"Just So" Stories and PCT

[From Rick Marken (960606.1030)]

Bruce Gregory (960606.1005 EDT) --

1. I am playing a Nintendo game...Ideally suited to an analysis in terms of
PCT.

2. I am playing the infamous Windows Solitaire game...Seems like this game
might be suited to an analysis in terms of PCT.

3. I am watching the Red Socks play baseball...Does PCT have anything to say

about this situation?

Peter Cariani (960606) --

More generally, can PCT explain persistent masochistic fascinations,
such as those (enjoyed? indulged in? endured?) by Red Socks fans?
It would be extremely impressive if it could!

PCT purports to explain _all_ purposive behavior (control). Since it is very
likely that playing games and rooting for teams (winners or losers) are
purposeful behaviors (they involve the control of many different perceptions)
PCT can explain them in principle (though I couldn't write out the PCT model
of a Red Sox fan right off the top of my head; besides the fact that it is
likely to be a complex model, I also don't know what I am supposed to
model; I don't know, that is, what perceptions the fan is controlling, the
quality of control, etc.; before you start explaining with PCT you have to do
some Testing for Controlled Variables).

Given the primitive state of the behavioral sciences -- where "theories" are
really "just so" stories rather than models -- it is natural to think of
"testing" a theory by asking whether you can use it to make up a story to
explain what you see. And it's easy to make up such "just so" stories. In the
behavioral sciences, the ability to make up plausible "just so" stories is
often considered a test of the theory. This is why behavioral science
theories (S-R, reinforcement, computed output) hang around so long even
though they incorrectly _predict_ results when subjected to quantitative
experimental test.

We don't see the use of "just so" stories so much in more mature sciences. We
have confidence in the models (like Newton's laws) not because we can use
them to make up stories (to answer questions like "can Newton explain the
behavior of a truck in a twister?") but because every time we set up a test
of a detailed _prediction_ of the model, the world behaves as predicted by
the model.

My tests of PCT have been (I hope) along the lines of tests of Newton's laws.
I test PCT in situations where it makes precise predictions about how people
will behave. I also try to test PCT in situations where alternative models
(S-R, reinforcement, cognitive) make clearly different predictions. So far,
in all our (Powers, Bourbon, Marken) tests of PCT, the PCT model has
prevailed and alternative models have failed. Think about what this means in
terms of "just so" explanations of things like masochistic Red Sox fans. It
means that even though you can invent, say, a reinforcement or S-R
explanation of fan behavior, the explanation is completely spurious because
we already know that the model of behavior on which the explanation is built
is wrong. Using reinforcement, S- R, cognitive, etc. theories as an
explanation of the behavior of Red Sox fans would be like using phlogiston as
an explanation air pollution; you can do it, but (as Nixon wisely noted on
another context) that would be wrong.

Best

Rick

[From Bruce Gregory (960606.1445 EDT)]

(Rick Marken 960606.1030)

PCT purports to explain _all_ purposive behavior (control). Since it is very
likely that playing games and rooting for teams (winners or losers) are
purposeful behaviors (they involve the control of many different perceptions)
PCT can explain them in principle (though I couldn't write out the PCT model
of a Red Sox fan right off the top of my head; besides the fact that it is
likely to be a complex model, I also don't know what I am supposed to
model; I don't know, that is, what perceptions the fan is controlling, the
quality of control, etc.; before you start explaining with PCT you have to do
some Testing for Controlled Variables).

I am interested that you equate all purposive behavior with control.
(Not antagonistic just interested.) I can see how we control for
reading the scores in the newspapers (we are trying to match a
reference signal linked to Boston and Texas, for example), but it
_seems_ as though what the scores we read tell us is _not_ something
we can control. We must simply accept them (although not
dispassionately). Why do we choose to control our perceptions if
they can only reveal something which we cannot control? Why are we
interested in outcomes even when we can do nothing about them
(unlike our Nintendo outcomes)? I realize that the answers to these
questions will be "just so" stories until we can demonstrate that a
model based on PCT predicts what we observe, but I wonder if there is
some obvious (if superficial) answer that Hasn't occurred to me.

My tests of PCT have been (I hope) along the lines of tests of Newton's laws.

I count myself one of your biggest fans and can vouch for the
incisiveness of your tests!

