Extremism

[From Rick Marken (950102.1645)]

Bruce Abbott (941231.1530 EST) --

It would be a very dull thing if all scientific research on the behavior
of living organisms were reduced simply to performing "the test" ad
nauseam.

Hmmm. I wonder why you don't feel the same way about the IV-DV
methodology that has been used, ad nauseam (and inappropriately) to
study living control systems for over a century. Inquiring minds
still want to know;-)

For example, consider all the work done by ethologists and
comparative psychologists over the past 60 years ...

Does the fact that it was _done_ prove that something useful was
discovered? Some of the observations made by ethologists and
comparative psychologists may be suggestive, but most the studies
with which I am familair don't tell us much about what we need to know --
what organisms control.

The functions of many of these behaviors in the life of the animal,
their development and dependence on experience, their necessary
physiological conditions and sensory "triggers"-- all were observed
and explored using many of the traditional methods of scientific
inquiry

Methods that have revealed the dependence of behaviors on sensory
"triggers" have kept behavioral science in the dark ("blind") for the last
100 years. It's time to take off the blindfold and see that organisims are
controlling their sensory input, not vice versa.

detailed in my text (which, by the way, includes much more
than just "IV-DV" methods).

You mean correlational? Quasi-experimental? Etc? Do any of these methods
recognize that organisms are controlling their own sensory inputs?
Can any of these methods reveal the existence of controlled perceptual
variables?

The methods of PCT can elucidate the underlying mechanisms of
control through which, for example, the male and female stickleback
conduct their elaborate ziz-zag courtship dance, but they could not
have predicted the dance in the first place.

No method can "predict" observations before they are made. More
importantly, PCT shows that observations of the _behavior_ of
a control system are, basically, irrelevant. PCT shows (before
any theory gets into the picture) that you can't tell what a
control system is doing by just looking at what it is doing. You can
only tell what a control system is doing by determining what it is
controlling. This fact is demonstracted by my "mind reading" program,
which is available on Dag's Demo disk. Matter of fact, my "Mind Readings"
book might be a useful addition to your PCT collection.

The courtship dance of the stickleback is something that these fish do;
but PCT says that what we see is a side effect of their controlling. The
fish cannot be controlling for a "zig-zag" pattern because it cannot get
outside of itself, which is where it would have to be in order to be able
to perceive (and control) this pattern. To find out what the fish is
doing, you have to determine what it is trying to control. That means,
I'm afraid, doing the test for the controlled variable(s).

PCT can't be used to explain of the behavior of the stickleback until we
know what the fish is doing (controlling). The observation of the zig-
zab dance is a suggestive observation. But it is just a start. The next step
is to determine what variables the fish might be controlling. Once we
know what variables are controlled, we can build a PCT model of the
stickleback and see if the model behaves like the fish.

It turned out that a-MSH suppressed these DVs in a dose-dependent
manner.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this observation per se except that
it tells us zilch about what the chicks might be controlling (or trying to
control) by chirping.

Again, a clear understanding of the underlying ECUs would help to
explain how a-MSH produces this effect,

This is putting the cart before the horse; you have not discovered any
controlling so why use a model of control to explain this phenomenon?
The observation alone suggests that no controlling is involved at all.
a-MSH dosage causes chirp supression. Where's the controlling?

but the discovery of the a-MSH effect itself did not require the
application of PCT methods.

If the a-MSH effect is real -- that is, if a-MSH dosage accounts for
something like 95% of the variance in chirping -- than you certainly
have discovered something. Most of the "effects" discovered by
conventional research methods account for considerably less than 99%
of the variance in the DV (I'd say a researcher would feel elated with
60%; in PCT we don't get excited unless were accounting for a least 95%
or so) so not only do they not reveal any controlling; they don't reveal
anything at all.

But even if the a-MSH effect is real, it is almost completely useless
(from a PCT perspective) since we have no idea how it related to what
the bird is controlling. For example, let's assume that the bird is
controlling the perceived intensity of its own chirping (this is
something to be determined by experiment, of course). Then the a-MSH
may reduce chirping because 1) it magnifies the birds perception of
chirping or 2) it changes the bird's reference setting for its perception of
chirping or 3) it zeros the gain of the chirp control system by paralyzing
the bird's chirp production system, etc. All of these hypotheses are
just wild and crazy kindda guesses until we know that the bird is,
indeed, controlling the perceived intensity of its own chirping.

I could go on to list hundreds of similar examples from other fields of
psychology, but I think I've made my point.

