# Controlled Variables are Perceptual Variables

RM: There are physical correlates of all these variables, otherwise we couldn’t control them. But the physical correlates of these variables are not necessarily physical entities. Even the perception of speed doesn’t have a physical correlate as a physical entity. The perception of speed is a calculation based, ultimately, on the change over time in the position of an entity in the environment. If the position of the entity at two points in time is represented as x.t and x.t+tau then the perception of speed could be represented as s = (x.t+tau - x.t)/dt, where dt is the time for x to move tau units of distance. The variable s is the perception of speed, (x.t+tau - x.t)/dt is the perceptual function that produces that perceptual variable and the physical correlates of s are the physical variables that go into the computation of s – x.t+tau, x.t and t (dt is also a perception).

The same holds for honesty and democracy. Both of these perceptual variables are functions of physical variables, like the x and t variables that are the basis of the perception of speed, but the functions that compute these perceptual variables are much more complex than the one that calculates speed. And the physical correlates of variables like honesty and democracy are like those that are the basis of the perception of speed – things like changes in the position of lips (for example, you can tell when Trump is lying because his lips are moving).

[From Bill Powers (961224.1145 MST)]

BP (emphasis mine, RM): As far as the observer is concerned, what is controlled is ONLY the CV. The idea that this CV is represented by a perceptual signal inside the other system is theoretical. We can observe CV, but not p. When we apply a disturbance, we apply it to CV, not to p. The action that opposes the effect of the disturbance acts on CV, not p. The Test does not involve p at all. It involves only observables – i.e., the observer’s perceptions. The observations have priority; the model comes second, and its only reason for existence is to explain the observations. When you fool around with thought-experiments too much, you tend to get the priorities reversed.

RM: Thanks you for posting this. This is what I have been saying over and over again, to something less than deafening applause. But it is essential that one understand this point in order to be able to do PCT- based research.

RM: Here’s the complete interaction from the CSGNet post that included the comments from Bill:

[From Bill Powers (990503.0232 MDT)]

RM: We can observe CVs. If we couldn’t, there would be no need for PCT.

Bruce Abbott: You have never observed a CV in your life. At best, you have observed environmental correlates of them.

BP: It’s the other way around. ALL we can observe of another person’s controlling is the CV; what we can’t observe is the “CP” – the controlled
perception in the other person.

RM: So here is Bill correcting Bruce Abbott rather than me;-) Bill’s (and my) point is one again that controlled variables are perceptions in the observer. They are not physical entities. Controlled variables (such as speed, honesty and democracy) are functions of physical variables. The physical correlates of controlled variables are the bases of the functions that define those variables.

RM: Since the controlled variable, CV or q.i, is exactly equivalent to the theoretical perpetual variable, p – the variable that accounts for the existence of q.i – there is never a question of whether p is an accurate representation of q.i; p and q.i are, by definition, the same variable: q.i = p. As per the title of this topic, controlled variables ARE perceptual variables.

RM: Again, one has to understand this essential fact about PCT – that controlled variables are observations that are explained by the assumption that they are controlled as perceptual signals that are analogs of the observed variable - before one can participate productively in the PCT-based research program that Bill proposed in Powers, 1979

Perhaps one should say even that the physical correlates are never physical entities (of course, depending on what you mean by “entities”). What we perceive in the environment is not an entity but a property of one or more entities. What are (real, basic, indivisible) entities; it is problem of ontology and theoretical physics, but in our normal physics based everyday model of reality every entity is divisible and consists of other smaller entities. Thus, a perceived variable can a property of an atom, a molecule, a separate object, an amount of liquid, a heap of grains, a boxful of bolts and nuts, etc. or any combination of these. But these entities are never perceived as such but only their properties. However, if we would want to control (e-control) the perceived property we must cause physical effects to those entities the properties of which we are perceiving. If it is a (combined) property of a complex entity then we must, depending on the case, affect either one, some or all of the participating sub-entities. (In computer simulations the value of a correlate variable can adjusted straightly just by changing the calculations but not so in real life.)