I test PCT in situations where it makes precise predictions about how people
will behave. I also try to test PCT in situations where alternative models
(S-R, reinforcement, cognitive) make clearly different predictions. So far,
in all our (Powers, Bourbon, Marken) tests of PCT, the PCT model has
prevailed and alternative models have failed. Think about what this means in
terms of "just so" explanations of things like masochistic Red Sox fans. It
means that even though you can invent, say, a reinforcement or S-R
explanation of fan behavior, the explanation is completely spurious because
we already know that the model of behavior on which the explanation is built
is wrong. Using reinforcement, S- R, cognitive, etc. theories as an
explanation of the behavior of Red Sox fans would be like using phlogiston as
an explanation air pollution; you can do it, but (as Nixon wisely noted on
another context) that would be wrong.

A lot of interesting work has been published in the past few
years dealing with the differing communication styles of men and women.
Those findings make perfect sense in the light of PCT even though no
PCT model has been formulated to predict the progress of any
particular interaction. It _seems_ to me that our intense interest in
the outcome of events that we cannot control is not similarly
amenable to a "quick and dirty" control model. I was hoping to see
if I had missed something obvious to those who build PCT models,
rather than to us dilettantes.

Regards,

Bruce G.

[Martin Taylor 960606 16:00]

Bruce Gregory (960606.1445 EDT)

...it _seems_ as though what the scores we read tell us is _not_ something
we can control. We must simply accept them (although not
dispassionately). Why do we choose to control our perceptions if
they can only reveal something which we cannot control?

There are lots of perceptions that we cannot affect, that nevertheless
are contributors to perceptions that we _can_ affect. For example, we
cannot affect the time of sunrise, but when we perceive that the landscape
is light enough, we can control the position of the car in its lane (ignoring
the possibility of headlights).

When we perceive the result of last night's baseball game, it contributes
to our perception of, say, convivial interaction with our colleagues at
coffee break. We can influence the perceived conviviality better if we
know the score than if we don't.

If PCT is correct, all purposive action is to control some perception(s).
No outsider, and possibly not even the person performing the action, can
determine what perceptions are being controlled for, and what the reference
levels for those perceptions might be at any particular moment. Except for
the highest level, both the reference levels and the actively controlled
perceptions themselves are likely to change moment by moment. We can apply
the Test effectively to those perceptions whose control is sustained and
whose reference levels don't change too much during the period of the Test.
So, in the case of a fan who religiously checkes the scores every day, there
is a possibility of Testing to determine what perceptions might be controlled
using, in part, the knowledge of the score.

For example, if one guessed that convivial interaction with colleagues was
an important controlled perception using the score, one might intrigue with
the colleagues not to mention baseball, and not to respond when our Test
subjects mentions it. The portion of the "conviviality perception" control
loop that _might_ involve baseball scores is thereby broken. This is not
the orthodox kind of disturbance used in the Test, but if the Test subject
stops looking for the scores after a few days, one's guess as to the
controlled variable is at least increased in likelihood. If not, we couldn't
say much about it either way.

One might disturb the perception in other ways, such as by intriguing with
the colleagues to be cool and distant to the Test subject _until he mentioned
the baseball scores_. One might provide a newspaper that had had a false
score substituted. There are lots of possibilities. And there are lots of
possibilities for what perceptions might be using the knowledge of the
scores as input to their perceptual function. Perhaps even a perception
of oneself as "expert" in something...

Bottom line: All purposive behaviour is to control some perception(s), but
not all perceptions are controlled. Furthermore, not all behaviour to
control a perception is successful in controlling that perception--the
world doesn't always cooperate, and one doesn't know _how_ to control
some perceptions that one may want to control. But a lot of people think
that the more they know, the more perceptions they will be able to control
when the need arises. That's the bottom-line reason for doing basic
research, I guess.

And that's the way the elephant got his spots.

Martin

[From Bruce Gregory (960607.1025 EDT)]

(Martin Taylor 960606 16:00)

Bottom line: All purposive behaviour is to control some perception(s), but
not all perceptions are controlled. Furthermore, not all behaviour to
control a perception is successful in controlling that perception--the
world doesn't always cooperate, and one doesn't know _how_ to control
some perceptions that one may want to control. But a lot of people think
that the more they know, the more perceptions they will be able to control
when the need arises. That's the bottom-line reason for doing basic
research, I guess.

I truly appreciate your thoughtful and very helpful response.

And that's the way the elephant got his spots.

I always wondered about that...

Regards,

Bruce G.

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