[From Rick Marken (940221.1030)]
Cliff Joslyn (940220) --
So nothing personal, Rick.
No problem. I suppose it's impossible to avoid the perception of
ad hominum when the ideas one finds infuriating are being created
and esposed by hominids. But I try to separate (in my own mind,
at least) the dancer from the dance.
does your knowledge
of Systems Theory (ST) extend beyond "Mindwalk"?
Yes and no. I have had both scholarly and non-scholarly encounters
with what I would now call "systems theorists". It's obviously not
a coherent movement. The movie was interesting only because it allowed
me to give a single name to a plethora of concepts that have turned
up in the psychological (and CSG-L) literature in the last decade or so.
If so, then please make your SPECIFIC criticisms of the likes of Bateson,
von Bertallanfy, Ashby, Klir, Miller, Bunge, Checkland, Gaines, Goguen,
Rosen, Mesarovic, Forrester, Boulding
I am not familair with most of them. Powers gave a nice critique of
Ashby some time ago. All I can say is that if any of these people
were doing anything related to understanding the nature of living
systems as perceptual control systems we would know about their
work and they (if they are currently living) would be using ours.
On a purely selfish basis, I think PCT has little to gain by attacking ST,
especially in such a stupid way (the attack is stupid, Rick, not you).
All that I was "attacking" were the silly ideas that the movie identified
as part of "systems theory" -- particularly "self-organization". As
Bill Powers pointed out in the post to which I was responding, terms
like "self organization" don't make any sense to people who understand
both English and control modelling.
You risk alienating even more people than you already have with the
appearance of ideological intransigence (note I said the APPEARANCE of
It is no appearance. I am as intransigent as they get when it comes to
PCT. I see no need to seek agreement between PCT and other approaches to
understanding life when there is none and when the other approaches contribute
nothing (except possibly obscurantism) to our understanding of purposeful
behavior. I have no interest in "selling" PCT to anyone. People who
have "bought" PCT have almost always bought it for the wrong reason.
I know very few people who actually understand and contribute to PCT.
But I know that the few people who do understand PCT will maintain their
"loyalty" to it. The only thing that will change their (and my) committment
to PCT is some extraordinary discovery that reveals some fundammental assump-
tion of the model to be false. I also know plenty of people who like PCT but
don't really understand it. These are the people who are likely to be "driven
away" by my intransigence. If this is enough to drive people away from
PCT (or to keep them from joining in) then I say "hooray"; I have done
my job. I don't give a fat rat's ass whether people like Glasser,
Carver and Scheier, Hyland, etc etc stay interested in PCT. I don't want
to work with people who deal with PCT as a religion. I don't mind driving away
people who are in PCT because it "sounds good" or because it seems to support
one or another of their existing prejudices. I'm really not trying to drive
people away but if that occurs as a side effect of my efforts to present
an accurate representation of PCT that --again-- HOORAY!
Bill and Mary Powers STRONGLY disagree with me about this, I think.
And they might write in and _ad_ my _hominum_. That's fine with me.
They can criticize me all they like -- and I will feel hurt and despondant
at being revealed as an intransigent meany -- but their intransigent niceness
will NOT drive me from PCT. I didn't get into PCT because Bill Powers
is one of the sweetest people in the world or because Mary is one of
the wisest and kindest. I got into it because it happens to be true
that the behavior of living organisms is the control of perception.
I also believe (personally) that understanding PCT -- in detail --
can make things a LOT better for individuals and their social
life. But I think things will get better only if we get the science
right. Political compromise doesn't work in PCT.
You have few enough friends out there to go looking for any more enemies.
I am looking for fellow understanders. Friends I can do without (in terms
of PCT). If you want to see what happens to non-understanding "friends"
of PCT, read any book by W. Glasser, a past "friend" of PCT. I will
post my review of his most recent book later today.
