Devil's Dict; perceiving categories; From Mary

[From Bill Powers (931022.1000 MDT)]

I'm way behind and will not even try to catch up. If I ignore
your comment and you really insist on a reply, say so. I am
choosing my replies on the basis that an answer has popped into
my head and I can't get any work done until I write it out.

Rick Marken (931020+++) --

Rick, you'd better notice how hard Greg is pulling your leg, lest
you have to move to a house on the side of a hill in order to
walk upright. Greg is saying that he's tired of hearing how
"they" think, and wants some evidence (just as you rail at "them"
for ignoring evidence in "their" assessments of PCT). I'm with
Greg on this even though he's had just as much reason to chide me
on the same subject.

There is plenty of evidence, no doubt: we started to gather it
with the Devil's Dictionary, but we never followed up. As Greg
says, the difficulty is in deciding what another person means by
what he or she says. Even on this net, it's obvious that what
people are understood to say differs enough from what they mean
that they feel misinterpreted and have to try again and again in
different words to make sure the reader is actually talking about
what they mean. And that's among people who are nominally on the
same side. When we're talking with people who think they are on
an opposing side, we don't even have good will to rely upon.

The Devil's Dictionary contains statements that people have made.
It doesn't contain what they were thinking when they made those
statements. We have to try to find out what they really meant;
unless we do that, all our arguments will be dismissed as being
aimed at straw men. It's hard to pin an opponent down to an
explicit statement that can be confronted, because the opponent
will suspect a trick right away and may not choose to play. But
that is what we have to try to do. If we start with statements in
the literature that seem explicit, and ask the authors if our
interpretation is correct, then at least we will end up with
statements which both sides agree represent a real position and
not just an interpretation adopted for purposes of winning an

I disagree with Greg on one point. It is true that here and there
certain individuals have seen the same organization we see under
PCT. So it is wrong to say that "they" don't get it, lumping the
ones who don't get it at all with those who we would say are
close to getting it, or have already got it. In truth the people
who are close do not present any problem, and furthermore their
influence in their own fields is obviously minute: otherwise the
mainstream attitudes toward PCT would be very different. Maybe we
should be actively recruiting those who have understood, by
themselves, that behavior is a process of controlling perceptions
and all that that implies. They might be overjoyed to find that
others are in the same boat. However, I would guess that they are
just as much in the minority as we are. It is not unfair to say
that "they" -- meaning the great majority of contributors to
fields like Human Factors and Motor Control -- accept a view of
human organization basically contradictory to that of PCT.
Otherwise the contents of the pertinent journals would look quite

On the other hand, to write a useful article about PCT and its
relation to other fields, we have to pin down those
contradictions in a way that even the opponents would agree is a
fair statement of the positions. And to know that they would
agree we have to reach explicit agreement with them, publishable
agreement. If they won't talk, then we have to be able to find
clear citations of their words that are as unambiguous as
possible -- a poor second choice but usable if we have to.

There isn't much point in just generalizing about the awfulness
of it all. Let's get back to crisp citations that quote the
offending ideas, and focus on making clear the difference between
PCT and those ideas. We don't even have to point out which
interpretation is better: if we do this right, the choice will be
clear to an impartial reader. We shouldn't even think about
persuading readers who have already chosen a side and have taken
up the defense of it. They intend not to be persuaded, and as
they have full control over their own selections of facts and
reasoning, they will achieve their intention. All we have to
worry about is not imitating them.


Bruce Nevin (931022.1009 EDT)--

I suggested that characteristics attributed to a category level
are really pervasive through many and perhaps all levels of the
hierarchy, and that perhaps there is no level of perception
corresponding to what we call categories.
Categorizing is done, I suggest, by imagination at otherwise-
attested levels of perception.

You're saying that you are aware that categorizing is
accomplished by some means (imagination, etc.), but you're saying
that there is no ability to perceive categorizing per se. There
ARE categories, but they arise through imagination loops at all
levels, not through being perceived.

If there is no level of perception corresponding to what we call
categories, then what is different about you that you recognize
what we call categorizing when it's being done? You're claiming
to know about something that you can't perceive (unless you mean
that the category level of perception is missing in all people
but you).

I see from your post that you understood full well what I meant
by saying that one's awareness can be IN a level and thus not
aware OF it. What I failed to communicate was that this level is
still part of experience, but it is attributed to the objects of
attention rather than to the viewpoint of the observer. You can
thus propose that categories do exist, but they exist out there,
in the imagination loops at each level in a model of the brain.
You can perceive them out there, but the brain has no level in
here that perceives in terms of categories.

Step back.
Chuck Tucker(931022.1000) --

I have deleted my former comment on your post, having seen Mary's
(appended). Where my patience wears thin, hers takes over just in
Best to all,

Bill P.

[from Mary Powers 9310.22]


Your recent posts need some talking about, because I think you
have gotten off on the wrong foot about PCT, and I'd very much
like to clarify where I think you are mistaken.

The confusion seems to lie between PCT as a description of
conflict and PCT as a model of conflict.

For one thing, you seem to view the term "model" in its sense of
"how things ought to be". This is not what is meant. The PCT
meaning of model is a theory of the way living systems are
organized that produces the phenomena we see. One of the
phenomena we see is conflict.

According to PCT, living systems resist disturbances. One way of
doing that is to try to suppress them. One type of disturbance
that we try to suppress is conflict. As you say.

However, because PCT models this process, it does not follow that
PCT asserts that it is a "model" process in the sense that I
think you mean.

Actually, although you may not want to believe this, the PCT
model clearly shows that the effort of suppressing conflict is
crippling for control systems. The two sides, pushing and pushing
back, become completely devoted to resisting each other, and are
useless for anything else. This is true whether the conflict
resides inside a single individual or is social, between two
people or groups.

So PCT does NOT endorse suppression; it is simply making the
observation that suppression goes on, AND THAT IT DOES NOT WORK.
The only way for a control system to truly suppress another
control system is to kill it. Anything less and it is always
there, pushing back. Not understanding this is why human living
systems get into conflict, and why it escalates with each side
pushing harder and harder against the other as each resists the
disturbance the other provides.

You see your role as provoking conflict in order to resolve it. I
think PCT suggests that that is not quite what you are doing.
What you are trying to do is make each side AWARE that the
conflict exists, and you believe that one way to force it into
awareness is to make it worse. In PCT terms, in order to become
aware of a conflict, it is necessary to achieve a perspective
above the level where the conflict resides; that is, to begin
operating at a level where the WHY of the conflict can be
addressed. Making the conflict worse may do that, and maybe there
are other ways of doing it too.

The point of PCT is that with a fairly simple arrangement of such
components as perceptual, reference, and error signals, etc.,
various phenomena of living systems can be simulated. These
components are consistent with the neural equipment we actually
have, and when they are hooked up and running, they do things we
actually do, like get into conflict. They can also resolve
conflict, and it is clear from the model, and from the experience
of therapists and counselors working from this point of view,
that this is done not by suppression, but by resolution at a
higher level.

While reference signals and comparators and such like may seem as
unfamiliar to you as orbits and tetrahedrons do to me, I don't
believe they are in the same ballpark: I don't think you could
program orbits and tetrahedrons into a computer and make them do
anything, in the way that the control systems in the crowd
program do what they do. You are, if you'll pardon the
expression, indulging in a pre-scientific metaphor. No blame in
that - what you do is far more important than how you
rationalize what you're doing. But it is time to stop
rationalizing and start doing some science, which is what this
net is all about, not anecdotes about "my day in the trenches".

Mary Powers