Subjects: Demos needed for PCT promotion
Musings on science
Greg: Prices on CSG literature also: What is Man?
[From Dag Forssell (920827)
Recent comments by Avery and Rick:
I think we will all continue to be frustrated on this subject until we
come up with experiments that demonstrate this "absolute need."
How can control theorists be so off? We do not need more startling
demonstrations. PCT tells us that all action is initiated by error
What we need is to address the error signals that lurk out there in
people. A synonym for error signal is dissatisfaction. We need to reach
people who are dissatisfied with what they can accomplish, people with
a yearning for something better. A better way to deal with each other.
A dissatisfied person will be open to suggestions and interested in
trying a different solution.
Much of the debate on this net addresses people (directly and indirectly)
who are perfectly satisfied with what they know, proud of it and ready
to defend it.
Forget it. Ask people what problem they are anxious to solve. Ask if they
are willing to think for themselves and evaluate an alternative. When
people refer to authorities, they are not prepared to think for
themselves. PCT does not need anything more than a student who is willing
to think for him/her self and make the effort to understand the evidence.
Our challenge is to tell our story so that people become aware of the
error signals they frequently deal with, and understand that we have a
permanent solution they may like if they spend a little time looking at
PCT is a hard science. We expect 100% prediction and get 95%+, with the
remaining 5% accounted for by expected imperfection of control - less
than infinite loop gain and sloppy connections in the environment.
People schooled in the soft sciences have low or no expectations of
prediction. Sometimes they do a poor job of describing what they are
studying, much less offer explanations. I was astounded a while back in
a personal conversation with a prestigious Russian Psychology PhD when
he said matter of factly that the science of psychology has nothing to
do with the practice of psychology. This is the way science is! I have
since had others confirm this. To me, a science that has nothing to do
with the reality of what it purports to study is no science at all.
People schooled in the hard sciences tend not to think of the softies as
scientists at all, and the soft scientists don't begin to understand the
Yet all are "scientists" in the Kuhnian sense. Everyone observes the
world through their own paradigms. No-one knows the Boss Reality. By
Kuhn's definition as I understand it even a babbling child is a
scientist. But there are differences in the standards the scientist tries
to live up to. There are degrees of science rigor.
Modeling allows you to work to a high standard. It allows you to test
your predictions and will prove you wrong in a hurry if you are off even
Verbal exercises can be carried on indefinitely without any tests ever
Last week I visited a friend and saw a few issues of American Psychology.
A Swedish poetic quote comes to mind as I scan much of the content:
"Up fly the words, thought is at a standstill". (Poetry lost here,
The following from the Comment section of the August 1992 issue may be
DISUNITY IN PSYCHOLOGY: CHAOS OR SPECIATION?
Richard J. McNally _Harvard University_
In his recent _American Psychologist_ article, Staats (September 1991)
expressed concern about an increasing fragmentation in psychology that
has produced a "crisis of disunity" (p. 899) exemplified by "great and
increasing diversity--many unrelated methods, findings, problems,
theoretical languages, schismatic issues, and philosophical positions"
(p. 899). According to Staats, unless we unify the field, psychology is
unlikely "to be considered to be a real science" (p. 910).
Although Staats cited Kuhn's ( 1962) early work on preparadigmatic
science to support his thesis, Kuhn's (1991) recent work provides a more
optimistic perspective on psychology's diversity. In a recent address
based on his forthcoming book, Kuhn ( 1991 ) argued that cultural
practices (e.g., religious, military, scientific) undergo a process akin
to biological speciation. Following revolutions in science, new "species"
emerge that develop their own research agendas, concepts, methodological
standards, journals, and professional societies. Communication and cross
fertilization remain possible when these subspecialities share
intellectual ancestors but incommensurability arises as the tree of
science branches outward, producing new limbs that share increasingly
fewer roots. Although unity may occur within specialized domains of
inquiry, the absence of an overarching framework has not impeded the
progress of science.
To illustrate his point, Kuhn (1991) noted that physicists could once
absorb new research by reading _Physical Review_ But today _Physical
Review_ has fractured into four journals, and rare is the physicist who
has the expertise, the time, or the interest to follow developments in
more than one or two of these highly specialized outlets. Yet despite its
fragmentation into subspecialities, physics has retained its progressive
character. According to Kuhn (1991), mature science is a "ramshackle
structure" whose semi-autonomous research communities develop theories
that do not "sum to a unified picture of the world."
Kuhn's current views suggest that psychology's diversity may indicate
vitality rather than impending demise. What Staats (1991) saw as a crisis
of disunity may benignly reflect the natural history characteristic of
cultural practices in general and science in particular. Moreover,
developments applauded by Staats as exemplars of unification might best
be construed as instances of further speciation (e.g., interfield
theories; Bechtel, 1988). Fields such as biochemistry and cognitive
neuroscience have not emerged through the unification of their parent
disciplines; they have emerged through cross fertilization at the
interface of neighboring disciplines. The result of such cross
fertilization is not greater unification but rather greater
specialization. Accordingly, biochemistry and cognitive neuroscience have
developed their own respective research agendas journals, and
professional societies. Finally, the Society for Studying Unity Issues
in Psychology itself constitutes yet another example of speciation.
