[Martin Taylor 2007.05.06.10.12]
[Jim Dundon 06.05.07.0800edt]
I woke up this morning thinking of your original impetus to PCT. You said it was your "realization that people don't control the meanings of words, they control perceptions."
Does not that entire sentence control the meaning of the words embodied in it.
What does "meaning" mean to you?
That's not a frivolous question. It embodies the PCT mantra "all behaviour is the control of perception" as applied to communication: "All communication is the control of the perception of the other partner".
In this way of looking at communication, the "meaning" of a communicative element (be it word, phrase, or dissertation) to the originator is the effect that the element is intended to have on the originator's perception of the recipient of the element. Its "meaning" to the recipient is in the recipient's imagination; it is the effect on the recipient that the recipient imagines the originator to have intended. In other words, for the recipient, meaning is the recipient's perception of the originator's reference values for the controlled perceptions involved in emitting the element.
That's very abstract. Think of an example: What is the "meaning" of: "Please would you open the window"?
You might think that the meaning is that I want a window to be opened. If that is so, why would I write it in an e-mail message intended to be read by people far from any window I can see? Obviously, in writing it, I don't intend the meaning to be that you (reader) go to the nearest window and open it. What, then is the "meaning" of the quote -- to you? And what do you imagine the meaning of it was to me when I wrote it?
Thinking about these questions leads to my initial comment: What does "meaning" mean to you?
Once you have thought about that, and come to some conclusion that satisfies you, you can think about the non-PCT nature of the sentence: "Does not that entire sentence control the meaning of the words embodied in it."
If you believe any part of PCT, the answer clearly is "No, the sentence does not control the meaning of the words in it". Sentences don't control, or control for, anything. People control; all living things control. Sentences do not. People emit sentences as actions -- outputs of perceptual control loops -- that affect their OWN perceptions, those perceptions usually but not always being of other people.
All the words in a sentence form part of the environment of all the other words in that sentence -- and of all other communications, in the same way that sidewalks and pavements form part of the environment for the control of one's perceptions in walking or driving a car. A series of concrete paving stones beside a wide strip of ashphalt has a different "meaning" than a similar series of paving stones with a wide area of grass on each side, or if they are raised by 1m, and have a 300m drp-off on one side.
So it is with words. Their "meanings" to both the writer and the reader are affected by their context, just as the meaning of the concrete paving slabs is affected by their context. In neither case does the context "control" the meaning.
There is a real difference between the meaning for the originator of a communication and for the recipient: the originator can alter what is said or written in order to bring his or her perception of the recipient nearer its reference value (in e-mail, the feedback loop has a long latency, compared with face-to-face communication, but the principle is the same). The recipient cannot alter what the originator said, but must incoporate it into a facet of his or her perception of the originator. It's passively received, and is not part of any of the recipient's control loops, though it may well disturb some.
If the recipient is controlling for a perception that the originator is satisfied that the message got across as intended, then the recipient can act in some way to control a perception of the originator's level of satisfaction. Perhaps (in face to face communication) the recipient does open the window without saying anything. If the originator says "Thanks", then the recipient has brought that controlled perception of the originator's satisfaction near its reference level -- which, to me, means that the recipient has discovered at least part of the "meaning" of "Please would you open the window".
But it might be only part of the meaning. Depending on context, other parts might include things that could be, but are not put into words, such as "I can't be bothered to get up out of my chair, but I don't mind bothering you, because you are less worthy than I." Or: "I'm paying you to do my bidding, but I'm being nice to you by saying 'Please'".
Aren't meanings of words perceptions at the higher levels?
If what I said above has any meaning for you, then the answer is "Yes": for readers, they are perceptions of some reference levels of perceptions controlled by writers; for writers they are acts in support of control of perceptions of some facets of readers. Definitely perceptions at levels higher than visual or acoustic.
You and I continue to use words with a measure of faith. How can we talk without both a measure of uncertanty and a measure of faith. Isn't that what we call hope?
Hope is well applied to what might be called "fire and forget" actions that the actor hopes will have the desired effect on a variable not directly controllable. To a large extent, "hope" is well applied to the effects of individual words and phrases that are part of a larger communicative unit. The feedback loop will be completed at the level of the larger unit and not at the level of the word, in most cases. One expects the xbvirlf to be interpreted without disturbances that generate individual feedback. That's "trust" and "faith". One really just "hopes" that the xbvirlf will have the desired effect (i.e. be interpreted as intended).
However, sometimes hope proves unjustified. The recipient (reader) provides feedback at the word level: "What do you mean by 'xbvirlf'?" Perhaps if xbvirlf is received once, it might be perceived as an accident, but when it is received twice, the recipient is likely to perceive it as having been intended by the originator: "Why did you say that nonsense?" I did use it twice, and I was deliberate both times. I was controlling (in imagination) my perception of you, the reader trying to perceive my intentions.
I think (my imaginary perception of you tells me) that if I had used "xbvirlf" only once, you would have taken its "meaning" as being the same as if I had written something like "words" or "small elements of communication", and passed on. By using it twice, I think its meaning may have changed to something like "Now I want you to think about what I am trying to get across at a more abstract level". Each instance was context for the "meaning" of each other instance.
If meanings of words change, who changes them?
Yes. See all of the above.
Is it not a controlled variable?
By the originator, yes. By the recipient, it's a perception, perhaps a disturbance, if it influences some perception the recipient is controlling.
Can't we have faith and hope in our ability to change the meaning?
Who says I can't control for changes in meaning?
You can, under some conditions, but it really depends on what perceptions you are controlling when you change the meaning of a word as an originator. As a recipient, you may have to try different possible meanings in creating a perception of the originator's intent. See "xbvirlf" above.
Isn't that what we call adjusting?
Isn't that part of what the reorganizing system does?
I wouldn't say so.
Why did you assign it to the reorganizing system?
Since you ask that of Bill P., I can't answer. I would just say that for myself, I wouldn't.
Let me do it.
I wanna do it.
Pleeeeease. Pretty please.
Do what? You are permitted to do anything that will help you control your perceptions. If your actions disturb perceptions I am controlling, I may act to counter your actions, but I could not "let" or "forbid" you to act other than by providing environmental constraints that provide or fail to provide the possibility of your actions, and in any case I have no power to influence those environmental constraints.
If you want to use words in ways that you have reason to believe will not affect me as you wish me to be affected, then you are not controlling your perception of me very well -- you will fail to communicate.
So, if "Let me do it" refers to using words as Humpty-Dumpty would (they mean what I tell them to mean, no more and no less), that's fine. You can talk to yourself as originator and recipient, and nobody else will be any the wiser.
Sorry for the rant. I have no time to edit it, but your message did disturb perceptions I control, to an extent that the error exceeded my tolerance limits. I have hope (though not necessarily faith) that my unedited screed may have some of the effect I desire.
I'm away for 5 weeks starting Friday, and have two incomplete reports to complete before then. Accordingly I may well not respond to further messages in this thread, at least not for a month and a half.