Nature Engagement

Hi folks, if you love nature (who doesn’t?!), you might like this new article. Don’t expect any TCVs though!
Warren

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I thought this diagram might help get the point across about the relevance of PCT. Fred Nickols’ diagram inspired me!

WM: Hi folks, if you love nature (who doesn’t?!), you might like this new article. Don’t expect any TCVs though!
Warren

RM: That seems to be a point of pride for you. Why is that?

WM: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.580992/full?&utm_source=Email_to_authors_&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=T1_11.5e1_author&utm_campaign=Email_publication&field=&journalName=Frontiers_in_Psychology&id=580992

RM: It’s not clear to me what this has to do with PCT (if it was meant to). But that aside, it seems to me that an article that purports to be about how “nature engagement activities” can provide effective support for mental health and well-being should define what is meant by “nature”.

RM: Back in 1994, a particularly good year for natural disasters, I did some work for the crisis counseling branch of FEMA , the US agency tasked with management of emergencies and learned that there are aspects of engagement with nature that don’t support mental health for most people. Some people do enjoy flying into hurricanes, riding out earthquakes or floating on flood waters but most of the people I met who were survivors of these natural phenomena (hurricanes, earthquakes and floods; luckily no volcanos) were badly shaken and and even the most anti-guv’munt among them were grateful for the mental services provided (free of charge, of course) by FEMA.

RM: Not all nature is a pleasant hike through the Santa Monica mountains.

Definitely not a point of pride, just a warning!

Maybe what makes nature engagement beneficial or not is all about control? Stranger things have happened…

WM: Definitely not a point of pride, just a warning!

RM: Warning?!?!

WM: Maybe what makes nature engagement beneficial or not is all about control?

RM: What makes anything beneficial or not is control; control is all about maintaining variables in “beneficial” states where what is beneficial is defined by the control system itself. Your paper doesn’t seem to say much about what aspects of nature people find to be beneficial or not. The main conclusion seems to be that “nature” relates to those “themes” you extracted from their answers to questionnaires. The paper seems to suffer from a bad case of not knowing that you can’t tell what people are doing by just looking at what they are doing (or at what they say they would be doing).

RM: But it’s a beautiful day so I think I’ll go out and enjoy some nature;-)

Best

Rick

I think you were wrong, Warren, to say that we should not expect to see the TCV here. As Rick points out in Chapter 2 of his methods book (following Bill and Phil), the first step of the TCV is to guess what variables might be controlled by particular observed behavioral activities. Later steps of the TCV verify, qualify, or refute these guesses. Quantitative modeling fine-tunes the discrimination between hypotheses that seem equally good, and demonstrates control most conclusively. This paper documents work in the first step, establishing good hypotheses as to what perceptions individuals are controlling, and by what means, when they preferentially spend time ‘in nature’ and report benefits to their ‘well-being’.

Especially to readers already conversant with PCT, who don’t need to be convinced of the authors’ qualifications in the fraternity of psychologists, I suggest skipping the first two pages on a first reading, the obligatory survey of the literature of investigations into beneficial effects of getting away from the built urban environment and engaging with creatures and phenomena ‘in nature’. Suffice that the preconceptions of these prior investigations are incoherent with each other, that they are concerned with different levels of experience in a fragmented way, and that they cannot address the evident “challenge for quantitative research and statistical modeling”. So, for a PCT-informed first reading, I suggest that you begin with the introduction of PCT on p. 3.

I like this bridge to prior biological understandings: “PCT proposes that organisms control their sensory input through a process that is an extension of homeostasis, mediated externally.” The presentation throughout is classic Mansell framing. Instead of “All you guys around the elephant are fumbling blind”, rather, “this is how your bit of the elephant fits into a comprehensive whole, and can be integrated with this other fellow’s part, and that guy’s perspective as well.” Confronting them one at a time invites reductionism to fit their familiar conceptual framework, they can’t do that when PCT integrates all of the diverse views, or that which has some validity in each.

The aim of the paper, as I understand it, is to identify likely controlled variables as preparation for quantitative research verifying them with the TCV and modeling.

Whilst an advanced quantitative research design might model and test potential pathways from nature to well-being specified by PCT in the future, an empirical bridge can be provided by qualitative research. Within open self-reports, people who perceive improvements in well-being from engaging with nature can, within the limits of introspection, provide multiple themes regarding the mechanisms they notice as important.