Despite its goal of unifying psychology, this society exemplifies the
unavoidable trend toward specialized inquiry.
In summary, Kuhn's (1991) view of science implies that diversity in
psychology may signify vitality rather than centrifugal disintegration.
Moreover, it may be neither possible nor necessary to unify all of psy-
chology under the rubric of a general theoretical framework. Although
efforts at unification ought not to be discouraged, the future of
psychology is unlikely to depend on the success of such endeavors.
Bechtel, W. ( 1988). _Philosophy of science An overview for cognitive
science_. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Kuhn, T. S. ( 1962). _The structure of scientific revolutions_. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Kuhn, T S. (1991, November). _The problem with the historical philosophy
of science_ (The Robert and Maurine Rothschild Distinguished Lecture).
Address delivered in the History of Science Department, Harvard
University, Cambridge, MA.
Staats, A. W. (1991). Unified positivism and unification psychology: Fad
or new field? _American Psychologist_. 46. 899-912.
[Not understanding the difference between hard and soft science, the
author does not recognize the difference between a) four branches of
physics, each of which aims for 100% and holds itself to a standard of
99.99999% predictability, (which allows us to generate atomic power and
send out a Mars lander), and b) the prattle of four or more branches of
psychology, each of which holds itself to a 0-15% standard of
predictability ("because that is the best we can do"). Psychologists talk
about both Kuhn and Popper, but choose not to hear what they say.
The "crisis of disunity" does indeed signify impending demise.]
Another gem, this time from the May 1992 issue:
IS THE BEST ALWAYS PREFERRED?
The Fielding Institute,
Santa Barbara, CA
On what grounds do we chose one theory over another? According to
Howard's (March 1991) constructive realism, "The ultimate criteria for
acceptance of one theory over others rests in each theory's ability to
satisfy the set of epistemic criteria" (p. 188), which includes
predictive accuracy, internal coherence, external consistency, fertility,
and unifying power. To use Howard's metaphor, the theory that best
follows the rules of scientific storytelling will be the theory we
As psychologists, we acknowledge the _conventions_ (i.e., epistemic
criteria) on which one theory can be judged to tell a better story than
another.(1) However, do these criteria become the basis for our
theoretical preferences? In other words, Howard (1991) assumed that the
"best" theory according to the rules of science will be the preferred
Epistemic criteria seem relatively unimportant when graduate students in
psychology select a theory. For a number of years, I have led a
discussion in which doctoral students select from among 13 alternatives
their most and least preferred explanation for a psychological event.
Their choices are examined in terms of the criteria that Howard (1991)
outlined. It is surprising how often the preferred explanation falls
dramatically short on these criteria. Yet, NOT ONE of the more than 100
students who did the exercise has ever changed his or her position when
presented with this information.
One could argue that psychology graduate students have not been fully so-
cialized to recognize a good psychology story. But do they really act so
differently from their teachers? What would lead a psychologist to prefer
a new theoretical story? Howard (1991) referred to three reasons: (a)
Research decreases a theory's predictive accuracy, (b) new theoretical
developments decrease a given theory's external validity, and (c) a more
"powerful" theory is developed that "tells a more compelling theoretical
story" (p. 188). If in using the term _compelling_, Howard is referring
to something other than satisfaction of epistemic criteria, he does not
let on. Instead he goes on to assert that "whether or not a scientific
theory initially feels right has _not_ become an important guide in
theory choice" (p. 189). However, he does note that feeling right (e.g.,
empathic resonance) is an important rule for telling a good literary
In making this contrast, Howard (1991) missed a major implication of his
own metaphor of psychological theory as story. As psychology, theories
will be evaluated by the rules of good scientific storytelling (i.e.,
epistemic criteria). However, as stories, theories also will be evaluated
as literary products, and as a result, nonepistemic criteria, such as
"feeling right," will affect preferences. For example, in the same issue,
Cushman (1991) argued that the appeal of Donald Stern's work does not
reside with its being more "scientific" than other theories, but "his
ideas feel _right_ [italics added] to many psychologists because they
seem to capture the essence of their human experience" (p. 217). Other
examples of nonepistemic factors influencing preference for a theory can
be found in Gergen (1985), Prilleltensky (1989), Scarr (1985), and Harris
(1979), who shows how the need to tell a good story about psychology's
history may lead one to ignore a theory's failure to meet epistemic
To recognize that nonepistemic factors enter into theory choice does not
mean a return to what Howard (1991) called "anything goes" relativism.
Rather it behooves us to define the criteria that make a theory
compelling to a person.