According to this (Powers): CP = controlled perception (inside controller); CV = controlled (physical) variable (in the external environment of the perceivers). But then (Powers):

Here is an apparent error: Observer’s perceptions are NOT observables - not even to the observer herself without a fantastic neurological apparatus. We do not observe our perceptions but those physical properties which are available to our senses. We have our perceptions but we do not perceive them.

So, for the description of TCV we need at least three variables: one is a theoretical variable inside the controller, the controlled perception (CP); another is an observable physical property which I would like to call CEV (Corresponding Environmental Variable) rather than qi which refers to the value (quantity) of that input variable; and the third is the perception inside the observer/tester which she infers and decides to be the “same” (=similar, ideally identical) perception than that which the controller is controlling. This third could be called Controlled Variable (CV) because it is the result of the Test for the Controlled Variable. I think this is a valid inference “[a]s far as the observer is concerned” as Powers says.

The critical question here is - in addition to the methodological questions of TCV - whether the input functions of both the controller and observer/tester really are similar or identical. With low-level perceptions and those which have been important in the evolutionary history it is a viable assumption. But with higher level (and continuously developing) cultural perceptions (like just honesty and democracy) it is very susceptible!

Best
Eetu

RM: No, the CV is a perception; it’s what the observer observes. It is definitely not a physical variable in the external environment. It is a FUNCTION of physical variables in the environment.

RM: Actually, it was Bill who said this, not me. So when you say:

EP: Here is an apparent error: Observer’s perceptions are NOT observables - not even to the observer herself without a fantastic neurological apparatus.

RM: You are saying that Bill made an error. I happen to think he didn’t (make an error, that is). In fact, I think this statement:

BP: The Test does not involve p at all. It involves only observables – i.e., the observer’s perceptions.

RM: is a description of the most fundamental assumption of PCT science: PCT is a theory that explains the observer’s perception of the variables a living control system controls.

EP: The critical question here is - in addition to the methodological questions of TCV - whether the input functions of both the controller and observer/tester really are similar or identical. With low-level perceptions and those which have been important in the evolutionary history it is a viable assumption. But with higher level (and continuously developing) cultural perceptions (like just honesty and democracy) it is very susceptible!

RM: It doesn’t matter whether the input functions of controller and observer/tester are the same. The test works if the observer is able to monitor the status of a controlled variable using their own or some sort of artefactual perceptual function (the latter being what were used to determine, for example, the variables controlled by navigating bats).

Best

Rick

You’re skipping over the contradiction in Bill’s definition of the controlled variable. In the first two quotes

BP: we control perceptions, not the names of perceptions or the reified correlates of perceptions.
BP: So fundamentally, behavior is the control of perception, not of outputs or objective controlled variables

So, if we are going to take those definitions, then this one is no bueno:

BP: ALL we can observe of another person’s controlling is the CV; what we can’t observe is the “CP” – the controlled perception in the other person.

We can observe perceptual signals. People regularly record neural firing rates, spikes, voltages, etc. Sometimes those signals are perceptual signals, and they have their correlates outside, in the experimenter’s world. Many aspects of stimuli were found to be correlated with neural signals, even BCP has plots of firing rates vs forces or something like that.

We can’t observe controlled variables if they are defined as perceptual experience, which is what Bill seems to be using in his reply to Bruce Abbott, which is a different definition than the one Bruce is using. We only observe our own experience (if that is not a tautology), and not the experience of the subject in the experiment. Nothing controversial there.

If the controlled variables are defined as environmental correlates of the subject’s perceptual signal, then we can observe them, but that is in contradiction with the previous definition that the perceptual signal is the controlled variable.

EP: So, for the description of TCV we need at least three variables: one is a theoretical variable inside the controller, the controlled perception (CP); another is an observable physical property which I would like to call CEV (Corresponding Environmental Variable) rather than qi which refers to the value (quantity) of that input variable; and the third is the perception inside the observer/tester which she infers and decides to be the “same” (=similar, ideally identical) perception than that which the controller is controlling. This third could be called Controlled Variable (CV) because it is the result of the Test for the Controlled Variable. I think this is a valid inference “[a]s far as the observer is concerned” as Powers says.

We need several names. I think “the controlled variable” is too generic of a name, it is more like a category. The perceptual signal is a controlled variable, and its environmental correlate is a controlled variable. Both. The input quantity is not necessarily a controlled variable, depending on the properties of the input function.

