[From Rick Marken (961005.1700)]
Bill Benzon (951004) --
the results of such [conventional] research are of little value to
those of us who want to understand purposeful behavior (control).
But some of us are interested in other things. Or is that not
permitted on this listserve?
It's not a matter of interest or permission. It's a question of
understanding. There is nothing "wrong" with finding it interesting
that there is an association between group size and the tendency to
split into smaller groups. My comments only had to do with the fact
that this fact (if it is of high enough reliability to be considered
a fact) does not, in itself, help us understand the nature of what
we are seeing; whether the split we see is a caused by group size,
controlled by the people in the group or a side effect of the control
of other variables.
But I do suspect that there are things about social groups which
can't be accounted for by PCT, certainly not by PCT in its
I agree with you on this completely. But I think the only way
to test the limits of PCT is by doing research -- Testing for
Controlled Variables-- and modelling -- to see how versions of
the PCT model work in various circumstances. That doesn't mean
we can't speculate our brains out here on CSGNet. But it does
mean that we shouldn't think we are getting anywhere when we
I've got two rather different reactions to this. One the one hand, sure.
We have to investigate and our methods have to be rigorous and we have to
distinguish between speculation and strong argumentation etc etc
On the other hand, this feels like the kind of professional fastidiousness
which will both guarantee (as much as is currently possible) the validity
of PCT results and at the same time is in danger of restricting the range
of PCT investigations to those amenable to current methodology. You are
correct, but your correctness is rather useless to me in getting on with
understanding the kinds of things I want to understand.
The problem is, that the things I want to understand don't have yet to lend
themselves to the kind of rigorous model-building and empirical testing
which, in the abstract, I find very attractive. So, I see myself as taking
at crack at formulating problems in these areas so that they become
amenable to the methods of modelers and observers who have the appropriate
technical skills. My work may well have a Quixote quality. The risk of
absolute failure is quite high. Nonetheless, I take great pleasure in
tilting at windmills and continue on in the hope that one day I'll slay a
These days I'm interested in cultural evolution and have chosen music &
race in 20th C USA as an arena containing phenomena I'm interested in.
For example, in the early 40s a style of jazz called bebop was created.
There are standard accounts of the differences between swing and bebop, but
I think, while more or less correct, these accounts miss the mark & are
quite superficial. The kinds of things in these standard accounts -- all
having to do with details of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic practice --
seem to me either consequences of or side effects of something deeper.
What is that something deeper? One formulation goes like this: Assume
that improvisation involves the regulation of musical sound by a control
stack. In swing style improvisation, reference signals from level N to the
top of the stack are fixed prior to the improvisation while reference
signals from N-1 to the bottom of the stack are open and will be set in the
course of the improvisation. In bop improvisation reference signals from (N
+ M) to the top of the stack are fixed prior to the improvisation while
reference signals from (N + M - 1) to the bottom of the stack are set in
the course of the improvisation.
Another formulation goes like this: In swing improvisation, musical sound
is regulated through two independent channels, with one channel regulating
something we can call rhythm, while the other channel regulates something
we can call melody. Harmony is fixed and not open to variation. In bop
improvisation, musical sound is regulated through three independent
channels, with one channel regulating something we can call rhythm, another
channel regulates something we can call melody, and the third channel
regulates something we can call harmony.
I don't see these two formulations as necessarily exclusive.
Now, how does one get evidence on this? I haven't given that much thought.
And, in the absence of any possibility of actually doing the investigation,
I don't see much point on working on it. But that's an example of the kind
of thing I'm up to and the kind of thing I think PCT can be used for. I
don't for a minute think such investigations will be easy. But I don't
think it would take a human-genome-sized research effort to produce
* * * *
Now, to cultural evolution & society & group splitting. Though I'm not
directly familiar with that research, my colleague David Hays does know the
research, and some of the researchers, and he thinks the results are sound.
That's good enough for me.
Of course, as you point out, that doesn't tell us what is going on. But
I've read and thought a great deal about society & culture and think that
the notion of a size-related effect is worth pursuing. If that
investigation is carried out in a reasonable way, it will yield results
regardless of whether or not my favored account turns out to be supported
There's another type of group splitting, however, which we haven't
considered and which probably is not related to size, at least not in any
simple way. For example, a number of academic societies have recently
split because some members want to consider multi-cultural
political-correctness issues and other members have no interest in such
things. This would appear to be a change in culture. (In my prior
discussion of group splitting I was implicitly assuming that the new groups
would have the same culture as the old group.) The folks in a society are
collectively controlling some set of variables for a range of values. At
some point some folks begin controlling for values outside that range and
perhaps introduce new variables as well. That produces stress and the only
way to resolve the stress is for the group to split.
I see alot of that kind of think going on in 20th C, American music. I'm
particularly interested in how African-American music has worked its way
through and into our culture. I've got that worked out in an informal way
and I'm trying to get more rigorous about it.
I've quickly read Bill P's origin of life paper & think there's stuff in
there that I can apply to music; in particular, the concept of
amplification seems plausible, e.g. what is it about the culture of 1980s
America that made it the appropriate substrate in which the practices of a
few Brooklyn DJ's became amplified into what we call rap & hip hop? Right
now that use of amplify is mere metaphor; but I think there is knowledge to
won from the effort of trying to turn that metaphor into a model. A lotta
work, but . . . .
What about Kent's work on virtual actors and collective control? I think
that, in talking about society and about culture, we have to talk about
virtual actors. These virtual actors are going to be doing things, they
may even have purposes. Talking about virtual actors presents us with the
methodological problem of understanding the relationship between those
virtual actors and (groups of) real individual human actors. [This problem
is sometimes referred to as methodological individualism.] Kent's work, I
think, allows us to say that virtual actors are implemented in real actors
via the process of collective control.
William L. Benzon 518.272.4733
161 2nd Street firstname.lastname@example.org
Troy, NY 12180 http://www.newsavanna.com/wlb/
What color would you be if you didn't know what you was?
That's what color I am.