Conscious Control?

I thought this little discussion in the Discourse dysfunction topic was in the wrong place so I moved it to this new topic called Conscious Control?:

When I read this it occurred to me that all of the controlling described in B:CP is unconscious; consciousness (whatever that is) isn’t involved in the controlling done by the control systems in the hypothetical hierarchy of control systems described by PCT. And then I realized that I didn’t really know what is meant by “conscious control”. What is conscious control and how does it differ from control sans consciousness?

Could you explain how the perceptual functions in the hierarchy come to be as they are?

By the way, conscious control occurs when you have to think about how to bring a particular perception nearer to its reference value, rather than just doing it because you have over-learned how to do it in this kind of situation.

To unpack that a little (I think), we are generally conscious of that to which we pay attention, and it’s been generally accepted here that reorganization is associated with attention, though the chicken/egg relationship is not entirely settled, and it could be correlation without causation.

I wrote a brilliant reply to this and then accidentally deleted it. I will just summarize it quickly by saying that I Believe the PCT model implies that the perceptual functions are produced by evolution. According to PCT all humans perceive the world in terms of a hierarchy of the same types of perceptual variables. Apparently, perceiving the world in terms of these particular types of perceptual variables provided an adaptive advantage.

Yes, I agree. But my experience is that I am not really conscious of (in the sense that I could verbally describe) the process of controlling as we understand it to be occurring per the PCT model; the varying of outputs in just the right way to get perceptual variables to and maintain at their desired states.

But maybe that’s just nitpicking. I will say that I am quite sure that all the controlling that I am doing – and I’m doing a lot of it all the time at the same time, to maintain my posture, move my fingers appropriately to type this stuff, etc etc – is being done unconsciously. My consciousness seems to look in on some instances of my controlling occasionally. But usually my consciousness is off thinking about other things.


The part below the quote reads as though you had read the relevant part of PPC. The part above the quote is pure speculation, which would be somewhat helped if you had any evidence to cite.

By the way, I see you are back to your old method of arguing about just about anything related to perceptual control by cutting off serious discussion because “according to PCT” it is this way, and that is that.

I think the part “below the quote” is where I said some things about consciousness. Glad you liked them.

I think the part “above the quote” is where I answered your question about how I think perceptual functions came about. And I did leave out what I think is the evidence for this.

I think there are two kinds of evidence for the evolution of perceptual functions. Both are related to the feasibility of these functions coming about ontogenetically – during the course of individual development. First, this seems infeasible because the the neural nets that implement perceptual functions must be rather complex, particularly those that produce perceptual analogs of higher level variables, such as programs, principles and system concepts. It seems very unlikely to me that a random process of reorganizing neural connections would be able to regularly come up with neural networks that could perceive all the different types of complex variables that virtually all humans are able to perceive and control by the time they are 15 or 16 years old.

Second, even if it could be shown that perceptual functions of arbitrary complexity can develop relatively quickly, it still seems very improbable that the same types of perceptual functions would always develop in all individuals. And if PCT is right (which still has to be thoroughly tested, of course, but so far, so good), then all humans perceive the world in terms of the same types of perceptual variables.

I think it would be better to discuss this in Discourse dysfunction topic area.

A few things to bear in mind here…

Evolution will favour general purpose neural mechanisms for learning perceptual functions, if it possibly can, as this will be more parsimonious and efficient.

We don’t just inherit constraints for the structure of our neurones and brains. We also inherit a human body with various other organs and tissues - heart, musculature, morphology - which will be a ‘given’ during neural development. We also ‘inherit’ the physical and natural world as a backdrop. So any genetic specification of neurones can ‘take the slack of specification’ if the interactive benefits of that hugely rich environmental backdrop can be assumed.

Third, a higher level perceptual function is partly defined by the specific input signals it takes, and transforms, from specific lower level systems, and this principle is applied, cascade-like, down levels, such that as we attempt to specify increasingly higher level functions, they are increasingly based upon the sampling of each level below. My view, and I think others including Frans Plooij, is that this selection of weightings at each successive level is the reorganisation of input pathways from lower level systems (amongst other parameters) and it is the ‘job’ within each individual, progressively, from birth (and possibly before) to construct these. This is consciousness. This is why young infants ‘obsess’ over the same type of perception for ages, then move ‘upward’ after a few months. This process is no doubt biologically driven and the raw materials are formed through evolution. But the convergence of these mechanisms within each and every person has to be done afresh as they develop. I see this as the formation and modification of a perceptual function in consciousness.

