Disagreeing with PCT

[From Fred Nickols (971216.1720 EST)]

Rick Marken (971215.1230)]

Marc Abrams (971215.0934)

People do and will disagree with the theory (PCT). Some people
still "believe" in a flat earth. It doesn't make them the "enemy"
or "evil".

It certainly doesn't make them evil. But it's hard for me not to
see some of those who disagree with PCT as "enemies". I have seen
commentaries by well-known psychologists that are basically hatchet
jobs on PCT -- the authors of such tracts never give a correct
description of the PCT model or the data on which it is based.

Hatchet jobs on just about everything are as common as dirt. Some
masquerade as book reviews. I've responded in kind and I've ignored
them in the past; I'll probably do the same in the future; and, so
will Rick and anyone else inclined to perceive what they read as an
attack. That all strikes me as perfectly consistent with PCT.

sure the people who write such commentaries are not evil; they are
probably wonderful parents, dutiful children and responsible citizens.
But they are unquestionably acting (I suspect intentionally) to
prevent their peers from giving serious attention to PCT. Most of
what I have seen seems like it was written as reassurance to peers
that there is nothing new of threatening about PCT; that PCT was
already rejected 30 years ago; that PCT can't explain this or that.

No comment. I have no such knowledge myself.

I don't know why psychologists are so actively hostile to PCT. But
the level of hostility I've seen toward PCT strikes me as being
far more intense than the level of hostility I've seen toward any
other psychological theory. If you look through introductory psychology
texts you will see discussions of behavioristic theories sitting
comfortably beside discussions of cognitive and Freudian and other
theories. But you will be hard pressed to find _any_ discussion of PCT
(Tom Bourbon managed to publish a page about PCT in a 1981 or 1982
edition of Zimbardo's intro text but I haven't seen anything
about _control of perception_ in a well-known psychology text
since then).

Think about that for a minute. One feature all the other theories have
in common is the promise of being able to manipulate human behavior. The
proponents of these other theories, then, can -- and do -- pander to the
inclinations of those interested in controlling others. If I understand it
correctly, PCT makes no such promise; indeed, PCT states very clearly that
such control is impractical if not impossible. In short, PCT provides no
opportunity for professional pandering.

Continuing: If we assume PCT is on the mark, and if we assume that it does
indeed negate all previous psychological research, why ever on earth would
the existing power structure of psychology embrace it? They would indeed
try to kill it. The Pharisees and Scribes did not welcome Jesus with open arms.

I think B:CP was recognized as a competent and serious attempt to
develop a _comprehensive_ theory of behavior when it came out (1973).
Yet there has been virtually no mention of the theory (what we
now call PCT) in any psych textbooks since 1973; there has been
very little research based on that theory since 1973. I don't think
any other major psychological theory developed since 1973 has been
blessed with this level of neglect. This suggests to me that PCT
has enemies in the psychological community. But maybe I'm just

It's probably not worth much but I do recall, a few years back, reading that
William Powers' theory of behavior as the control of perception was
extremely influential. (Don't ask me to recollect where I read that but I
can assure you it was not in any schlock rag of a magazine.) I also recall
thinking at the time I read the remark that it was good that such a good set
of ideas was getting positive press.

I think a much bigger reason for the lack of "acceptance" of PCT
is that it just really doesn't _matter_ enough to most people.

I agree with Marc here and for some of the reasons stated above. Most
people could care less about PCT -- right or wrong.

I agree that most people don't care about PCT or any other theory
of behavior, for that matter. But I am only interested in people
who _are_ self-acknowledged students of behavior: psychologists,
ethologists, economists, etc. It is lack of acceptance (indeed,
lack of even serious _consideration_) of PCT by these people that
I find interesting (and, of course, somewhat frustrating).

I'll forego comment here and instead ask a question:

        Why should they be interested in PCT? Because it will
        make fools of them? Because it will refute their prior
        beliefs? Because it will install Bill Powers (and maybe
        Rick Marken) in the pantheon of primo psychologists?
        Because... because... because...

        Again, why should they?

        Come up with really good answers to that question and
        you're on your way to acceptance for PCT.


Fred Nickols

[From Rick Marken (971217.0830)]

Fred Nickols (971216.1720 EST)--

One feature all the other theories have in common is the promise
of being able to manipulate human behavior. The proponents of
these other theories, then, can -- and do -- pander to the
inclinations of those interested in controlling others.

Actually, this is not really true. I think one of the attractions
of _cognitive_ psychology (for some people) was that it seemed to
provide a "humanistic" alternative to "manipulative" behaviorism.
Your comment reminds me that during my final struggle to remain a
conventional psychologist (this was in about 1978, four years into
my psychology professor career, while I was still trying to reconcile
PCT with everthing I had already learned) I was hoping that Ulric
Neisser's book "Cognition and Reality" was the bridge between
cognitive psychology and PCT.

Neisser was largely responsible for starting the "cognitive
revolution" in psychology with the publication of his book
"Cognitive Psychology" in about 1967. My training in psychology
came right out of the Neisser tradition. "Cognition and Reality"
(published in 1976, I think) was an interesting book. It was
billed as an attempt to reconcile J.J. Gibson's ideas about
"perceptual invariants" and Neisser's own "information processing"
approach. The result was a book that contained several ideas
that seemed to mesh with PCT. One was the idea of a "perceptual
cycle" that was basically a sequential feedback loop (Neisser
never undersood that such a loop, properly constructed,
_controlled_ perceptual variables). The other was the idea of
human autonomy; much of Neisser's argument in the book was aimed
at showing (rather unconvincinly, I think, in retrospect) that
Skinner was wrong; that consequences don't control behavior.

The point of all this is to note that there was a rather large
contingent (indeed, a vast majority) of conventional
psychologists -- the "cognitive" psychologists-- who disliked
the idea of controlling other people and thought Skinner and
his ilk were semi-literate idiots. This group of conventional
psychologists probably _liked_ the anti-behavior control message
of PCT and are the one's who are saying that Powers' book was
"influetial". They probably liked the "humanistic" chapter of
B:CP and just assumed that the theory articulated in rest of the
book was basically consistent with conventional cognitive psychology.
So the majority of conventional psychologists don't ignore PCT
because it doesn't offer the promise of behavior control. I think
they ignore (or, more rarely, reject) it for the reasons you state
later in your note:

Why should they be interested in PCT? Because it will
make fools of them? Because it will refute their prior

This is the real reason why PCT hasn't made it. It's the reason
why it took me so long to finally give up on trying to reconcile
PCT with conventional psychology -- an impossible task, of course.
Going all the way with PCT meant giving up on the cause-effect
model that is the basis of _all_ conventional psychology:
behaviorism, cognitivism, etc. It is the basis of conventinoal
psychology because all conventional psychological methodology is
based on this model. So even though psychologists theorize about
goals, purposes, perceptual cycles, perceptual invariants,
feedback loops, and even control, their research is always aimed
at discovering cause-effect relationships. I think psychologists
would be mightily embarassed to have to admit that the methods they
have been pushing for 100 years as the only "scientific" way to
study behavior -- the methods that provide the entire database of
the discipline -- provide results that are completely illusory.




Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net