And again, in the conclusion:

Importantly, this model is analytical rather than formal, and the aim of future research will be to formalize these components within a PCT architecture and construct individualized models that can be tested for their fit with real world data within natural environments. This methodology is challenging, but it provides a particularly robust test of a psychological theory (Mansell and Huddy, 2020).

Experience of wellbeing is evidently related to improved control. Environmental disturbances are the most obvious causes of poor control that “taking a break” can temporarily alleviate. Less obviously, as we know from MOL experience as well as from theory, internal conflict is an important cause of poor control. Less well recognized, I believe, is conflict between the slower cognitive assessments of the environment by cortical functions at higher levels of the hierarchy and the survival assessments and “fight-flight-flee-fawn” preparations of the somatic branch of the hierarchy for action by the limbic systems of the brain. Cyclic interactions between these give rise to the perceptions we call emotions. Jangling, mechanical events and exigencies of insensate forms and mechanisms in the urban built environment present chronic challenge to limbic systems which (as many researchers presume) are best prepared by evolution for a natural environment in which one can join in relationship with mutually regarding and interactive living things. The excerpts from subject transcripts attest repeatedly to this.

There is evidence that time spent ‘in nature’ affords freedom from expectations of others, a pause in efforts to control variables that are in persistent conflict, and a shift of attention to higher levels of perception in which human endeavors occupy a cultivated corner of a larger living universe, excellent conditions for permitting problem-solving processes to ‘think outside the box’ and for the reorganization system to adjust synapsing of perceptual inputs and outputs, with the effect of resolving conflicts, or at least to return to the fray without limbic and emotional distraction.

This is an excellent beginning at identifying the variables that people control, and how they control them at lower levels of the hierarchy. The question of wellbeing opens a window on the relations of the behavioral and somatic branches of the hierarchy, in particular the largely inherited limbic systems, which are still quite poorly understood in PCT.

Thanks Bruce, that’s a lovely review!

Hi Bruce

BN: The presentation throughout is classic Mansell framing. Instead of “All you guys around the elephant are fumbling blind”, rather, “this is how your bit of the elephant fits into a comprehensive whole, and can be integrated with this other fellow’s part, and that guy’s perspective as well.” Confronting them one at a time invites reductionism to fit their familiar conceptual framework, they can’t do that when PCT integrates all of the diverse views, or that which has some validity in each.

RM: I think you are alluding here to one of my favorite papers: “The Blind Men and The Elephant: Three Perspectives on the Phenomenon of Control” which was originally published in the now defunct journal Closed Loop and reprinted in my book MORE MIND READINGS: Methods and Models in the Study of Purpose. The blind men in the paper are psychologists who study the “elephant” of behavior from three different perspectives: S-R, reinforcement and cognitive. The paper shows that all three of these perspectives on behavior are wrong. So the parable does not really justify telling psychologists “this is how your bit of the elephant fits into a comprehensive whole, and can be integrated with this other fellow’s part, and that guy’s perspective as well” unless what is meant is that once psychologists learn that they are looking at different side effects of the same phenomenon – control – they can stop studying behavior from an S-R, reinforcement or cognitive perspective and start studying it from a control perspective. This is certainly what the original blind men would have done if they learned that the elephant they were studying was neither a wall, a tree trunk or a rope.

RM: The blind men parable shows that the S-R, reinforcement and cognitive views of behavior can be “integrated” to see that behavior is actually a control phenomenon. The “integrating concept” that has allowed psychologists to see behavior in these three ways is the controlled variable. The point of the parable is that the S-R, reinforcement and cognitive views of behavior have endured because behavior looks like S-R, reinforced output or cognitively planned output when one fails to notice the existence of controlled variables. Once one understands the “fact of control” – and behavior is correctly seen as a control phenomenon – then the S-R, reinforcement and cognitive views of behavior can be abandoned in favor of the control view.

I’m actually referring to the parable, which has broader import than it is granted in your paper (as well as precedence). In the parable, the blind men are limited as to the perceptual inputs for their perception of the elephant, but those perceptions are not wrong, and they are consistent with a comprehensive perception of the elephant in which the perceptions of each are inputs. Although the parable as usually told does not emphasize it, we may assume that e.g. the one supposing that he holds a serpent is imagining features that are not part of the elephant, such as scaly skin and a head with a forked tongue. Those imagined perceptions are wrong, and there we get closer to the intention of your paper, which is quite different from my intention in this review note.

