[From Bill Powers (2000.01.11.0212 MDT)]
Bruce Nevin (2000.01.10.1850 EST)--
What I imagine is a situation where, by test, you know that the person is
controlling a choice between x and y, and (as yet another test) you assert
that you see that they are controlling x. Is this what you had in mind?
Roughly, yes. Of course I would be accepting for the sake of the discussion
your premise that for some reason I would like to make a statement to a
person about what the person is controlling. If he or she is really
consciously controlling it, there is little point in saying that this is
going on, since the person already knows it. Saying so would seem to have
no purpose but to tell the person that _I_ know it. If the person is
controlling x unconsciously, which is possible, bringing this to the
person's attention might serve some therapeutic or pedagogical purpose,
though I would prefer other means to both ends.
I like Rick's answer the best: it's easy to perform a simple test by
putting some obstacle in the way of achieving the guessed-at goal. If the
person makes the necessary adjustments and succeeds in controlling x
anyway, at least the proposal as to what the person is controlling is not
refuted. For example, I am now telling you what you wanted me to tell you
two attempts ago. Since you persisted despite my failure to tell you, I
assume I am now behaving, in one small respect, the way you wanted me to.
So I think I know one thing you're controlling in a very approximate sort
of way. I suspect, however, that you have not let me know _why_ you want to
control it. That's all right with me; I'm not trying to pry it out of you.
As Rick pointed out, I have this bit of evidence about what you were
controlling, but to establish evidence about what you were _choosing_ would
be more difficult. To find that evidence, I would first have to see you
controlling x, and then controlling y, and then see you in a situation
where you couldn't do both at once and had to make a choice as to which one
to control (with no other alternatives being possible). From this I might
learn something about how you make choices. For example, I might see that
you often flip a coin. If I borrow all your change, so you don't have a
coin, and then see to it that you have to make a choice again, I can see
whether you vary the means of making a choice and make it anyway.
I'm not sure how telling the person what he or she is controlling would
constitute yet another Test. What controlled variable would be disturbed by
my telling the person what is being controlled? I suppose the person might
be controlling for my not knowing about other controlled variables. If I
frequently use such knowledge as a means of controlling the person's
behavior, the person might well not want me to be able to figure out what
he or she wants to accomplish. This is a common occurrance in the
relationships between children and adults. I remember learning very early
not to tell certain adults what I liked, because sure enough it would be
used as a reward to control my behavior (it would be withheld or forbidden
until I behaved properly). However, once such a relationship has been
established, I don't think there's any simple way to repair it enough to do
Tests and such.
One last point. It occurs to me that you might be using "choice" in a
nontechnical way, to mean only that you are controlling x _on purpose_.
Since I assume that a purpose _is_ a reference signal, this would almost go
without saying. However, as we know in PCT, not every effect of an action
is an intended effect. Among all the effects of another person's behavior
that we might observe, one or more is likely to be a controlled variable,
but there is no reason it should be the effect that annoys or pleases us
the most. Assuming that the effects of other people's behavior on us are
always deliberate and intentional is a symptom of mental illness called, I
think, "delusions of self-reference." Most of the effects we feel from the
behavior of others are accidental and probably unknown to the person
causing them. And even if the effects were known, there is no universal
reason why the other person should care, is there?