As you can see, I am not convinced. The examples you cite reveal nothing
about the controlling that the observed behavior is presumably (according
to PCT) a side-effect of.

Conventional research methods give the illusion (literally) of showing
something about the nature of behavior. It is a compelling illusion; if it
weren't, smart people would have not have kept deluding themselves
with it for over 100 years.

Adopting PCT does not automatically render these methods invalid,

One should adopt PCT only AFTER one understands the nature of
control. What renders conventional research methods invalid is the
FACT that organisms control. The methods described in your (and my)
research methods book are valid for the study of the behavior of living
systems only if those systems are NOT control systems. I can provide
evidence that they are; do you have any evidence that they are not?

In proclaiming that they [conventional research methods] are totally
inappropriate to the study of living control systems, you go much too
far.

Yep. That's what nearly everyone thinks (except the few of us who
understand PCT). It seems so _extreme_; how could we be so impudent as
to reject the entire edifice of behavioral research methodology?

Well, we don't do it because we want to; and we don't do it because we
"believe in" PCT. We do it because we know (for a fact) that organisms
exist in a negative feedback relationship with respect to their own
sensory input: organisms CONTROL. That's the fact, Jack. It's a fact that
we have demonstrated over and over again. It's a fact that has been
ignored, dismissed as unimportant or assumed to have been taken into
account in conventional behavioral science.

In order to be intellectually honest, once you accept the FACT that
organisms control you also have to also accept the fact that
conventional research methods are totally inappropriate to the study of
living systems. Here's why:

The basic assumtion of conventional behavioral research is that

o = f(s)

Output (the dependent variable, o) is a function of input (the
independent variable, s). This is why the journals are filled with
studies where independent variables are manipulated and their effect
on dependent variables is determined. This approach should tell you
something about f(), the organism function. If organisms are Z-systems
then f() tells you something about the nature of the organism.

If organisms are closed-loop control systems (which, of course, they are)
then:

o = 1/g(-s)

Dependent variables are a function of independent variables but the
observed relationship between these variables is the inverse of the
feedback function, g(), relating output, o, to a controlled variable, q.
The relationship between dependent and independent variable will be
noisy (like those found in real behavioral research) if o and s (a
disturbance) are among many variables related to a controlled variable.
But even if the relationship between independent and dependent variable
is nearly PERFECT (as it often is in operant research), that relationship
tells us nothing about the organism; it only tells us about a property of
the environment -- one that we could have observed directly, without
using the organism as an analog computer.

It's important to defer acceptance of PCT (theory) before one has a clear
understanding of the fact that it is designed to explain -- the fact of
control. Once you understand control, you will see that giving up on
conventional research methods is no more extreme than giving up on alchemy.
Of course, it's got to be a little rough emotionally if you've already
got a best selling alchemy text on the market;-)

Best

Rick

[From Bruce Gregory (971203.1205 EST)]

Rick Marken (971203.0830)]

The extreme position on conventional research is not PCT's
position (any more than Galileo's was the extreme position on the
solar system). It's the position of Bruce Abbott and the rest of
the psychological establishment that is extreme. Actually, the
psychological establishment can be forgiven because most psychologists
probably don't understand the behavioral illusion. But Bruce Abbott's
extremism is of the most cynical sort because he says that he _does_
understand the behavioral illusion. This takes Bruce beyond
extremism to A word land. Great to have you on board, Bruce.

I agree with everything you said in this post up to the point
where you accused Bruce Abbott of being cynical. From everything
I have seen, Bruce firmly believes everything he says. What this
implies as a proper characterization of his views is left as an
exercise for the student...

Bruce

[From Rick Marken (971203.0830)]

Bruce Abbott (971202.2032 EST) --

From my perspective, it is possible to accept and apply control
theory to human (and animal) behavior without simultaneously
rejecting everything learned in the past 100+ years of
psychological research. I view this idea that everything must
be swept away as an extreme position that is not supported by a
rational and informed evaluation of psychological research.

I think this statement explains why PCT has had so little impact
on psychology since Powers first developed it in 1957. This
theory has been neglected for 40 years because academic
psychologists are politicians, not scientists. PCT shows that
a fundamental assumption of scientific psychology is wrong.

The assumption that is wrong is that behavior (output, o) is a
function of stimulation (input, i). Mathematically, the assumption
is that o = f(i), where f() is assumed to characterize the nature of
the organism under study; f() is the reason why the organism responds
to inputs as it does. This assumption is the basis for all research in
psychology.