Previous digrams on this thread are from some third-person view looking at the subject, the environment and the experimenter. I tried to make a diagram from the experimenter’s view,

On the left is a system we, experimenters, are investigating. I’ve added units to make things more clear on the diagram, but it also looks more complicated in algebraic form under the diagram. It has a rate sensor (differentiator) that converts meters to neural units as the input function, and an integrator that converts neural units to meters as the output function.

On the right is a model of the system on the left. It is simplified, there are no neural variables. The variable a is the controlled variable, equal to the derivative of qi. Since qi is is meters, a is in meters per second. We can also observe or determine in the experiment what is the reference level, aref, also in meters per second. The error f is also in m/s, and so is the output b, and the disturbance c.

The link between the two diagrams is written in the bottom formulas. Variable a is equal to p times the conversion from nu to m/s. a is also a function of qi, a time derivative, and that is the input function without the neural conversion factor.

Here, qi is not a controlled variable, but p and a are. Both p and a are functions of environmental quantities, but p is in neural units, while a is in “environmental” units.

Rick,

Yes, I tried to show in text that the quotation was from Powers. (I wrote the message in Discourse interface and used its quote tool and it made it seem like it was yours.)

Yes, I think he (Powers) really made an error by identifying the perception and the object of that perception.

But then later in my message I stated just like you that the “Controlled Variable” is a perception of the observer / experimenter in the TCV – or at least that the experimenter’s decision what is the Controlled Variable is based on his/her own perceptions about the same physical variables which the controller is perceiving.

That decision (of what is the Controlled Variable) can be reliable and reasonable only if the input functions of the controller and the observer are either originally similar enough or if the observer’s input functions are extended with an aid of some technical advices (and/or some special training) so that after that it is similar enough with that of the controller. The study of bat’s controlling requires that latter case.

Best

Eetu

RM: I see no definition of controlled variables here unless you re referring to Bill saying that controlled variables are “objective”, which they are.

AM: So, if we are going to take those definitions, then this one is no bueno:

BP: ALL we can observe of another person’s controlling is the CV; what we can’t observe is the “CP” – the controlled perception in the other person.

RM: There is no contradiction. Bill is referring to the CV as an observation – an objective phenomenon. What we experience as objective (environmental) phenomena – like this computer and keyboard in front of me – is actually a perception.

AM: We can observe perceptual signals.

RM: Not by observing another person’s controlling, which is what Bill was talking about. Remember, the basic observation of PCT is that what we call an organisms behavior IS control.

AM: We can’t observe controlled variables if they are defined as perceptual experience,

RM: That is not how controlled variables are defined. They are defined as variable aspects of the environment that are maintained in reference states, protected from the effects of disturbance.

RM: Powers understood that what observers see as controlled variables in the “environment” are perceptions in the observers themselves. For example, in a tracking task, the target and cursor and the distance between them look, to an observer as well as to the he controller, like they are “out there” in the environment. But, of course, they are perceptions. As is all of our experience.

RM: All of science is based on trying to explain phenomena (like the movements of planets or pendulums) that are perceptions in those observing them. But we call those perceptions “objective facts” when we get enough people to agree about what is being observed. And so it is with PCT; controlled variables are objective facts (even though they are actually perceptions in observers) to the extent that we can get people to agree that what is being seen is, indeed, a controlled variable.

RM: The methods collectively referred to as the Test for the Controlled Variable are the procedures we use to observe and get agreement about whether or not a particular “environmental” variable (such as the distance between target and cursor) is a controlled variable.

RM: The fact that a controlled “environmental” variable is actually a perceptual variable in the observer can be ignored while doing PCT research just as this fact is almost always ignored in physical science research (though the fact that the models of physics are explanations of the behavior of our perceptions was not lost on Ernst Mach, who made some great observations about perception; Mach bands, for example).

AM: If the controlled variables are defined as environmental correlates of the subject’s perceptual signal, then we can observe them, but that is in contradiction with the previous definition that the perceptual signal is the controlled variable.

RM: The perceptual signal is the theoretical analog of the controlled variable. It isn’t the controlled variable; the perceptual signal is a theoretical variable in the model (PCT) that explains the existence of controlled variables. Controlled variables are the objective phenomena – the facts of control – that are explained by the PCT model.

