[From Rick Marken (920512 11:00)]
Dag Forssell (920511.22:45) says:
As I have talked to you and read your posts for a long time, I get the
impression that you think that "people will do what they will do"
regardless, and that as a fellow human being you have no business
influencing them. You did admit to me once, that you just might have
influenced your kids along the way. How? Did you per chance teach them
where they might profitably set their reference perceptions, so that they
might function better?
I want people to be able to control their own perceptual variables as
skillfully as they can without interfering with the ability of other
people to control their own variables. To the extent that one can help
another person (or child) to control more skillfully then that is
great. I don't care what people want to control (as long as in doesn't
interfere with what I want to control) -- I only want them to be able to
control it. My motto is; a control system in control is a control system
that's a pleasure to live with (unless that control system is trying to
control you or the things you want to control -- relative to a different
If we take the hierarchical control model seriously then I don't see how
anyone could possibly know how to tell another control system 'where
they might profitably set their own references for their perceptions'.
This doesn't mean that I would not suggest a reference (or force the
results that would be produced by having that reference) under certain
circumstances. The classic example is "wouldn't you tell your kid not to
run out in the street"? You bet your sweet bippy I would (and did) and I
would physically haul them back out of the street if they were in it--
reference or not. But I certainly wouldn't say that what I am doing is
suggesting a profitable reference setting for the kid. I'm suggesting
ways that the kid might want to control the perception of getting hit
by a car. If I could (which the model says I can't anyway) get the
kid to have as a reference "don't run into the street" then what happens
when the street is empty and is the only refuge from a group of bike
riders barreling down the side walk. Sometimes the "running into
the street" reference is good to have set at "yes".
And that's my point; the HPCT model says that there just CANNOT be
a right or profitable setting for a reference signal; reference signals
MUST be able to vary due to disturbances from the environment or
the actions of other control systems. What is a good reference setting
in situation A will be a bad one in situation B.
What is important in the HPCT model is not the particular setting of
any reference (even the higher order ones that you call standards)
but the fact that references vary as part of a closed loop that
produces CONTROL OF PERCEPTIONS. Of course, the HPCT model could
be wrong and there could be a RIGHT set of references at some or
all levels. But I'd need some evidence before I reject a model that
seems to work so well at making detailed, quantitative predictions
of behavior. As it sits, the HPCT model rules out the possibility of
"correct" references --except where "correct" is defined as that setting of
the references that leads to actions which, when combined with prevailing
disturbances, produces CONTROL. And this just means that "correct" is going
to change all the time (sometimes you MUST run into the street, sometimes
you MUST NOT -- if you want to CONTROL otehr variables).
I think that just about the only thing that separates humans from animals
is the ability to suggest reference perceptions which the young can adopt
because they choose to.
Humans ARE animals. What's wrong with being an animal?
What humans (and other animals) do is teach their offspring how to
CONTROL -- not what level to keep a particular perception, no matter
what. I suppose part of teaching control is suggesting references for
a perception ("try to bring your arm father back on the backswing") but
I think the learner is just exploring the ability to vary that perception
as a means of controlling others. What a good teacher teaches is HOW to
control -- not "WHAT to control no matter what".
Influence is for real, and it is important. The world is not populated
only by well behaved, adult PCT academics, who object to being
"controlled" by others. To pretend that positive influence through
teaching "standards" or "principles" is A) impossible or B) bad is a cop
out. Parenting, management, teaching, leadership and counseling are about
I'm not saying that teaching "standards" is impossible. I'm saying that
if people actually adopted fixed standards that'd be dead in the water;
they would not be able to control higher level variables.
I can't help thinking that I am "well-behaved" because I have pretty good
control of the perceptual variables that I need and want to control. I
have to believe that MOST of those who mis-behave are doing so, NOT because
they havn't learned about "right" reference levels for certain perceptions
but because they can't control much at all -- let alone what you might
suggest as the profitable things to control. Society has been trying to make
people "well behaved" by teaching them values, good "standards", etc for
CENTURIES. But there are still plenty of mis-behaved people -- especially in
places where people have the least ability to control their own perceptions
(due to lack of education, money, skills, resources, etc etc). (I have noticed
very little serious misbehavior in Bevery Hills; and I hear that Valencia is
a very safe place. Is this because the people in these people have learned
the correct "standards"? I think it's because they have excellent control of
what they need to control -- and not such hot standards someimes). I believe
it is lack of CONTROL that you perceive as mis-behavior, not lack of
"good standards" and I find it mean-spirited and coersive when people
claim that the solution to "mis behavior" is getting there people to
learn better values (standards). How condescending; where is Chuck Dickins
when we need him. I think "teaching standards" is just that ol' time religion
again; it's certainly not HPCT.
As for influencing my own kids -- of course I want to influence them. But
what I really want is for them to be skilled controllers; able to deal
with a world filled with unpredictable disturbances that does not allow
for inflexability and simple soluitons. I want them educated and loved
(so that they can learn with poise). I don't know how to teach control;
but I know it's not by teaching the "right" references. One thing that
is involved is a respect for the fact that the kid is the only possible
system that can know when it's references are set properly; it's when
then is a minimum of error at all levels of the hierarchy. My kids are
(so far) splendid control systems; that's all I ask (and that they call
on father's day).
Character education is, I think, a very useful
form of "social control" that is vitally important, no matter where it
And I say --forget character education. To the extent that you are in
the position to do so, teach people HOW to control (and keep a good
supply of degrees of freedom available for allowing that control -- ie,
prevent over- population) and you will end up with a bunch of very nice
It's all perception!
It's all control.
Richard S. Marken USMail: 10459 Holman Ave
The Aerospace Corporation Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 336-6214 (day)
(310) 474-0313 (evening)