Levels of aspiration; trains of thought

[From Bill Powers (960509.0940 MDT)]

Stefan Balke (960509.1615 CET) --

     I would like to add here, that the criteria for the truth of a
     thought has to lie outside the thought itself, but it could lie
     inside the brain and must not necessarily be observed from outside
     the brain, as it is in your newspaper example.

Good trick: how do I observe the date on the newspaper "from outside the
brain?" But I take your point: some truths are about the state of the
system itself.

     One example for this is delivered by the level of aspiration
     approach, which claims that the criterium for the question "Was my
     performance a succes or a failure" is not an external one, maybe
     the magnitude of the performance or the intensity of applause from
     the public, but the point whether the performance or applause (the
     controlled perceptual variable) exceeds or fails the actual level
     of aspiration (the reference level).

Yes, I would agree with that, and with your translation into PCT. In
fact, isn't this true of all criteria? A perception pertaining to an
external or internal state of affairs is just a report on what is being
experienced. There's nothing in such a report to indicate the preferred
level or kind of experience. Perceptions have no value except in
comparison with an internal reference standard.

     In an experiment I asked the participants before playing the next
     trial of a computer game (tetris) to tell me how many points they
     wanted to reach in the coming trial. This was recorded as their
     actual aspiration level. After finishing the trial, I asked them,
     whether they evaluated the actual performance as a success or as a
     failure. In 94.9% of the 878 analysed trials, the players told me
     that they evaluated the performance as success when it exceeds the
     level of aspiration or that they evaluated it as a failure when it
     did not exceed the level. The level itself was not fixed but
     covaried with the success ratings of the previous trials. The
     classic study in this domain was carried out by Ferdinand Hoppe in

Nice statistics!

This tells you something but not everything about what the participants
perceive as "success." As you found out, the _desired_ amount of success
was not a fixed score; it depended on previous performance. So you were
starting to look at a higher level of control, which adjusted the target
score defining success in order to control some higher-level perception.
It would be interesting to find out what that higher level of perception

Perhaps "desired score" and "success" are not at the same level. If a
person says "I want a score of X," and then makes a score considerably
below that level, simply having failed to make the desired score,
whatever it is, is a sign of failure. However, if the person makes a
much higher score than stated, again this is a failure (of a different
kind) because the person did not correctly estimate his actual score.

One way to explore this idea would be to have the participant estimate
_somebody else's_ score in the same game, over a series of trials. Now
the measure of success at this new task would be how near the estimate
is to the other person's score. I suspect that this kind of estimate
would also covary with the other person's success on previous trials.

So at one level, the person tries to achieve a "level of aspiration"
relative to a chosen score and reports success in terms of whether the
actual score is below or above the current level of aspiration. At
another level, the person is trying to adjust the level of aspiration
for a score so that there will be success at the lower level, but not a
great deal more success than predicted. At the second level, the "level
of aspiration" has to do with accurate prediction, not with making any
particular score. Does that make sense?


     A very elegant solution. Thanks, Stefan.

No, thank YOU. It was only your ability to observe clearly that made the
demonstration work. If you had wanted to, you could have made the
demonstration fail. I was at your mercy.
Bruce Gregory (960509.1025 EDT) --
RE: A train of thought

     A most vivid description of the workings of the observer was given
     by Stephen Levine in his lucid and graceful classic, _A Gradual
     Awakening_ (Anchor Books, 1979).

A lovely example. I'll get hold of the book. I'm afraid that this sort
of poetry tends to turn off most scientific/mathematical/engineering
types, because they're more or less trapped inside one of these trains
of thought, and every second boxcar contains a picture of someone
falling off the train and turning into a jelly-brained idiot. Oh, the
stigma of being thought Unscientific!

I think I've told this story before, but it's worth repeating while the
thread is still twitching. I was at an international cybernetics meeting
in Saint Gallen, Switzerland, and attended a session by a young guy who
was going on about perception and so forth. As I listened, I realized
that he was trying to convey the distinction between perceiving and
being aware. His audience didn't seem to get it. Afterward, I caught him
in the hall, and a brief conversation ensued, something like this:

Me: You've been there, haven't you?

Young Guy: Been there? Uh -- (cautiously) -- been where?

Me: The state where you're aware, but there's nothing to say about it.

YG: Oh. Yes. It's hard to talk about.

Me: Right. It's a nice state.

YG: Yes, it's nice.

Me: Well -- nice talking with you.

YG: (Grinning). Yes. See you later.

Something like that. We never met again.
Best to all,

Bill P.