RM: Neurophysiological research that is aimed at testing the PCT model, such as that done by Henry Yin and his students at Duke, will eventually demonstrate the objective reality of perceptual signals. And what were theoretical components of the model will become as real as what are now considered the “real” parts of the PCT model – the environmental variables and functions. But even then all that “real” will still actually be perception.

Best

Rick

BP: we control perceptions, not the names of perceptions or the reified correlates of perceptions.
BP: So fundamentally, behavior is the control of perception, not of outputs or objective controlled variables

RM: I see no definition of controlled variables here unless you re referring to Bill saying that controlled variables are “objective”, which they are.

I do see a definition. Controlled variables are perceptions, not their objective or reified correlates. The objective or reified correlates are in the environment (of the observer).

If we take a position servo motor as an analog of a biological control system, the only signal that is controlled is the one entering the comparator carrying the sensor output. Not the ‘objective’ position of the output shaft of the motor. In the thermostat, the controlled variable is the signal entering the comparator, not room temperature. etc, etc. Bill gave the example of the sensor drifting to show the same concept.

In the same way, the perceptual signal is really controlled, not it’s ‘objective’ correlate in the perceptual world of the observer. For the purposes of doing a TCV, we can say that it is controlled, that is the closest we can get to a controlled variable until we can find and measure the perceptual signal in the brain. Not just the perceptual signal, also the references, errors, outputs, input and output functions, etc…

Already observed perceptual signals are not hypothetical, they are really observed and measured, we just don’t always know what they represent, or what is the environmental correlate. Sometimes we do, for example golgi tendon organs sense force exerted by a muscle.

RM: Maybe someone besides me will come and argue this from my position (an event I consider highly unlikely since yours seems to be the unanimous – save for me – view of what a controlled variable is here on Discourse) because I’m done.

thanks for that, good points. BTW there is already a kind of a contradiction in this:

BP: So fundamentally, behavior is the control of perception, not of outputs or objective controlled variables

This can be translated as follows: ‘behavior is not the control of (objective) controlled variables.’ But I think it means that ‘behavior is not the control of (any) objective (=external) variables.’

Yes, we can perceive neural signals, but it does not mean that – currently – we could find and perceive a certain perceptual signal in the brain – especially if it is a higher-level perception. That is because the concept of neural current means a more a less vague and fuzzy bundle of neurons all signaling in their own ways.

With experience you probably mean a conscious or aware perception? If so, it is certainly a different thing than perception as a perceptual signal. The latter is a scalar variable having only one property, it’s quantity, without any qualitative tones in it. Conscious or aware perception seems like a simultaneous combination of many individual scalar variables which all have different qualitative tones or meanings. Some thinkers connect still more criteria to the meaning of the term experience, but this seems to be roughly the way how Powers uses the concept. However, Powers seems to think that control is no way depending on consciousness and most controlling is done without consciousness. So, we would not need to use the concept experience at all when talking about or studying control. (This may be a on overstatement.)

A conscious perception – or experience – is also a function or phenomenon which is realized by a neural system – I can see no other possibility. Thus, it could also be in principle perceived with an aid of some fantastic neurological instrument, but today and in a visible future it is a full impossibility.

In Making Sense of Behavior (1998) in the section The Internal View of Perception Powers says (sorry for a long quotation):

“This is why we say in PCT that behavior is the process by which we control our own perceptions. (…)

Since the world we experience is the world of perception, it usually makes little difference whether we say we’re controlling perceptions or controlling the state of the real world. It does, however, make a difference when we try to explain behavior in terms of some physical model of a behaving system. When we do that, we have to stand with one foot in each viewpoint, we construct an objective model as if our own perceptions were exactly the world as it exists, including physics, chemistry, physiology, and neurology. In doing so we explain how it is that another person can be controlling as we observe controlling to occur, using a brain organized as we think it’s organized. At the same time, knowing that all experience is experience of neural signals, we are explaining how we can control things, and why controlling seems to us the way it seems, and how we can be making up models and theories about controlling.

(…)

But even if we can count on some similarities between perceiving people, we will always remain uncertain about the relationship between human perception in general and the real nature of the world outside us.