Hi Bruce

BN: I’m actually referring to the parable, which has broader import than it is granted in your paper (as well as precedence). In the parable, the blind men are limited as to the perceptual inputs for their perception of the elephant, but those perceptions are not wrong, and they are consistent with a comprehensive perception of the elephant in which the perceptions of each are inputs.

RM: So is the perception of behavior as a response to stimulation not wrong? Is the perception of behavior as an output selected by its consequences not wrong? How about the perception of behavior as an output created by cognitive plans? In what way are they consistent with a comprehensive perception of behavior as control of perception?

BN: Although the parable as usually told does not emphasize it, we may assume that e.g. the one supposing that he holds a serpent is imagining features that are not part of the elephant, such as scaly skin and a head with a forked tongue. Those imagined perceptions are wrong, and there we get closer to the intention of your paper, which is quite different from my intention in this review note.

RM: So does this mean that once you know what the whole elephant looks like you can go on studying the part of it that you were previously confined to? Or do you stop studying snakes (“S-R”), walls (“reinforcement”) and tree trunks (“cognition”) and start studying the elephant (“control”)? The conclusion of my paper is that you do the latter.

Best

Rick

No, no, those are the imagined perceptions, silly.

No, you keep studying living things, including control, cognition (understood as the functioning of the several branches of the control hierarchy within the environment of the body), plus some other valid perceptions which those folks have studied and which PCT has largely ignored.

PCT proposes that reorganization spurred by error in the control of intrinsic variables is the ultimate determiner of what variables an organism controls and their gain and reference levels. What causes such error is not a simple matter. There is abundant evidence of environmental influence. Research into conditioning could not produce a theory of behavior, but does describe some ways of influencing reorganization and problem-solving control functions, including reference levels gain, and the selection of lower-level means of control. Also relevant is the literature on hypnosis, public relations, advertising, and propaganda, among other phenomena of collective control. We need better understanding of internal processes that enable such influence. PCT has been mainly concerned with cortical functions and the behavioral branch of the hierarchy. It is essential to understand the interactions of preconscious, fast-acting, largely inherited limbic systems with the somal branch of the hierarchy, its corporeal environment, and distributed associative memory, to understand how these interact with cortical functions, and in particular to understand how memory distributed through the somal branch contributes to reference input functions for control in the behavioral branch. This could develop a PCT account of the subconscious, including (by way of collective control) Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’.

To switch to another metaphor, hold on! There are babies in that bathwater.

RM: Did you really mean “imagined” perceptions? It seems to me that they are real perceptions, but behavioral illusions. It really look like stimuli cause responses, it’s just that that appearance is an illusion; what’s really going on is resistance ® to a disturbance (S) to a controlled variable (CV). My blind man paper explains why the other two perceptions are illusory as well.

RM: Or do you stop studying snakes (“S-R”), walls (“reinforcement”) and tree trunks (“cognition”) and start studying the elephant (“control”)?

BN: No, you keep studying living things, including control, cognition…plus some other valid perceptions which those folks have studied and which PCT has largely ignored.

RM: I think the implication of the PT version of the Blind Men and Elephant parable is that you study control, period. Which means you study the variables organisms control (including “cognitive type variables”), how control develops, how it is learned, how memory and imagination work, where consciousness fits in, how groups of control systems interact, etc. But it’s all focused on the “elephant” of control; you can read about it in THE STUDY OF LIVING CONTROL SYSTEMS.

BN: To switch to another metaphor, hold on! There are babies in that bathwater.

RM: Yes, there surely are. I’ve found a couple. But overall I go with what Bill said in his Foreword to MIND READINGS: “Nearly every model in these papers, which did make it past the referees, is the sort that ought to covey to the reader a straightforward message: if the phenomenon you see here really works as the model shows it to work, then a whole segment of the scientific literature needs to be deposited in the wastebasket”. the “segment of the scientific literature” to which Bill was referring was, of course, that having to do with the behavior of living organisms. There are some babies in that bathwater, but not many and it’s a very big bath.

Best

Rick

Pathological narcissism?

Anyway, seriously, how do I hide Rick’s posts? I think I can’t hide them because he is a moderator here. Why is he a moderator on the forum? I’d like to hide his posts.

If Rick’s posts are a disturbance you can’t tolerate, there is a simple way to eliminate that disturbance. What compels you to read them?

He is no longer a moderator, but none of us who have that status have ever exercised a moderator function except for those who are also administrators.

