Intro, question & comment

As a new member to this discussion group, I will provide a context
for my questions and comment, with a ?brief? introduction.
        I graduated from the Naval Academy with an E.E. degree in the early
50's (Class of Ross Perot). It was there that I had my first experience
with control mechanisms of various sorts :-). After leaving the navy in
the late 50's I went to Europe to study instead of going to IBM with Ross.
        During that period, while studying linguistics and pedagogy. I
became acquainted with Wiener's work on Cybernetics, and had the privelege
of meeting with Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask and consequently studied the
writing of Ashby, Gray Walters and von Foerster. I also had a course in
perception (genetic epistomology) from Piaget during this period.
        In the Sixties I became acquainted with Grant Fairbank's work on
delayed auditory feedback, and the Smiths' work on spacial feedback
distortion (Wisconsin) all of this together with my background with gunfire
control systems was formulating a kind of unique understanding of systems
and the behavior of systems not held by any of my colleagues :frowning: I began
thinking about how all this ties together with symbolic systems such as
math, music and natural languages.
        In the seventies I held a position at Michigan State University
similar to that held by Bill Powers at Northwestern. I was part of a
special unit (Learning and Evaluation Services) which was suppose to help
the faculty improve their instruction. My background in computers,
television, pedagogy and linguistics came to a focus when I was asked by
the Russian Department to help them improve their courses. I saw it as an
opportunity to test my ideas about symbolic systems. I managed to convince
the Russian faculty that they should focus the entire teaching process on
developing listening (and reading) comprehension. I convinced them
(although few others) that the body controls its output based upon feedback
control to a cognitive schemata map created by the receptive learning
processes, i.e. we only learn to perceive, and that perception then
controls our behavior. Observational learning (Bandura, Piaget), NOT
"behavioral" learning i.e. learning by doing (Skinner) was to be the focus
of their teaching. As a result of the success of that project, I became
associated (in the minds of linguists) with a small group of language
teaching "experts" who advocated the "comprehension approach" approach to
language teaching. I preferred the expression "Shut up and Listen".
        When I saw Bill Power's book B:CP in the mid seventies, I
immediately recognized it as a formalized version of many of the ideas I
had been thinking over the previous 20 years, and I believe wrote as much
to him at the time. I was particularly indebted to his insights about
"time-scales" which result from hierarchical nature of the control systems.
In the early 80's our "special unit" at Michigan State was eliminated due
to "financial difficulties." (Tenure is an irrelevant principle when the
expediency is money)
        I accepted an offer to be a director of a high tech language center
at a university in Japan and have been in Japan ever since. I have been
on the internet (Bitnet first) since first arriving in Japan, as one major
connection to the rest of the world, but I only recently spotted references
to Bill Powers and PCT. I began exploring the web for further info,
finding CSGnet and lurking around trying to find out the present status of
PCT and trying to determine if I should join the list.

            From that context, comes a couple questions and a comment:

        1. Is there anyone else out there interested (involved) in how
PCT relates to symbolic learning, linguistics, language teaching, CALL?

        2. What work is being (has been) done involving the
"time-scales" issue? I have not seen any mention of different time scales
at different levels of the control hierarchy in any of the discussions, but
I may have just missed it in my brief review of the archives.

        And just a comment. I believe recognizing different time-scales is
crucial for understanding "symbolic systems" and I believe it is
particularly important for understanding the relationship of symbolic
systems to eighth and ninth level control systems and vice versa. The
ultrastabilty of linguistic form creates, I believe, obstacles to our
ability to communicate effectively about truly new ideas.
         As an example of what I mean, I am reminded that Copernicus began
a paradigm shift almost 500 years ago, and yet, we still talk about
"sunrise" and "sunset" to this day, and in many languages. I think most of
us know better nowadays, but we just don't know how to talk better.
        500 years ago Columbus dispelled the myth that the earth was flat,
but linguistically we still use the words upstairs and downstairs instead
of the more accurate global expressions "outstairs" and "instairs". When
will we ever learn . . .?
        I hope in this discussion list, which deals primarily with the
paradigm shift of the century if not the millenium, we will not let the
words we use get in the way of our meanings, and we can try to "understand"
each other's meanings, even when "they" use funny words. The paradigm
change is slow in coming. Nevertheless, the technical concepts of
cybernetics, feedback and control are, I believe, becoming better
understood, by more and more people (I should add information to the list
[or better variety] to spice up the discussion). Even though the way the
words are used in the popular press (and sometimes also in scientific
journals) has tended to distort the basic ideas, the original concepts
are, I believe, so sound that they just need continual reviewing by those
aware of them, and far greater exposure to the wider audience . . .but that
takes time.
        Bill, I for one, greatly appreciate what you have done, and I am
sorry I have not kept current with your more recent thinking. I am trying
to correct that now. To the rest of the list I recommend that more of
the people go back and review some of the earlier pioneeers such as Wiener,
Ashby and Beer. There is, I believe, something to be said for
understanding the evolution of an idea, not just its final form.

James R. Nord
Nanzan University
Nagoya, Japan