I won’t pretend that these puzzles about perception and point of view are completely solved by the propositions put forth here. All of this is just my best try at bringing consistency into the study of both publicly observable behavior and private experience. Using the external point of view, we can make objective models that, on a computer, will reproduce some simple forms of human behavior with great precision. Using the internal point of view, we can understand many aspects of behavior by seeing control as control of perception rather than of an objective world. We can make sense not only of other people’s behavior, but of our own, using the same concept of perceptual control.”

For me it seems that Powers is here trying to solve the contradiction between the two definitions you took up. They represent the external and internal views of (or about) control. He seems to think along the figure below:

RR = Real Reality

NP = Neural Perceptual system

CE = Conscious Experience of the controller

EW = External point of View

IW = Internal point of View

From an internal point of view the controller is controlling her perceptual reality (which is realized in her neural system) but from an external point of view (of an observer) the neural system of the controller is controlling the common environment of the controller and observer. This division of the points of view is in a way helpful: From the internal point of view the controlled variable is the perception and from the external point of view the controlled variable is a physical variable in the environment. So. the two terms for control and controlled variables could also internal and external instead the ones I have suggested: perceptual and environmental.

As for your very interesting diagrams, I think that the right one depicts very clearly the external point of view. Instead, the left one could be some kind of mixture trying to be at the same time from internal and external points of views? But because you say that only p is controlled in it and qi is not controlled, then it is more from the internal point of view?

Anyway, I think, as Powers said, that the puzzles about perception and point of view are not completely solved this way and more work is needed…

Rick,

I think you’re done and lost because the strong instrumentalism that you seem to represent is not defendable especially in the context like PCT. In astronomy and cosmology it could be a credible philosophy because there one could happily say that the aim of research is only to explain the dependencies between perceptions and nothing else. But her in the area of control (=living) the success of our action and the whole continuation of our existence depends on how we can affect the real reality behind our perceptions. Our everyday and best scientific experience teaches that the real reality is somehow structured, and both our perceptions and results of actions depend on those structures. Even though we can study those structures only via our perceptions that restriction does not make it reasonable to pretend that the possible structures of the reality have no significance. Perceptions are not just something inside the observer (and presumably in controller too) but they are perceptions of or about something in the real reality. The similarity of perceptual functions (and/or other perceptual devices) does not make perceptions (of controller and observer) similar or same if the controlled and observed real reality does not happen to be similar or same.

Hi Eetu

RM: I think you hit the nail on the head. I am done and have “lost” this debate because my view of perception is completely different from yours. You think perceptions are of or about something in the real reality. I think perceptions are constructions based on real reality.

RM: You call my view of perception “instrumentalism”. I call it “constructivism”. I see perceptual functions as constructors of perceptions out of the raw material of real reality. I would call your view of perception “representationalism”, which sees perceptual functions as detectors that produce perceptions that represent the “somethings” (or the properties thereof) in real reality.

RM: These two different views of perception lead to two very different approaches to doing what I call “research on purpose” – research aimed at understanding the behavior of living control systems.

RM: Both views are consistent with the idea that behavior is the control of perception. But representationalism leads to a focus on questions of how accurately controlled perceptions represent the real world “somethings” that are being controlled. Constructivism, on the other hand, leads to a focus on what types of controlled perceptions are being constructed from the raw material of the real world.

RM: I believe that PCT is based on a constructivist view of perception. The research program described in Powers, 1979 and that I hoped to discuss over at Powers’ Model of a Research Program is all about determining what types of perceptions organisms control.

RM: So what I have “lost” is not just a philosophical argument about the nature of perception but I have also lost (actually, never gained) is anyone to work with me on developing the research program that Bill proposed. But I have been losing (or not gaining) this ever since I got into PCT. Fortunately, while Bill was here I was losing it right along with him, so it was easy, as the Dread Pirate Roberts said in the Princess Bride, to get used to disappointment.

Best regards

Rick

Rick,

I think you dramatize too strongly!

