[From Bill Powers (950828.1112 MDT)]
From Rick Marken (950827.1030) --
I'll say the same thing to you that I said to Ed. Don't go away. There
are plenty of people, including me, who admire your work.
I will admit that it was pretty stupid of me even to appear to be taking
sides in a conflict between two other people. Stepping into a cycle of
attack and defense, defense and attack, there is no point of entry where
you won't appear to be favoring one side over the other rather than just
trying to redress an imbalance of power.
I hope you'll think about that.
Hans Blom (950828) --
I would describe such an exchange as "exploring the patient's
model", a necessary procedure if you want to understand the way in
which the patient perceives (has modelled) the world and his own
behavior. The NLP literature gives much insight into how to
systematically get to know a model, but Socrates' questioning
method and Freud's free association method already did much the
Perhaps one difference (that doesn't really make a lot of difference) is
that I conceive of this primarily as the _patient_ exploring the
patient's model. The onlooker (me) really gets only a very sketchy view
of what is going on in the other person (the tip of the iceberg and all
that). I've even done this, with apparently happy results, with a person
who decided he didn't want me to know exactly what thoughts were
occurring to him, so we just called it "X". A strange episode, where
about the most I could do was to ask "Are you aware of any thoughts
about what you're looking at?" Just having me be there as an implicit
outside viewpoint seemed to help. I never did find out what was
I worked this out with Kirk Sattley back in about 1953 or 54. We came
across this idea that there was always a point of view toward whatever
subject we were thinking about, a point of view that wasn't the subject
itself, but about it, or about the thinker. We wondered how many steps
of this we could go through if we made a formal project out of it. This
was, I am sure, before there was any coherent hierarchical control
model. It probably had something to do with generating the concept of
The ONLY point of the method of levels is to get the person to adopt
as high a level of viewpoint as possible.
Maybe not, or not completely, if you focus your attention on WHAT
THE PATIENT PERCEIVES. You might find out about inconsistencies in
the patient's model: "now you say X, but just a few minutes ago you
said NOT-X". Internal models frequently have inconsistencies, but,
strange enough, once the patient is aware of an inconsistency, it
will be reorganized away, Consciously known inconsistencies are not
easily tolerated; (it is as if) the internal model has a need to be
That's my impression, too. Conflicts just seem to go away once the
patient is looking at things from the right level. Actually, I'm
uncomfortable with calling the other person a "patient." That sounds too
much like playing doctor: diagnosing, recommending, prescribing,
advising. When I do this process with someone, I never get the feeling
that I know what's going on better than the other person does, nor am I
trying to push for any particular outcome. That wasn't always true, but
I found that the process always went farther and worked better when I
was just content to follow instead of lead. Once in a while, a pointed
question or two does seem to help, like asking about one side of the
conflict, then the other, then the first side again, and so on until the
person says "Oh, my god, that's a conflict, isn't it?" But you can't do
that until the person has already laid out both sides pretty clearly.
I haven't had a lot of experience doing this with other people; a few
dozens at most. And I've almost never done it with the idea of being a
therapist. Mostly, I've done it to demonstrate the method, hoping that
real therapists might check it out.
For me, conflicts become important only because they hang up the
process; if the conflict isn't resolved, that's as high a level as
you're going to reach from that starting point. That's how I found out
that you don't actually have to do anything about conflicts except bring
them into view (both sides). When that happens, the conflict disappears
and you can go on to the next level. That's the only goal I had in mind:
to see if the other person could go up another level, whatever "level"
means. When you reach a point where there are no more levels to go up,
there just doesn't seem to be anything left to do. I've experienced that
a few times; Kirk and I used to trade off between being the guide and
being the explorer or investigator or whatever the word should be. It
was the result of that experience in which there don't seem to be any
more levels to occupy that led me to think this process might be
fundamental to therapy.
I agree with your assessment that such an experience can "leave a deep
impression of significance." Your experience has been much like mine.
And others have had it, too, without putting it into any kind of formal
model of what's happening. I had a great experience a few years ago at a
cybernetics meeting in St. Gallen, Switzerland. I was listening to a
young fellow giving a paper on a subject I don't even recall. He started
talking rather theoretically about being an observer of thoughts, and
then being an observer of thoughts about thoughts, and finally, of being
just an observer. It suddenly became plain to me that he had done
exactly the same exploration and had come to the same conclusion, but
didn't think anyone would understand it.
So when the session was over, I went up to him and said "You've been
there too, I take it." He gave me an astonished look and said "But
there's not much I can say about it, is there?" And I said no, and after
a little more checking back and forth to make sure we were talking about
the same thing, we shook hands and parted.