Great, thanks! For me, the simple way to eliminate the disturbance is to use the ignore or mute option of this forum.

An illusion is a combination of ‘real’ and imagined perceptions. The PCT account of the ‘behavioral illusion’ peels away the imagined perception that stimuli cause responses, exposing what is valid–though unfortunately conventional methodology throws the useful data away after reaching statistical conclusions that support the illusion. It might be useful to peel away the imagined perceptions from other aspects of conventional research. But I’m not even talking about that. I’m talking about parts of the hierarchy that PCT has identified but has not investigated.

Yes, we agree. Within that scope, PCT research thus far–your research, for example–has pretty much stayed within the behavioral branch of the hierarchy, involving parts of the brain from the cortex and cerebellum down to the medulla and striata with connections to musculature and to sensors affected by factors outside the body. This is just fine and very important, and it deals with the perceptions that are most accessible to awareness. However, as Bill acknowledged, PCT research must also include the somatic branch and sensed variables within the corporeal environment of the nervous system such as variables of endocrine and other chemical systems, involving evolutionarily more ‘primitive’ parts of the brain including the amygdala and hippocampus.

This is open territory for PCT in which MOL has made a beginning. For example, always being right can be very important to those parts of the system, and when those systems have difficulty controlling their inputs it can have the effect/affect of existential threat. Awareness generally does not reach those perceptions, but the systems that control them do so by changing their inputs to reference values in the behavioral hierarchy which also receive inputs from cortical functions that do come to awareness, whence rationalization and whence many forms of inadvertence and psychopathology which have been cataloged (and imaginatively ‘explained’) in the various schools of psychotherapy. As in medicine, clinical data suggest directions for research.

I agree that the published literature of conventional psychology has very little that can be directly restated in PCT terms, not least because data for behavior of individuals are thrown away after the conventional statistical results are reached. I’m talking about future directions of PCT research. If my proposals about directions of research involving these other parts of the brain and these other aspects of behavior don’t fall within your areas of interest, then they are not addressed to you and you can profitably ignore them. PCT is bigger than any of us and will outgrow us all. Celebrate that.

Hi Bruce

RM: Did you really mean “imagined” perceptions? It seems to me that they are real perceptions, but behavioral illusions. It really look like stimuli cause responses, it’s just that that appearance is an illusion

BN: An illusion is a combination of ‘real’ and imagined perceptions. The PCT account of the ‘behavioral illusion’ peels away the imagined perception that stimuli cause responses, exposing what is valid–though unfortunately conventional methodology throws the useful data away after reaching statistical conclusions that support the illusion.

RM: Behavioral illusions result from failure to see that behavior is organized around the control of perceptual variables – controlled variables. Conventional approaches to the study of behavior don’t recognize the existence of controlled variables, so there is not much to be exposed as valid in the results of such studies.

RM: Bill didn’t subtitle his 1978 Psych Review paper “Some spadework at the foundations of scientific psychology” because he had uncovered something valid in conventional scientific psychology. He used that subtitle because he was (politely) tearing down the existing foundation of scientific psychology – the idea that behavior is caused output – to replace it with a new one – the idea that behavior is controlled input. As Bill noted in the 1978 paper, research based on this new foundation will be aimed at the discovery of the variables around which behavior is organized – controlled variables – not on the discovery of variables that cause behavior – there are no such variables. The approach to psychological research based on this new foundation is described in my book THE STUDY OF LIVING CONTROL SYSTEMS (SLCS).

RM: I think the implication of the PCT version of the Blind Men and Elephant parable is that you study control, period.

BN: Yes, we agree.

RM: Great.

BN: I agree that the published literature of conventional psychology has very little that can be directly restated in PCT terms, not least because data for behavior of individuals are thrown away after the conventional statistical results are reached.

RM: The goal isn’t do restate the published literature of conventional psychology in PCT terms. As I mention in SCLS, the only possible value of that literature is that it might provide hints about some of the variables organisms control. These hints can then be turned into hypotheses that can then be properly tested using the methods of the test for the controlled variable.

BN: I’m talking about future directions of PCT research. If my proposals about directions of research involving these other parts of the brain and these other aspects of behavior don’t fall within your areas of interest, then they are not addressed to you and you can profitably ignore them. PCT is bigger than any of us and will outgrow us all. Celebrate that.

RM: I will celebrate when I start seeing more people doing research in the manner described in SCLS.

Best

Rick