When I used the term instrumentalism, I meant an orientation in the philosophy science according to which the goal and task of a theory is just to help to explain the observations. Its counter party is scientific realism which says that the task of a theory is

to give a true story about reality. Thus, when a theory needs and uses concepts which are not observables, instrumentalism says that they are or should be just handy instruments for explaining the observations, and instead scientific realism says that they are or should be references to something which exist in the reality. For instrumentalism theories can have only a use value while for scientific realism theories should also have a truth value.

Of course, these scientific stances can naturally but not necessarily go with respective epistemological theories which form the most important historical and classical contradiction in the area, and which are often called idealism and realism. Shortly, extreme idealism says that the knowledge is produced by and based on the knowing subject, and conversely extreme realism gives all responsibility of knowledge to the known object and the knowing subject has only the role of receiver. Especially Kant saw the futility of this controversy and tried to give a due role for both subject and object. Afterwards Kant has been named the first constructivist. Today most of the reasonable epistemological views are somewhere between idealism and realism, and represent different kinds of constructivism: knowledge is somehow based on the that which is known about in the reality but on the other hand knowledge must be somehow constructed and formulated by the knowing subject. Thus, constructivism and realism do not exclude each other. But if you rule realism out then it is extremely difficult talk about truth anymore.

(The concept of representationalism is so complicated that I would not use it. Usually it also stresses the principal difference and exclusion between the areas of reality and perceptions. It goes very well with constructivism.)

RM: Both views are consistent with the idea that behavior is the control of perception. But representationalism leads to a focus on questions of how accurately controlled perceptions represent the real world “somethings” that are being controlled. Constructivism, on the other hand, leads to a focus on what types of controlled perceptions are being constructed from the raw material of the real world.

Yes and no. Both are consistent because there need not be any difference between them. Whether you give bigger or smaller role to the reality, it does no way lead the focus to the accuracy and away from types of perceptions. Because our only knowledge about the reality is based on perceptions, we cannot study the accuracy of perception by comparing reality and perceptions and neither can we derive the types of perceptions from the structures of reality. The types of perceptions can still be studied only by studying perceptions. Similarly, the accuracy of perceptions must be studied by comparing perceptions to other perceptions. So, you have no reason to be afraid of some amount of realistic thoughts. It will not close off the possibility to study types of perceptions. But it just opens one more possibility to try to study the accuracy, TOO.

RM: I believe that PCT is based on a constructivist view of perception. The research program described in Powers, 1979 and that I hoped to discuss over at Powers’ Model of a Research Program is all about determining what types of perceptions organisms control.

Perhaps your feeling of losing anyone to work with you on developing the research program that Bill proposed is a consequence of your unneeded strong commitment to epistemological idealism and thus setting too strict limits to that program? I myself would be extremely interested in researching experimentally the types of human perception, but I am too old to totally change my career because I have almost no training and experience in experimental research.

Best

RM: Well, what do you expect; I live in La La Land;-)

EP: When I used the term instrumentalism, I meant an orientation in the philosophy science according to which the goal and task of a theory is just to help to explain the observations. Its counter party is scientific realism which says that the task of a theory is to give a true story about reality.

RM: Then I’m an instrumental scientific realist: I think the task of a theory is to explain observations and the more accurately the theory accounts for the observations the truer the theory is as a story of reality.

EP: Thus, constructivism and realism do not exclude each other. But if you rule realism out then it is extremely difficult talk about truth anymore.

RM: I do not (and did not) mean to rule realism out. Both constructivism and PCT view perception as a construction based on reality. So reality is definitely in there!

RM: I believe that PCT is based on a constructivist view of perception. The research program described in Powers, 1979 and that I hoped to discuss over at Powers’ Model of a Research Program is all about determining what types of perceptions organisms control.

EP: Perhaps your feeling of losing anyone to work with you on developing the research program that Bill proposed is a consequence of your unneeded strong commitment to epistemological idealism and thus setting too strict limits to that program?

RM: It’s more of a perception than a feeling. What I perceive is no one working with me to develop the research program Bill described at the end of Powers, 1979 . My only commitment is to Bill’s scientific legacy. I think what he wanted as his legacy was a revolution in the sciences of life where living systems would be studied with a PCT-based understanding that they are closed-loop control rather than open-loop causal systems. I believe that Bill’s most detailed description of his vision of this revolutionary approach to the study of living systems was is described in Powers, 1979.

