[From Bill Powers (940907.0900 MDT)]
Bill Leach (940905.1914) --
(writing to Rick):
I still feel almost exactly the opposite as you do concerning the
"leaning" of the society. You think it leans to the right and I think
that it leans to the [left].
Another way to say this is that Rick's reference level is to the left of
the way he perceives the society, and yours is to the right of the way
you perceive the society. For all we know, you and Rick perceive the
society exactly the same way!
Avery Andrews (940907.0625) --
Fundamentally, I find it deeply incoherent to accept PCT but to reject
the current accounts provided by the scientific community about the
nature of perception (what are the chances that Bill is right about
control, but everybody is wrong about the nature of light and its
relationship to visual perception? Pretty slim, I'd say).
To construct a PCT model, it's necessary to assume a model of the
nervous system, a biological organism, and an environment. For the
nervous system we use the PCT model as the organizing principle; for the
biological organism, models of muscles, synapses, and energy supplies;
for the environment, optics and mechanics (I'm thinking of the Little
Man). These models work together very well, each one explaining what the
others leave out, each one playing a part in the whole model. If there
were something in any one of them that contradicted what is in any
other, the whole model wouldn't work.
This tells us that these models are mutually consistent. It doesn't tell
us that they are objectively right. The physics model taken by itself is
internally consistent to a high degree; this was achieved over a period
of several centuries by demanding that the models of underlying
processes, although unverifiable in objective terms, predict
observations within the limits of measurement.
Observations, of course, are meter readings of one kind or another. The
relationship of a meter reading to what is causing the meter reading is
a matter for conjecture and theory. Physics has tested its conjectures
and refined its theories to the point that nobody so far can think of an
alternative way of explaining our experiences of meter readings. This
doesn't mean that no alternatives could be found; it just means that
nobody has thought of any yet. And as long as any alternative is even
conceivable, we must treat physics as a version of reality, as plausible
model, not as a true account of reality.
We tend to give physical models veto power over other kinds simply
because they have been worked out so much better. If PCT required
violation of conservation of matter/energy, we would first look for a
flaw in PCT, not in physics. However, this may not hold true forever.
One day, I suspect that we will re-examine physics in the light of what
is known about human classes of perception. Why is there such a thing as
"particle" physics? Is it not in part because human perception is
organized in such a way that the idea of a particle makes perceptual
sense? That concepts like "space" and "time" make perceptual sense? That
relationships like "between" make perceptual sense? To some as yet
unknown degree, physics itself begins with a world already ordered by
the properties of human perceptual systems; it is as much about human
perception as about an objective world.
One day we will not distinguish between PCT and physics: there will be
just one coherent model of experience. Both PCT and physics will be
altered during the process of arriving at this model. All our models
must be altered to remain mutually consistent, or to form parts of a
single model. This final merger may be 1000 or 10000 years in the
future, but even now we can foresee it.
So we aren't accepting PCT and rejecting other accounts of perception (I
take it that means other accounts of that which is perceived). We're
using different models, depending on whether we're talking about
perception as a brain process, or about that which is perceived
according to physics, chemistry, etc.. I think that PCT puts these
models together fairly nicely, while still recognizing that they are all
human creations intended to explain experience. All that makes this
process tricky is that according to ALL the models, the place where they
live must be in the human "brain+ -- itself a model.
And we also know that the visual system coarsens up the array a lot (so
that we can't see paramecia with the naked eye, even though the pattern
is there in the light energy) ...
A typically brilliant Avery Andrews example! However, we know about the
pattern that is there in the visual array only because we have
constructed input devices and created pictures of little animals that we
_can_ see. Once we have seen them, we can form a theory that there are
things too small to see without lenses. And we can make subjective
vision consistent with physics again if we say that the patterns are
really there in the light even when we can't see them, and that the lens
scales the patterns up to fit the resolution of our eyes. We can't prove
that the patterns are there without using the lenses; however, the only
explanation that makes sense is that they are there whether or not we
are using a lens. Since nobody can think of a better explanation, we
accept the independent existence of those hypothetical patterns just as
if we had a way of verifying their existence without using some sort of
lens, and a model of something we call "light."
"It just wouldn't make sense," we say, "for those patterns, and the
little animals that give rise to them, to spring into existence whenever
we look through a lens, and cease to exist otherwise." But physicists
have believed things exactly that strange even about objects we can see,
such as cats in a box, haven't they? I confess that I haven't been able
to believe them yet, but then I'm not a very advanced thinker. But I
accept the obvious evidence that _somebody_ can believe such things.
In general, it seems to me that what we perceive is mostly there, and
there as we perceive it - it's just that an infinite amount of stuff is
left out - an infinite amount that we can find out more about by means
scientific instrumentation, and maybe even more that is in principle
hidden from us.
I agree, that's how it seems to me, too. But how would you go about
_proving_ that what you perceive is really there, without relying on
some other perception? You're stating an article of faith, which is
fine, but it's _your_ article of faith, and like all matters of faith it
is true if you believe it is true. It is also false if you believe it is
false. Since you could believe either way, which way is right? There's
no way to tell. All you can do is pick one and follow out its
implications. You can't prove that everyone ought to pick the same one.
I use the same model you use. I assume that there's a physical reality
and that physics describes it. But there are limits to what I can
believe and still feel I'm being internally consistent; if I believe in
Schroedinger's Cat, then I also have to believe that the little animals
spring into existence when I look through my microscope at them. My
global model of the world remains consistent only if I reject certain
things that physicists say. I can't prove that I'm right or that they're
wrong. But if we agree that all these things are models, there's no need
So I'd suggest that mammals have managed to shift a lot of
responsibility for their behavioral development onto the environment
(as opposed to genetically determined hard-wiring) by exploiting the
fact that you can't learn to control anything without learning to
control (some of) the right things.
That follows from believing that there is indeed an objective world with
its own regularities. If we find that we can learn to control our own
perceptions by acting on the external world, then obviously we must have
learned to produce effects which actually do alter our perceptions in
reliable ways. We may not know what it is that we're doing right, but we
can easily detect when we're doing something wrong: we fail to control
our perceptions. So the fact that reorganization works tells us that
there is an objective reality. It just doesn't tell us what that
objective reality really is. All we can do is see whether our models of
that reality are consistent with our experiences.
Best to all,