In the typical psychological experiment, an input (independent)
variable is manipulated under controlled conditions and the
resulting output (dependent) variable is measured. The analysis of
results is done by statistical techniques that are explicitly based
on the assumption that o = f(i). Usually, the assumption is that o
is a linear function of i; in statistics, this is called the "general
linear model" (see any statistics text , but one by Mendenhall -- forget
the date -- is particularly clear).

The general linear model is the basis of most common statistical
methods -- multiple regression, ANOVA (a special case of multiple
regression), etc. [The general linear model can handle the possibility
that f() is non-linear by including non-linear transformations of the
input and/or output variables in the analysis]. The results of a
statistical analysis of conventional psychological experiments is an
indication of how confident one can be that o is actually a function
of i. It can also give you an indication of the nature of the
relationship between o and i; that is, it can give an indication of
the nature of the function, f(). Since f() is presumably a
characteristic of the organism, learning that f() exists and that
it has a particular form presumably tells you something about the
organism under study.

If this description seems a bit esoteric, here is a concrete example
from a recent issue of JEP:Applied (December 1997). It's pretty
recent so it surely reflects the "latest" in psychological methods
and theory:

"Effects of Numerical and Graphical Displays on Professed Risk-Taking
Behavior" by Eric R. Stone, J. Frank Yates, and Andrew M. Parker.

This was a set of experiments where "type of graphical display"
was the input (i) variable and a measure of willingness to take
risk (amount paid for a bet) was the output variable. The
experimenters found (based on statistics on group data) that
o = f(i). Specifically, they found that certain kinds of graphics
reduced willingness to take a bet.

There are hundreds of examples of research just like this -- and
they are all on the web. You can find the latest that scientific
psychology has to offer by checking out the APA journals page at:

http://www.apa.org/journals/

PCT shows that the basic assumption that is the basis of virtually
_all_ psychological research -- that o = f(i) -- is WRONG!! If
organisms are negative feedback control systems, then i can
only be a disturbance to the actual input that is controlled. And
the relationship between o and i is NOT o = f(i), it is o = f(i,o).
According to PCT, what is being observed in conventional
psychological experiments is not o = f(i) (where f() is a
characteritic of the organism) but, rather, o = g(i) where
g() is a characteristic of the environmental connection between
o and a variable the organism is controlling (say, v).

Conventional psychologists believe they are observing f() when
they do their experiments; that is, they believe they are studying
the nature of the organism. PCT shows that they are actually
observing g(); they are really studying the organism's environment!
This is the _behavioral illusion_.

The behavioral illusion means that, if organisms are control systems
(and they are) then all psychological research that was based
on the assumption that o = f(i) tells you nothing about what you
are doing the research to find out about - the organism!! [Read
that sentence a few times and see if you can grasp it, Bruce Abbott].
PCT isn't being _extremist_ when it says that most of the conventional
research that has been done over the last 100+ years can be ignored
(we don't want to throw it out -- we want it around so that future
generations can see how misguided psychologists were); it is simply
stating a clear (and very simple and basic) implication of the
control model: in a control system, o = g(i), NOT o = f(i). That's
a fact -- it's NOT extremism.

So, once a person understands the behavioral illusion (that's
why Bill Powers posted the program; there is another version
of the behavioral illusion demonstration at my web site) there
is simply no way to continue believing that there is anything
to be learned about organisms (if organisms are control systems)
from conventional research.

The extreme position on conventional research is not PCT's
position (any more than Galileo's was the extreme position on the
solar system). It's the position of Bruce Abbott and the rest of
the psychological establishment that is extreme. Actually, the
psychological establishment can be forgiven because most psychologists
probably don't understand the behavioral illusion. But Bruce Abbott's
extremism is of the most cynical sort because he says that he _does_
understand the behavioral illusion. This takes Bruce beyond
extremism to A word land. Great to have you on board, Bruce.

Worst

Rick

···

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

[From Rick Marken (971203.1200)]

Me

But Bruce Abbott's extremism is of the most cynical sort
because he says that he _does_ understand the behavioral
illusion.

Bruce Gregory (971203.1205 EST) --

I agree with everything you said in this post up to the point
where you accused Bruce Abbott of being cynical.

Criticism accepted. I was actually thinking of using another word
to describe Bruce Abbott's extremism (in calling PCT's rejection
of conventional research "extremist") but replaced it with "cynical"
because I thought that if I used that other word people might get
the impression that I'm an angry, mean, intolerant, rude, son of
a bitch instead of the teddy bear that I am;-)

Best

Rick

···

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