RM: But it really isn’t all that detailed. So what I am hoping for is a discussion of Powers’ proposal that would help flesh out his vision – for my own sake as well as for the sake of anyone else who might be interested in pursuing or just understanding a PCT-based research program

EP: I myself would be extremely interested in researching experimentally the types of human perception, but I am too old to totally change my career because I have almost no training and experience in experimental research.

RM: I understand. I am old too (but still not too old…I hope;). But I don’t think one has to be an expert in experimental research to participate usefully in the discussions about Bill’s proposed research program (though having some basic understanding of and/or interest in research methodology is probably a good idea).

Best

Rick

Does anyone disagree that PCT is constructivist?

I’ll have some examples to post for the Powers research program, but that should all be under that topic.

You are right, there is contradiction right there.

I’ve been thinking about those passages you quoted, It is a difficult topic. We can think of external variables as being in the objective real reality, the “environment”, but I think that creates additional confusion. ‘Objective’ variables are always someone’s perception or a model or whatever.

The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve misunderstood many of the things Bill was talking about, and are not open to correcting those misunderstandings.

You never actually took the time to learn about control theory - the math in the foundations of PCT.
Bill’s main gripe with cybernetics was that they did not understand the math of control theory, and just focused on “philosophizing”. That’s what I see you doing.

When your mistakes are pointed out, with empirical data, models, etc, you get huffy and puffy and nasty and dramatic. Or you invent stupid sh** like “causal functions” for cover up your misunderstanding of the math.

You’re not playing the science game - collaboration toward a better understanding of how people work. You’re playing something else, and trying very hard to do it. I don’t know what you are trying, but discussions with you have been completely pointless. Trying to be a leader and teacher? Achieving some kind of status? Trying to appear right? I won’t guess, it just looks like you are not playing science.

RM: What I am asking for is for help understanding Powers’ proposal for a research program based on an understanding of organisms in general (and people in particular) as living control systems; the program he described in Powers, 1979. In that article he frames it as a program for research in human development but I believe it can be considered a description of a general program of research on PCT. In that paper he starts his description of the program this way:

RM: What I would like is to hear what other researchers make of this description. Based on others understanding of PCT what does it sound like Bill is suggesting here.

AM: You never actually took the time to learn about control theory - the math in the foundations of PCT.

RM: There is no math in Bill’s description of this research program. Here is his description of the kind of data he would like to see collected:

RM: And here is his description of what he would like done with that data:

RM: I was hoping to get some help understanding what kind of research and analysis Bill might have had in mind. I have a somewhat vague understanding of what he is suggesting, which is why I am asking for help. If it is important to know the math at the foundations PCT to get a clearer understanding of what Bill is suggesting then I would welcome help from folks like you who know that math.

AM: You’re not playing the science game - collaboration toward a better understanding of how people work. …

RM: I’m trying to develop the research program Bill gave a rather general description of in Powers, 1979. I would love to have help with this from people who are interested in doing research based on PCT.

Adam, I can only agree with much of what you have said. Rick, though Adam may not believe it, I can attest that you have become much more considerate in recent years, more aware of the effect as well as the avowed intent of what you write, and that is very encouraging.

I have to agree with you, Rick, that naturalistic observation is is essential to PCT, to identify the variables that we humans perceive and control and figure out how we organize them in levels or other categorizations. Personally, I must agree with this, because without this my field does not exist. Not just observation of humans of course, but other living things are of less immediate concern in my field.

Rick, you say the mathematics of control are not relevant to such observation. Adam, you may be aware of a way that poor grasp of the mathematics of control misdirects naturalistic observation or distorts our attribution of levels or categories of perception. If you see such problems, please tell us.

The mathematics of control are directly relevant to another PCT project to which you both have made many valuable contributions, the building of computer programs that simulate control systems and demonstrate control phenomena. This has been limited almost entirely to the lowest level of the perceptual hierarchy.

There’s a confusion of the two projects in this statement. These are demonstrations of phenomena, as is the simulation of catching a fly ball. On your website, demos and and research are properly in different places. The two projects intersect. Demonstrations and simulations are not in themselves research, but as a test-bed they contribute to research. Research into e.g. baseball-catching includes testing different assumptions as to what is controlled by comparing the relative success of simulations based on those assumptions. However, knowledge of the computer code can be overinterpreted.

