Controlling by means of Sequence perceptions

At IAPCT 2019 in Manchester my presentation was titled “Stalking perceptions in the wild”. I have expanded my presentation into a brief paper.

Bill Powers identified the different orders of perception in the perceptual hierarchy by introspection. In Behavior: The control of perception (B:CP), he summarizes the first five levels (Intensity, Sensation, Configuration, Transition, Sequence) in Chapter 12, “The brain’s model”. In that chapter he talks of “Event or Sequence” perceptions, and later he recognized that an Event is brief, well-practiced, and generally not interruptable, and there for that they must be distinct, making six levels.

Beginning in Chapter 13 he was passing "from the world of ‘physical reality’ to the world of ‘subjective reality’, as he put it, and the next level, Relationships, is “a transitional one, for certain of its aspects seem easy to conceive of as aspects of the solid, real, lower-order world, while other aspects strike us as more as conceptual in nature.”

It is when he posited that the next higher level was one of Programs that, in my view, he was misled by prevalent and well established presuppositions: the assumption that logic describes our thought processes (rather than being a discipline that may be imposed on them), the computer as metaphor, and conceiving of words as symbols. It seems to have been partly because of these assumptions that he broached the idea of Category perceptions in that section of Chapter 13, which later, unfortunately, became thought of as a distinct level of the hierarchy.

Bill repeatedly cautioned us against taking his proposed identification of levels in the hierarchy as dogma. The relative hierarchical order of these different kinds of perception was a matter of change, reconsideration, and some uncertainty during the 1990s and later. I think it is important for us to go back to basics, and examine in a naturalistic way what is going on with Sequence perceptions as control at a higher level selects, interconnects, interrupts, and otherwise manipulates and uses them for its own purposes. While we’re at it, what perceptions are served by controlling Relationship perceptions? By paying attention to Sequence and Relationship perceptions are used, we can infer characteristics of the systems that are using those perceptions as their means of control.

I have attempted a start at this in the paper, “Stalking perceptions in the wild.”
You an download it using that Dropbox link.

 /Bruce Nevin

‘Process improvement’ is important in management and in studies of organizations. A similar perspective and analogous methods may be appropriate for observing, selecting, combining, and modifying sequences that an individual controls, from a vantage point apart from those sequences. That vantage point could be on the next higher level in the hierarchy or possibly on the same level (a sequence of sequences). Using language to construct descriptions might constitute a vantage point apart from the described sequences and for observing, selecting, combining, and modifying them from a detached vantage point. Investigating ‘process improvement’ methods in management and in studies of organizations might provide suggestive guidance by analogy.

I have just seen one of the more amazing examples of problem solving I’ve ever witnessed - and it was by a chimpanzee! Check out the very short video on the MIT site.

Talk about a “living control system”!

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The presentation says “Problem solving is the process of identifying a problem, developing possible solution paths, and taking the appropriate course of action.” They hold up a descriptive schema called IDEAL [Bransford & Stein, 1993] :

  • Identify the problem
  • Define the context of the problem
  • Explore possible strategies
  • Act on best solution
  • Look back and learn

They organize this in a nice (clockwise) loop reminiscent of T.O.T.E.;

 	/			\
 look back		define
 	\			/
 	act	  <-- 	explore

At the end of my presentation/paper in Manchester I proposed that problem solving and planning involves trying out different sequences in imagination, starting with a sequence step or sequence which results in controlling the perception that you are trying to find a way to control, and working back trying different sequences that lead to that end.

Any perception in the context of the problem, or associated with the desired end perception, etc. has associative memory links to other perceptions, many of which have a place in sequences that the subject has controlled in the past or has seen controlled by others. Associative memory forms analogies.

Perhaps the chimpanzee has seen a peanut or a peanut shell floating on water. Seems likely. If not, she certainly must have seen other objects floating on water.

We don’t have to assume that problem solving is a matter of if-then-else program logic. Much simpler if it depends upon analogy. And wouldn’t you think an analog computing device might do well at analogy?

As Yogi Berra said, you can see a lot by looking.

Early this morning, to minimize disturbance to my wife sleeping I took an indirect path from the bathroom back to the bedroom. As I passed the clothes dryer I remembered that I had dried some clothes last night. Immediately I imagined coming back to that in the afternoon or evening when someone else wanted to do their laundry, a disturbance to their control such as I control to avoid; so, saying to myself “I don’t want to forget them” I put my hand on the handle and gave a tug, but not enough to open it. I imagined the noise it would make, a disturbance to my control of a perception of Sarah sleeping undisturbed. In another flicker of perception I imagined putting the dry clothing on the nearby guest bed for sorting, a disturbance to my control of a perception of going back to sleep. “I’ll remember that”, I said to myself. And after my wife gets up I expect that I’ll go back, open the dryer, and sort my clothes and put them away.

This is the ‘planning’ and ‘problem solving’ level of control in action. I recommend paying attention. You can see a lot by looking. And as I said in Manchester, the unexamined life is not worth theorizing about.