We listen when people really have something to contribute. Just becuase
people THINK they have something to contribute, however, doesn't mean
that they do. We didn't jump on feedforward becuase it's not "doctrinal
PCT". We jumped on it becuase 1) there was no evidence for it's existence
and 2) it made no contribution to the model. It would have been nicer and
more politically correct to get all excited about feedforward. We could
also probably get a lot more "fans" if we showed how PCT supported
or was supported by information theory, self - organizing systems, fuzzy
logic systems or whatever. I'm just not interested in politically correct
PCT -- sorry.
There has been a troubled history between the PCT and Cybernetics
communities, and very little contact between PCT and ST.
The "trouble" was only that cyberneticists were not intrested in
PCT science AT ALL. We brought our wares to the conferences and
we were ignored and, in one case I recall, scoffed at. It seemed
like PCT should have been of enormous interest to cyberneticians --
in fact, we thought PCT WAS cybernetics -- but I guess it wasn't
This situation is to none of their advantages.
PCT is not a political position. Even though we don't have the people
(possibly ten in the world understand it) we have the data and the
working models. If that's nothing (and apparently that IS next to nothing
to some people who want DEEP understanding) then there is nothing we can
do about it. Whether there are ever ANY people around who understand PCT
or not, living organisms will ALWAYS be perceptual control systems.
That fact will live beyond my "political incorrectness".
But what we need is MORE cross-contact and fertilization, a coming together
and synthesis, a careful selection of our best work, and not these kind of
(apparently) ignorant broad attacks.
This is a political approach to understanding living systems. In fact,
what we need is more research (testing for controlled variables) and more
modelling. We will get nowhere by trying to find verbal compromises with
those who like to use words like "self organizing".
What are you saying, Rick: ST is WRONG? It has NOTHING of value to say?
ST qua ST may be great. But it ain't PCT.
It has not informed PCT AT ALL?
That's really irrelevant. ST may have "informed" some aspects of PCT:
Bill Powers may have gotten some "inspiration" from Ashby or some other
STer but who cares now. PCT is PCT -- a model of purposeful behavior as
the control of perception. I don't think ST is "informing" PCT at all
unless their are STers out there doing PCT research and modelling that
I don't know about. Have STers been testing for controlled variables?
Be specific, man, and get real!
All I know is PCT. Why don't you give ME a specific example of
a contribution of systems theory to PCT. I hope it's better than
the information theory contribution to PCT.
Hi. My name is Cliff Joslyn, and I'm a systems theorist. I am also a
Cybernetician, and I am TRYING to be a Powers' Control Theorist (PCTist).
Rick: I'm determined to help you crawl out of the mud and enter a REAL
I like it here in the mud; I think of it as clay.
Accept my challenge: my next posting is a definition of ST by
Francis Heylighen and myself for the upcoming Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy. Does it reflect your understanding of ST? If not, why not? If
so, how is it inconsistent or in conflict with PCT?
I can find several statements that seem to conflict with PCT (or not,
depending on how you read them). For example:
Systems Theory [Including Systems Analysis]: the transdisci-
plinary study of the abstract ORGANIZATION of phenomena,
I would say that PCT is about the abstract organization that EXPLAINS
a particular phenomenon -- purposeful behavior.
The rest of the posting is pretty historical and neither conflicts
with nor supports PCT. But some of the terms you mention can, indeed,
conflict with PCT, depending on how one imagines that they "contribute"
That's Get Smart
Jim Dundon (940220.1825) --
re: perceptual signal
...the magnitude of the perceptual signal is the
information it carries>
Magnitude compared to what?
Absolute magnitude. It is the magnitude of the percpetual
signal compared to nothing. The magnitude of the perceptual
signal (in the PCT model) is measured in units of neural
current (impulses/sec). The absolute magnitude of the perceptual
signal is continuously compared to the absolute magnitude of the
reference signal (measured in the same units -- impulses/sec).
What Bill meant is that, in the PCT model, the controlled variable
is a perceptual signal, p,which can be viewed as a continuosly
varying number. The value of the number (in impulses/sec) can be
thought of as information about "itself". That is, if p = 10 then
this says that p is 10 and not any OTHER value. Obviously, saying
that the value of p IS information about p doesn't add much to
saying that p is a variable.