During infancy we just have primary consciousness for this job, but as we get older we get secondary, tertiary and collective forms. This means we keep tinkering with our neural functions to further optimise or regain control in a complex and often competitive world.

As an addendum, IMO, perceptual functions cannot be pre-specified at the genetic or neural levels. They are each like the Ship of Theseus, in constant need to refinement and tuning and replacement whilst they are being used…

If evolution favors the ability to learn perceptual functions then we should see evidence of such learning in the perceptual functions with which we are most familiar – the functions that produce intensity and sensation type perception – but we don’t.

The function that produces visual and auditory intensity perceptions is lateral inhibition; the function that produces visual sensation perception (color) is an opponent process connection between the outputs of light sensitive cells (cones and rods) in the retina. There is no evidence of any learning being involved in these functions

None of this strikes me as evidence that perceptual functions are subject to change (learning) during one’s lifetime. I think it would help if you would develop a working model (or have someone develop it under your supervision) showing how your perceptual learning idea would actually work.

Actually, the perceptual function completely defines the perceptual variable. There may be plasticity in the inputs to a perceptual function but changes in these inputs, if they actually occur, don’t change the type of perception being controlled. If, for example, the change is to the inputs to a relationship perceiving perceptual function then that perceptual function will still continue to perceive variations in the state of a relationship; what changes are the perceptions whose relationship is being perceived.

See above. Even if this occurs, such changes do not change the nature of the perceptual function itself.

Leaving aside the question of whether this is consciousness (it doesn’t seem like what I experience as consciousness), I see the infant’s behavior a bit differently than you do. I see it as the infant learning how to vary its outputs in order to control variables that it is already able to perceive. The apparent progress in its ability to perceive more and more complex perceptions would then be the result of progress in its ability to control existing lower level perceptual variables so that it can progress to controlling the existing higher level perceptual variables.

I agree with this; this is the function of the reorganizing system per PCT. But I think it’s highly unlikely that any of this tinkering is done on the perceptual functions, for the reasons I gave in my earlier post to Martin and in my points above. But I think this is a testable proposition. It should be possible to set up a learning type of study where, using modeling, you can see the extent to which you have to have the model tinker with the perceptual and/or output functions in order to account for the data.

As an addendum, IMO, perceptual functions cannot be pre-specified at the genetic or neural levels. They are each like the Ship of Theseus, in constant need to refinement and tuning and replacement whilst they are being use.


Yes, but I think the refinement must occur via phylogeny, not ontogeny. And what is being refined is the ability to perceive those aspects of the world that give us an adaptive advantage over our competitors. But once random variation and selective retention has hit on a neural network that can perceive, say, a program or principle, I think you would want it to be preserved and not tinkered away during ontogeny so that its possessor loses any adaptive advantage it provides and dies before she can pass along its genetic code to her offspring.

Hi Rick, I think I agree with you throughout. I am not suggesting that the brain learns new types of the 11 or so perceptual functions at all, or some evolutionary adaptation isn’t responsible for each of the functions at each level specifically. The point is regarding how to optimise the capacity, accuracy and efficiency of the brain to construct each of the thousands of perceptual variables it needs to at each specific level in the hierarchy of types of perception. I am suggesting that the functions within a level need to be tuned and reorganised through experience - for example to perceive all the different configurations that are available to the senses; all the different programs; all the different sequences.

While all this is still speculation, I want to tell briefly how I think at the moment:

We of course inherit many general development dispositions, but especially the brain is extremely plastic organ. Originally the neurons are connected hugely many ways forming a dense tangled network and the connections seem to lessen through subsequent growth. Why do we then develop similar perceptions? I think there are many constraints – in addition to inherited dispositions. We are all educated by adults who already have those similar perceptions. We share the similar physical environment, which has certainly have some structures – we do not construct it ex nihilo. What else could the lowest level be than changes of intensities? The higher levels are combinations of these. If you construct combinations which do not fit with perceptions of others and the control possibilities of the environment, you are very quickly in problems and reorganizing – and guided.