David Goldstein sent me a copy of an issue of "The Journal of
Dissociation" or some such unlikely title, in which people were
discussing a new concept they called "The Helper." It seemed that they
had been finding people who had developed, or were developing, some sort
of hard-to-describe point of view from which they could come to
understand themselves better and even bootstrap themselves out of
anxiety and depression (David, you'd better refresh my memory on this).
From their descriptions, it seemed that they had discovered the same
thing that Kirk and I found, and that you found, and that the young guy
in Switzerland found. Obviously a lot of other people have had similar
experiences through the ages; we get the reports highly interpreted and
dressed up in supernatural trappings, but the basic idea still comes
It seems to me that the "method of levels" focusses too much on
finding the ONE primary goal above the conflicting sub-goals. The
above case is something different: disentangling goals that cannot
be fulfilled AT THE SAME TIME.
Some conflicts can't be resolved by sequencing: should I keep this
lovely present, or reject it?
The point of the method of levels isn't just looking for ONE primary
goal. In fact, while dwelling on the content of a given level, a person
may talk about dozens of different goals and the relationships among
them, conflicts included. A switch of levels is quite easy to see; the
subject-matter changes completely, although it's still multiple. But the
point of the method of levels as I use it isn't to do anything in
particular about what is found at a given level; it's only to examine a
particular level long enough for attitudes, thoughts, awarenesses,
whatever the word is, to develop ABOUT the subject matter rather than
WITHIN it. Then a question or two, usually prompted by a comment
indicating a new level of perception, facilitates the switch to the next
level, and you do the whole thing again.
Moreover, once a person has made a trip up the levels, another session
at another time will start with a different subject of discussion, and a
different path will be followed. I don't think that the hierarchy has a
single apex; rather, each level is a collection of perceptions and goals
of a different type, without any one perception or goal being the only
one or even the predominant one. Are you a parent, a scientist, or a
citizen? Depends on the time of day and what's going on.
Darlene Todd (950827) --
I hope Rick Marken replies to you -- if not, refer to the time and date
of this post and ask again. The guys you _really_ want to ask are Bruce
Abbott, Samuel Spence Saunders, and Dennis Delprato, all renegade EAB
types. Maybe they will reply anyway.
Oded Maler (950828) --
Do you really think that to teach people just to be a good
controllers of their perceptual goal is a basis for society?
Suppose somehow my reorganization created a perceptual goal of,
say, torturing and raping minority whales (fill in your favorite
defnitely-immoral act). If you adopt your own point of view, then
"everything goes", it's a perception, there is no good or bad. This
is not what how you go about your daily life I believe - you seem
to try to "correct" other people's pereceptual goals.
You're answering your own question, if you'll just think about it a bit.
We don't, of course, directly experience other people's perceptual
goals; we have to guess what they are from the behavioral evidence. In
other words, we have to learn to perceive them. And if we want to
correct the goals we perceive others to have, we must have goals
concerning what we would like to see them controlling for. It all comes
down to the same thing: whatever we do, we're controlling our own
perceptions. We don't have to teach people to control their perceptions;
we don't have to teach them how to digest their food, either.
You don't have any choice about "adopting" your own point of view.
That's the only point of view you have. Everything else that you know
about happens within that point of view, even when you think you're
adopting some other point of view like someone else's, or society's, or
God's. It's still you doing the thinking from inside your own head.
No matter how nice and even "true" your models of control systems
with 10 variables and 3 levels might be, any practical work with
"real" people will be as "dirty" as unscientific (this is not a
prejorative) as the work described by Ed. Knowing the basic ideas
of PCT might help the therapist, give him intuition (as Dennis'
very very nice post described) but it will never be at the
scientific level of "the Teset" or other ideals which are
applicable to toy problems. Put in other words, you don't fry an
egg based on deep knowledge of thermodynamics.
All true, every word, but the implications are not necessarily those you
imply. We deal with the world as best we can, but it's got to be obvious
that we could do better. At the lower levels of organization,
theoretical or mathematical understanding can't improve matters much
(although sports physiologists might disagree), but at the higher levels
-- programs, principles, and system concepts -- a systematic and
organized approach is always far better than the random guessing and
trial-and-error methods we would otherwise have to use.
The mere fact that people deal with highly complex situations doesn't
guarantee that they're actually controlling very well, or even working
in their own best interests. People always like to take an approving
view of their own accomplishments, but this tends to be on a sliding
scale: the worse they do, the lower they set the definition of
"success." Or more charitably, they tend to define the top of the scale
as the highest mark they can see, not realizing that future generations
might be looking down at that same point on the scale from considerably
But I do basically agree with you: PCT is still in its early and
Best to all,