Feedback & PCT Part II

From [Marc Abrams (2005.12.15.2302)]

Hallelujah!!! In a phone conversation with another member of CSGnet who shall remain nameless to protect his good name from any association with me :wink: I was able to convey to him my position and understanding of PCT as I see it and he actually now understands where I come from and where I would like to go.

I will attempt to do the same here to try to show that I am not looking to ‘destroy’ PCT, CSGnet, Bill Powers or Rick Marken.

It is crucial to understand the difference between Bill’s physical concept of perceptual and my metaphor.

I not only believe that this lies at the core of most of the misunderstandings between Bill, Rick and myself but also was and is a current roadblock to the acceptance of perceptual control in general.

As envisioned, PCT is a mechanistic theory of perceptual control. That means that there are isomorphic physiological and biological correlates in our bodies to the systems Bill used to design.

I believe this is an open question that will take many years to understand and resolve. This approach to understanding is a ‘bottom-up’ approach and in being an engineer, I would expect nothing else from Bill. Trying to reverse engineer our nervous system though is quite a task and a great deal more difficult then engineering a control process to regulate the behavior of some inanimate physical objects.

When I speak of the level ol abstraction I am talking about the level of detail one investigates or understands a process to occur in.

Television is a great analog for what I am talking about here. There are many levels of abstraction in ‘understanding’ TV’s. If we are talking about the technical aspects are we concerned with the creation and transmission of TV signals or are we more interested in what type and who’s signal people are actually watching? Each of these require different skills and talents so being an electrical engineer and understanding how to create and transmit TV signals does not necessarily make you either a TV program director or an actor.

My understanding is that PCT is purported to represent perceptual control at its most fundamental and basic level. Now for myself, being a materialist and not a dualist this would mean that PCT is supposed to be representative of something that actually physically exists in our bodies.

I don’t know if this is the case. This is an open question that needs a great deal of investigation from neuro-physiologists, psychpysiologists, and just about anyone else who has any insights into this.

I also believe this is not the only way to investigate perceptual control. There is no best way, and let me repeat this, there is no best way to investigate anything including perceptual control. We each must do what we enjoy and feel comfortable doing. There is no single perspective which is the ‘right’ one nor is this investigation ever going to end. People may come and go but the questions will remain for eternity.

To continue with the use of my TV analogy, Bill’s view and theory of PCT is analogous to that of trying to understand how TV signals are created and how they are transmitted.

My view and perspective are different than those of Bill Powers and here is where I hope you pay real close attention.

I spent two solid years, 60 hours a week studying human physiology and I could not find the direct connections Bill is speaking of. This was very frustrating for me because intuitively I loved the concept of perceptual control. Now, I am not suggesting that this shows it does not exist. Far from it, it shows that Marc Abrams grew very tired of looking in this direction because I felt very strongly about the concept of perceptual control and I wanted to investigate it further but was being stonewalled by the lack of knowledge in this area.

I realized though that the social feedback systems I was dealing with in system dynamics were metaphors for social processes. Why metaphors? Mainly because there are no physical connections between people like there are in physical systems (electric wires, pipes, etc) But in social systems you could not ‘see’ the feedback in a system unless you were a sufficient distance away in both time and space. If you got real close all you could see were cause --> effect components. In social systems the systems themselves and the feedback among the components are all in the eyes of the beholder.

It was then that I realized that perceptual control might be able to be viewed more profitably BY ME as a metaphor rather than as a physical system, so I did and for me it was one of the best moves of my life

Like Rick the other day, when he talked about how the hierarchy has sort of evolved into a foundational set of principles when it is still an open question, people involved in feedback work tend to think of all feedback as physical reality when in fact all social interactions are captured as metaphors for feedback.

To repeat this extremely important point; what feedback my exist, indeed, what social systems exist are in the eyes of the observer. We can look at inanimate physical objects and easily determine how the components are interrelated. Just look at the physical connections (electric wires , pipes, etc) But we don’t walk around connected to one another physically in anyway and the events we are involved in often take place in space and time distances that make our understanding of the interconnections difficult if not impossible.

An example might be of me and my wife who may not talk to me at night when I came home from work for something I said or did yesterday or earlier in the day, and in trying to understand why she is not talking to me if I did not take a far enough look at this in this case in time, I would not see the connection and feedback involved in understanding her behavior. If not I might have attributed it to something closer in time and space to little effect.

The point here though is that social feedback systems are not physical and for me investigating perceptual control as a metaphor rather than as a physical construct were a much better fit.

Unfortunately what you are reading now I was unable to write two months ago. I simply did not have the understanding to communicate my ideas then but here they are.

Gary Cziko’s use of perceptual control in evolution is also metaphorical. Is he an ‘enemy’ of PCT?

I believe most folks who have come and gone from CSGnet have done so because they view perceptual control as a metaphor even if they could not have verbalized it and there has not been any respect given for this view on CSGnet even though just about all the discussion on perceptual control in CSGnet is about perceptual control as a metaphor. So, all those who hold a metaphorical view simply stay away or don’t post often, and because they are met by such fierce resistance from both Bill and Rick to this view they simply don’t bother with CSGnet.

I would venture to guess that Bruce Abbott and Bruce Nevin are two who find perceptual control important and might believe it is a physical system as I do, and they may even believe the current formulation is the correct one but I’d bet my house that any work they are doing they are using perceptual control as a metaphor.

And finally;

I have also come to realize that it is each of you out there who feel the way you do about me because that is the way you want to feel about me.

I do not ‘cause’ you to feel any one way. You get ‘angry’ with me because of the way you interpret my behavior, and specifically my intentions, and you do so without testing or seeing if your assumptions are on the mark or not.

There is little I can do when these self-sealing beliefs take hold

As controllers we are all very much concerned with ‘protecting’ our self-esteem and ourselves, but we are blind to the consequences this controlling has on others. We can see the defensiveness in others but not in ourselves in real-time. We need the help of others and we need to reflect effectively for each of us to understand these things about ourselves, but again, as controllers we don’t like exposing ourselves to others and leaving ourselves ‘vulnerable’ and this becomes difficult to do because we don’t want to ‘hurt’ anyone’s feelings. These are real ‘risks’ and not to be taken lightly.

I am not an ogre, nor am I an ‘enemy’ of PCT. I believe perceptual control should be a field of study with the pioneering work of Bill Powers noted, appreciated and understood. I also believe PCT is a specific theory that I believe needs to be opened up to people who might be interested in investigating without having to hogtie any individual into looking at perceptual control from any preconceived viewpoint, whether it be a physical or metaphorical view.

I know of many people who would agree with this last hope.

If you have read this far I appreciate you taking the time to read my words. I hope they hold some meaning.



The most important knowledge that we can possibly possess is that of our own ignorance – Anon.

Seek understanding before trying to be understood. – Steve Covey