The behavior of the “Program Control” demo is produced by computer code structured as if/then contingencies, and therefore you know that what appears to the subject is produced by one if/then ‘program’ or the other. For that reason, you say that the subject is controlling a program. However, the user cannot perceive the code that generates those appearances on the screen, the user only perceives the appearances. The same appearances on the screen could be coded as two repeating sequences, randomly alternating. One sequence complies with the programmatic description “if the shape is circle, the next color is blue; else, the next color is red”, and the other does not. True, the user has been instructed in program terms, but in actual execution I think you will find that it resolves to sequences. The contingency word “else” opens an infinite universe but experience shows that this universe contains only one shape, a square. The recitation of the program becomes “if circle, blue. If square, red.” An initial boggle is taking these to be simultaneous, e.g. “if it’s a circle, the circle is blue”, so after being tricked by that a few times the sequentiality becomes salient. Two sequences are OK “Circle, then blue; square, then red.” Anything else requires a press. So now the task is to recognize the sequences that require a press: “Circle-red-press; square-blue-press”. This reorganization is difficult to avoid, because the program statement makes salient that which requires no action. The cat is not focusing on the empty mousehole, the cat is focusing on the mouse which memory and imagination tell him to be prepared to snatch from that spot.

Bill’s 1979 analysis of “getting ready to back a stick-shift car out of a driveway” would seem to qualify as “actual PCT research” by this criterion, but only because Table 1 on p. 179 of LCS focuses on control actions and therefore is limited to the perceived variables that the successive actions directly affect. Bill’s table refers to door, seat, belt, mirror, window, clutch, key, keyhole, starter, starter noise, engine, engine noise, lever, stick-shift car, and driveway. We need neither avoid the phenomenological rabbit-hole of their “really real” existence nor get lost in it. These are perceptions that Bill remembered controlling as he wrote the lines in that table, and they are perceptions that each of us can remember and imagine controlling as we read those words. That accord is as good as it gets; and it had better be because it’s all we’re going to get. The angles, distance relationships, etc. are not more real just because they are immediately affected by measurable motor outputs. They, too, are perceptual constructs.

I agree with your framing that Bill’s table suggests a project for research. If Bill framed it as a project, he didn’t do so in this chapter in Ozer’s book. (He used it there to hammer yet again on the folly of counting ‘behaviors’.) Note that the whole table describes control of a sequence which has as its goal being in the car on the road at the foot of the driveway, which is the first step of another sequence. In this post from last April we revived the link to the spreadsheet you started, and I again raised the question how we are going to include sequence perceptions in this naturalistic investigation. Here’s my 2019 Manchester paper on that.

We need to seek these kinds of variables for PCT research as well as angles, distance relationships, etc. Bill suggested that Miller, Galanter, & Pribram (1960) presents a good collection of program perceptions. It’s at that link and in archive.org.

Saying this was a mistake. Not only that, but you had just quoted the place at the end of that chapter where he proposed this project. Much more egregious than overlooking a silly ditty.

Hi Buce

RM: (yes, it is a program that is controlled in that demo – not a sequence or sequence of sequences; there is no sequence that is maintained in that demo when you are controlling a program).

BN: The behavior of the “Program Control” demo is produced by computer code structured as if/then contingencies, and therefore you know that what appears to the subject is produced by one if/then ‘program’ or the other. For that reason, you say that the subject is controlling a program. However, the user cannot perceive the code that generates those appearances on the screen, the user only perceives the appearances. The same appearances on the screen could be coded as two repeating sequences, randomly alternating.

RM: Then there would be nothing to control. The random alternation means that there is neither program nor sequence to control.

RM: It is these kinds of definitions of controlled variables – definitions in terms of lower level perceptual variables of which the controlled variables are a function – that are sought in PCT research.

BN: Bill’s 1979 analysis of “getting ready to back a stick-shift car out of a driveway” would seem to qualify as “actual PCT research” by this criterion

RM: It’s the start of PCT research. Bill’s analysis provides the initial hypotheses for formal tests of the variables that are actually controlled when people are seen carrying out these behaviors.

Best

Rick