Most attention has been given to social and political factors. My own
work (Freimuth, 1991) suggests that preferences are in part dependent
upon a fit between a theory's basic premises and one's more general
assumptions about how the world works. Other factors that could be
studied include a fit between personality and theory (see Andrews, 1989,
for a possible example), the role of a special teacher, or one's early
experience or value system. This approach to choosing a theory is par-
allel to the one Howard proposed for thinking about patient-therapist
matching. Just as simplistic models cannot capture the complexities of
the latter relationship, the matching of a psychologist with his or her
choice of theory is multidetermined and not limited to how well a theory
meets epistemic criteria.
The previous points should not take away from how well Howard (1991)
highlighted the implications of a narrative approach for thinking about
different domains of psychological inquiry. However, as I have argued,
Howard has not fully drawn out the implications of this perspective for
how psychologists act when choosing their preferred theory or story.
Footnote: (1) It is not clear from his article whether Howard (1991)
would agree that the rules of scientific storytelling are governed by
some higher order story (i.e., epistemic criteria are relative and agreed
upon conventions) or whether he sees these criteria as representing some
necessary truth about the nature of science.
Andrews, J. D. W. (1989). Integrating visions of reality: Interpersonal
diagnosis and the existential vision. American Psychologist, 44, 803-8
Cushman, P. (1991). Ideology obscured: Political uses of the self in
Daniel Stern's infant. American Psychologist, 46, 206-219.
Freimuth, M. (1991). Pepper's world hypotheses and preference for
psychological theories. Manuscript in preparation.
Gergen, K. (1985). The social constructionist movement in modern
psychology. American Psychologist, 40, 266-275.
Harris, B. (1979). Whatever happened to Little Albert? American
Psychologist, 34, 151-160.
Howard, G. S. (1991). Culture tales: A narrative approach to thinking,
cross-cultural psychology, and psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 46,
Prilleltensky, 1. (1989). Psychology and the status quo. American
Psychologist, 44, 795-802.
Scarr, S. (1985). Constructing psychology: Making facts and fables for
our times. American Psychologist, 40, 499-512.
[To say that "(a) Research decreases a theory's predictive accuracy",
tells us that the term "theory" means something totally different to a
soft scientist as compared to a hard scientist. Other commentary in the
same issue seems to seriously suggest that theory and narrative are
In my career as a mechanical engineer, I have made literally hundreds of
major predictions based on hard theory in the form of designs of tooling,
parts and comprehensive products and manufacturing processes. (My major
effort was the conception, design and build of a portable, inflatable,
14 foot catamaran sail and powerboat in collaboration with Hank Folson,
whom I am proud to have sponsored onto this net). Each of these
predictions has been tested by being built. Some have failed, some
succeeded. Never once did it ever occur to me to resort to statistics to
excuse a failure. Either a prediction works 100% or it does not. If it
does not, you start over.
I am suggesting that those who have a soft science background and are
wrestling with PCT may have a greater personal challenge than those with
a hard science background. You will never arrive at an understanding from
narrative, no matter how patiently put forth and repeated in many guises
by Bill Powers, Rick Marken and others. You need to experience PCT, in
hard experiments and/or in your own life.
PCT lives up to the standards of hard science. To understand what it is
about, one needs to change the criterion for predictable success to 100%,
and carefully review the published literature, starting with _Behavior:
The Control of Perception_. The computer demonstrations are an excellent
learning tool. Spend time with them! You will never understand PCT by
trying to relate it to the endless prattle of contemporary psychology.
Long ago, I heard the saying: The responsibility for teaching belongs to
the teacher. The responsibility for learning belongs to the learner.
There is a large body of teaching materials available and patient
coaching on this net. The rethorical question I ask is this: Are you
personally satisfied with what you know now and how it works for you? Do
you really want to learn a better way? Are you willing to do whatever
study and re-thinking it takes to really understand?
CSG literature: Attention: Greg.
I am happy to report that Christine and I now have our first customer
scheduled! With two more close behind, hopefully.
As part of our program of teaching PCT to industry, we will bring a
"literature table" and include a price list.
For the CSG literature, we would like to offer convenient delivery on
some key items, at least. We already have samples of everything and a few
LCS I and Intro to psych. Greg, would you please post the current prices
and shipment costs for all items you offer:
For each title:
Single copies: Volume orders:
Mail order Quantity Price/ea Shipment
or discount for lot
or single here: 1 ? ?
Price ? 5 ? ?
Shipment ? 10 ? ?
25 ? ?
delivery time? 50 ? ?
I expect to give this info to companies and offer them to buy from me as
Greg, on another subject: _What is man_? by Mark Twain is copyright 1906
by J. W. Bothwell. Since you are well versed in copyright issues, perhaps
you can tell me: Can this be freely copied and distributed? Would you
like a disc with the story? I am scanning it for myself before I have to
return the book to the library.
Thanks for your paper. We have just been back a few days. Wanted to get
this commentary out of my system. Have to write short essay on PCT and
performance reviews for prospective customer. Then I will read your paper
and get you comments before Sept 4, as you asked directly.
Best to all, Dag