Feedback pathway alterations (was Re: Correlations and politics)

[Martin Taylor 2007.]

I've finally changed the long-misleading subject line for this thread.

Now we have cleared up one source of misunderstanding, I want to go back to considering the "impassable or passable" road example. It mirrors a real situation that I personally encountered as a tourist in Australia this (Northern Hemisphere) spring.

[From Bill Powers (2007.08.16.1600 MDT)]

The point I am trying to make is this. I agree that you can do such things. But how much effect will that have on what the other person is controlling? If you speak only of "altering" connections that are already there, the effect will probably be minimal unless you make very large alterations.

There's the bone of contention: "large". The effect may be large but the physical change may be of any magnitude (see below). But to press on...

In order to make changes that really prevent the other system from controlling, you must make radical changes in the environment. You give an example of destroying a bridge while the person is not present. That is a radical violent action on the means of control, the EFF. You assume, of course, that your action will overwhelm any action the other person might take to get to the destination anyway, such as hiring a contractor and rebuilding the bridge (another extreme action with large effects) or, less grandiosely, hiring a large helicopter.

The last half of this is what presents a problem for me. I have in mind that the person in question is neither a billionaire or a magician, but is a normal tourist thinking about what to do on holiday. In my case, I had read on the Web that the train ride from Cairns to Kuranda was spectacular, and well worth adding a day to the stay in Cairns. I had, for some months, been controlling a perception that on a certain date I would be on the train from Cairns to Kuranda. However, when I went to the station in Cairns to get a ticket, I was told that a landslide had blocked the line and there would be no such trains for several months.

I was not in a position to magic machinery into place to clear and rebuild the track that day, and perceiving myself to be in Kuranda was not the controlled perception. The train ride was what had attracted me to the idea of going to Kuranda. What then would I do? The answer is not to persist in trying to control the perception of myself on the train, but to go up a level, and control a higher-level perception using a different environmental pathway.

The higher perceptions to be controlled (two of them, at least) were that my enjoyment of the holiday should be high, and my expenditure should be low. The "different environmental pathway" contributing to control of both those perceptions was to find another enjoyable experience based in Cairns, which I did. As it happened, I did go to Kuranda, but used the Skyrail (15 km cable-car ride), and visited the aboriginal cultural centre at the low terminus of the Skyrail on my return from Kuranda. But i could have donw any number of other things, none of which involved rebuilding the Kuranda railway.

My point is this, that for many controlled perceptions, when the environmental pathway changes, the person does not escalate efforts to control that perception, but does something else that effectively (though perhaps not as effectively) allows control of a higher-level perception to continue despite the blockage of the pathway through the lower-level system.

Parenthetically, what changes in the environmental feeback pathway need not be that it exists or not; it may simply be a matter of timing or strength. A dripping tap will fill a glass, but a free-flowing tap will do it quicker. In my case, what changed was not the possibility of controlling a perception of myself as having taken the train ride to Kuranda, but the time-delay in the control path, which went from hours (when I was at the station, though the rail journey had been anticipated for months when I was planning the trip) to months or years.

It would, in theory, have been possible to stay in Cairns until the line was rebuilt, as it will be. But to do that would have caused great error in the control of the perception of expenditure, as well as conflicting with many other perceptual control systems.

Although this example is a bit over the top, it does exemplify an important point -- that the change in the environmental pathway may alter the side-effects of the person's control, even when it does not disrupt the actual ability of the person to control. Those side effects may well influence the environmental feeback paths of other unrelated control systems. It's a whole network of radiating influences, and whether the propagation of influence dies down or explodes catastrophically depends on the particular circumstances.

It's a bit like "The Bomb in the Machine" <>, but applied to social structures rather than control hierarchies. And as with the "classical" Bomb, the effect should be expected to be to build social structures that are usually robust and able to damp most of the propagating side-effects of changing environmental feedback paths. Foing back to the origin (for me) of this discussion, the question is whether one can predict kinds of social structures that will have this character of robustness, as they are likely to be the ones that survive longest.

You are granting yourself the power to do things that you are denying to the other person.

No, not at all, except in the sense that we all have different capabilities and have access to different controllable perceptions.

That's all right -- as long as you then admit that relative to the other person's abilities, you are employing overwhelming physical force. If the other person can't afford to do any of the things that will restore control, that person becomes unable to resist your disturbances, and you have prevented that person from controlling.

Yes, but though that argument is possibly true, it is, I think, specious. My "overwhleming physical force" may well be less than it takes to swat a fly. To act in the world always involves the use of force (unless control is entirely chemical, I guess), and the measured amount of force or energy used to disrupt (or to create) an environmental feedback path is unrelated to the potential effects on other control systems.

Imagine a different "Kuranda rail" scenario, in which the line blockage has been caused by a software failure in the signalling system that had actually been caused by a virus that the IT people had been unable to clear. How much physical force was used by the programmer of the virus (who probably didn't know the Kuranda rail existed), and how much would he thereafter need to use, even if he had had the deliberate purpose to thwart my control of perceiving myself on the Kuranda train?

You want to use the word "disturbance" to refer equally to (1) the dynamic influences on the enviromental variable corresponging to the controlled perception and to (2) the environmental feeback pathways by which the output affects that environmental variable. I don't like that conflation at all.

There's an important theoretical difference between the two concepts, in that for disturbance (1), the output force must match the disturbance force, whereas for disturbance (2) little or no force need necessarily be applied to change the feeback pathway -- for example, adding some delay can alter the control dynamics quite drastically.

I think the difference between us here is that I would count outspending the other person, or forcing the other to bankrupt his resources, as an act of violence just as much as if you had injured or physically overpowered the other person. You are apparently employing a narrower conception of violence. That one difference explains, I think, most of our divergence.

This really applies only in the case of disturbance (1). If you are thinking of using it in reverse, the affected person using "violence" to reverse the side-effects of my actions, just consider how much effort is required to reverse the effects of an avalanche that was initiated by a loud noise (which isn't an absurd example).

Remember, in ALL of the discussion, it is irrelevant whether the effects on an environmental feedback pathway (and thereby of the environmental feedback function) are caused deliberately, as the side-effects of other action, or by natural causes (e.g. weather, earthquake, corrosion). When I'm thinking of social structures and PCT, I'm usually thinking of side-effects, but that's just because social structures are largely affected by the purposive actions of people.