Observing control

[From Bill Powers (960807.0530 MDT)]

Stefan Balke (960806.1100 CET) --

     Altogether I can say, that their had been at least 5 perceptions
     where I did some counteraction in order to control a perception in
     the last 15 min.
     And there are lots of other perceptions I do control for which
     remain totally invisible for me and the observer, because there was
     no disturbance and therefore no visible action or a thought.

The reason that we have to do the Test in studying other people's
behavior is that we can't see or feel the other person's perceptions and
we can't know what the other person's intentions are. We can see side-
effects of the other person's motor behavior, but we have no way of
knowing which effects of the other person's behavior matter to the other
person (except by imagining ourselves in the other's position -- or,
approximately, by doing the Test).

When we experience our own behavior, the situation is reversed. ALL we
know are the perceptions and the intentions; what we do not know is how
our behavior looks to an external observer (except by imagining
ourselves in the external observer's position or doing the Test).

In order to see one's own control behavior, it's necessary to understand
what would happen if one did, literally, NOTHING. If I did nothing right
now my arms would hang down at my sides, I could not type, my body would
tilt, slide, and fall out of this chair, and I would end up lying on the
floor in a totally relaxed heap, staring at whatever scene then
presented itself to my half-closed unmoving eyes. I could not cry out
for help; I could not grasp anything; I could not change my breathing or
alter any other bodily functions. Total loss of the ability to affect
perceptions is the ultimate horror.

That's the base from which to look at your own control behavior. Just
ask what would happen if you could not affect your perceptions. What
would happen would be very different from what is happening. All the
differences you can imagine amount to effective disturbances. You might
visualize something you intend to happen, but your muscles would not do
anything to make it happen. You would be "one with the universe," just
another piece of matter ruled by the laws of physics and chemistry,
completely subject to external influences, moving only as external
forces move you.

During your 15 minutes of looking for disturbances, you were
continuously controlling many things. But controlling is so easy, so
natural, that it didn't seem to you that you were opposing any
disturbances. You were looking for events to occur that would alter your
perceptions, but you didn't realize how many things you were doing
simply to maintain your perceptions as they were against invisible but
perfectly real disturbances. Answering a question from a colleage would
not have happened if you hadn't used the muscles in your diaphragm,
vocal cords, tongue, and jaw to bring sounds into being. The sounds
would not have occurred if you had done nothing.

Not every aspect of control processes is available to consciousness. The
outputs that your nervous system produces are not directly connected to
perception, for example. When you reach out to type a letter on the
keyboard, all you know of your action consists of perceptions,
perceptions of motor effort, of joint position, of contact of your
fingers with the keyboard, of letters appearing on the screen in your
visual field. These are all represented by incoming perceptual signals.
The neural output signals that make the muscles work to make these
perceptions appear are not themselves available to consciousness.
Consciousness seems restricted to the afferent, incoming or upgoing,
signals, and cannot reach efferent or outgoing signals.

This works even when you're imagining. When you look for the right word
to use, you have a sense of wanting a word, and waiting for it to
appear, but if it doesn't appear you don't know what to do to make it
appear. When it does appear in your perceptions you know it, but you
know nothing of the internal actions that produced it.

This is why we need models of the brain's functions. As conscious
occupants of a brain, we are aware of only one part of its operation,
the perceptual part. The rest is hidden from us and we have to guess how
it might be organized.

One last point. We are aware of the consequences of controlling, but as
the Method of Levels shows us, we are not aware of all levels of
controlling at the same time. At any given moment, there is some field
of perceptions at some level which we can consciously alter, but the
reason for altering them in any specific way resides at higher levels,
and we are not usually aware of those reasons. We must somehow become
aware at a higher level in order to see what we are controlling at that
level through controlling the perceptions of which we were conscious at
the lower level. When you're concentrating on finding the right word,
you're trying to match perceived words to experiences that you want to
communicate, but the communication itself is, for the moment, only a
background goal if you're aware of communication at all. The more you
concentrate one one aspect of a control process, the less you're aware
of why you're doing it. The same applies to consciousness of lower-level
processes. When you're typing a post, you're not usually aware of the
angles at the joints in your fingers, although if you simply pay
attention, you can easily experience your fingers as bent.


     But we could imagine in a mind experiment, that we would be able to
     perceive the controlled perceptions of another person (and this is
     not so absurd, if you think of a very close person) what would be
     the use?

If pigs had wings they could fly. Of what use would it be for a pig to
fly? Not really a very interesting question, because it applies only to
an imaginary universe. We can't perceive another's perceptions. We can
only imagine them. And when we imagine them, we imagine how it would be
for ourselves, not the other, to perceive that way, in the context of
all our other perceptions, not in the context of all the other person's

This doesn't mean that we should stop trying to imagine the world as it
appears to others. It means that when we do so, we are only expanding
our own ways of perceiving; we're not really perceiving as the other
does. Doing this may give us a more tolerant view of the other, a more
sympathetic view, a more compassionate view. It may help us to
understand why the other person is acting in a certain way -- it may
improve our model of the other person so it predicts better. But it can
also lead us to serious misunderstandings of the other person; we may
attribute noble motives to the other, when the other really has our
destruction in mind (and vice versa). All understanding of other people
is hypothetical and ought to be subject to revision in the light of new
data -- even those we love or hate.

Of course there is another side to this coin. If you look beyond
immediate perceptions and goals, you can reason that whatever you do,
other people can do also. If you can control your perceptions, others
can control their perceptions in the same way. So at that level of
understanding, you can know how the world appears to another, because
you know that you are not physically different from them. A good theory
is a useful mode of perception, and if it really applies to you, it
probably applies to others as well. You may never know just what
perceptions another person is controlling, but you can know rationally
THAT the other is controlling perceptions, because all people are
examples of the same kind of organization. And that rational picture of
human organization makes all the difference in how you deal with others.
To quote Lawrence Bloch: Oh, yes. All the difference.

Bill P.