weight. (I also thought
that Bill Powers was gently attempting to indicate this.)

What I've been more or less consciously trying to do is to ask about the
arguments in a way that can be answered only from a higher-level point
of view. You can't be IN an argument at the same time you're trying to
make observations ABOUT it. Obviously, I can't even do it myself. It's
really quite amazing how this method of levels works; you never have to
criticize what anyone says. Notice how people are starting to mellow
out? It doesn't even matter if you explain what you're doing. It still
works. It's a natural function of the mind, once something kicks it into
action. Of course it's hard to keep up -- the arguments get interesting.

What doesn't work is to meet argument with counterargument. That jacks
up the level of conflict and makes the arguments more extreme.

Everything anyone says or does is grist for the PCT mill. Sometimes
people on the net are talking about the principles of PCT; the rest of
the time they're illustrating them.

Your observations are very much up a level and will, I hope, be studied
carefully. I will try my best to do the same myself.
Bill Leach (940901.2157 EDT)--

I don't consider "survival of the fittest" as even worthy of
discussion. By definition, those that survive ARE the fittest.

What else are they fit for, other than surviving? A lot depends, doesn't
it, on whether you're speaking of survival of the individual, or of the
species, or of life itself. The genius who invents a wonder drug and
dies young, childless, and in poverty is "unfit" as an individual, yet
his invention may be wonderful (or terrible) for the species. And if he
is operated upon to remove his brain tumor (and most of his brain), he
will survive, but I think most of us would not like to endure that kind
of fitness. Does mere survival really capture what we're all in this
game for?

However, how about tackling this "free enterprise" term?
Fundamentally, "free enterprise" is a systems idea where I am free to
choose an activity where I voluntarily produce some product with my
labor that I may then exchange (again voluntarily) with another person
for some product of their labor.

I get what I want, the other person gets what they want and ideally we
both get to do what we want to do while still obtaining the
"necessities" of life. This basic system has (in my mind anyway)
proven itself to be rather efficient at producing excess product so
that there is "more" of everything to go around.

Sounds good to me; I've heard worse ideas. Any drawbacks to it in

Competition is only a part of such a system because more than one
person or group of persons would decide to produce the same product.
This competition has shown itself to have both the ability to be
benifical and destructive.

Though there are a number of ways in which competition can be a "bad"
thing I don't think that trying to produce a better product or better
service to gain a greater market share is in itself the problem. The
real problems come up when one's goal is "negative", such a "bury the
competition" or one is willing to be "just a little" dishonest.

Does competition, as practiced, consist only of trying to produce a
better product? What happens when perfectly benign businessmen find that
there are too many businesses trying to produce the same product? Do
they voluntarily quit and start up a different business? Or do they
start spending their R&D money on advertising to maintain their market
share? Do they ever lay people off or start producing overseas in order
to remain "competitive?" Do they ever cut quality in order to beat the
competition on price? Seems to me that competition leads to some
undesirable situations even when the people involved are perfectly
positive in their attitudes.

I have a silly question. How come a nation of 250,000,000 people with a
huge industrial, agricultural, and technological base can't support all
250,000,000 people in comfort? Could there be some bugs in the system?
(I know there are bugs in other systems, but I'm asking about this one).
Best to all,

Bill P.

<[Bill Leach 940903.11:04 EST(EDT)]

[Bill Powers (940902.0845 MDT)]

I don't consider "survival of the fittest" as even worthy of
discussion. By definition, those that survive ARE the fittest.

What else are they fit for, other than surviving? A lot depends, doesn't
it, on whether you're speaking of survival of the individual, or of the
species, or of life itself.

I said that in response to something that Rick had said to me. As far as
I can determine, "survival of the fittest" is about as useful a term as

You asked several questions all worthy of answers but I discarded my
first couple of attempts to try to respond.

I will comment on one of the questions specifically and then "try my
hand" at a more general statement.

You said:

I have a silly question. How come a nation of 250,000,000 people with a
huge industrial, agricultural, and technological base can't support all
250,000,000 people in comfort? Could there be some bugs in the system?

In the first place, no society has done this as far as we know even
assuming that we don't need to agree upon what the term "comfort" means.

In the second place, I don't believe that having everyone in a state of
"comfort" is indeed a "good" situation society anyway. I know that
personally, it is when I am NOT comfortable that I tend to be creative
and productive. "Comfortable" is when I want to sit in an easychair and
just let the rest of the world "go by".

However, I inferred from what you said that by the term "comfort" you are
not intending the sort of thing that I just said.

(Rewording slightly) The very foundational principle of the American
System is that a society where people that are generally free to control
their own perceptions is best. Where best was vaguely defined as "secure
in their persons" and "happy".

It is my own opinion that PCT supports this contention and that most
PCTers probably agree. It is in the detail where things "fall apart".

The founders (and I think all of the rest of us on this forum) believed
that the concept that society must set and enforce some limits to
behaviour to achieve these vague goals is a valid one.

It seems to me that the "arguements" between the "liberals" and
"conservatives" are arguements that only deal with WHERE the problems
will exist as opposed to what the solutions might be.

That is, when there are people that are controlling contrary to the best
interests of society, then creating another law or department of
government only changes the details of what the "contrary controller"
must control to achieve his goals.

Thus "corruption" in government is essentially little different than
corruption anywhere else. The only real difference, is that people of
"good intentions" may pool their collective ability to support the
government corruptions for as long as its nature remains obscure.

I think that Tom cited an example in (Tom Bourbon [940902.0835]). I
should imagine that I would be "hard pressed" to find anyone that does
not believe that a universally healthy population would be good for
society (except that there are a few that openly express that more war,
desease, etc. is needed based upon a belief that humanity is somehow a
scourge on the earth).

That many people will express that this problem exists and should be
solved does not necessarily imply that the offered solutions will
actually make improvements in state of affairs.

I personally am very much bothered by what I see as lessons from history
in combination with what I also perceive as lessons in "common sense".
If I personally make a mistake, that mistake might do a great deal of
damage. That statement is however, a very "relative one". If I OTOH
make a mistake while wielding a power granted me by a society of a few
millions of people my mistakes can be catastropic indeed.

I share what I perceive to have been the US founders nearly paranoid fear
of concentration of power. I perceive Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany as
plausible and even probable results from allowing too much of a
concentration of power in the hands of a (comparitive) few.

I don't remember now who it was that said this, but a problem with
concentration of power in a small group of people for a society that is
based upon principles such as the American Society, is that the control
system feedback that should be operative in "regulating" the behaviour of
the small group is not related to the references of those that granted
the power in the first place.

The American system is a far cry from the "plan" originally proposed.
The original plan was a bit removed from the philosophy expressed by the
framers of the American Constitution but a "reality check" restrained
their original ideas to only the degree of implementation that they felt
would have a chance of acceptance.

Regardless of what our beliefs are concerning specific proposals to
"improve" society, I believe that we are all caught in the recognition
that all systems so far considered range from anarchy to oligarchy. In
my thinking, I have to conclude that there is no solution to the question
at least as it is presently phrased. Neither extreme is stable and it is
quite probable that nothing between the extremes is stable either.

So the real question on "proper" structure of society is "What is the
right question?"!