Old PCTers, Testing for Controlled Variables

From Rick Marken (960930.2120)]

Bruce Abbott (960930.1545 EST)

his [Dewey's] recognition --in 1898-- that sensation and action exist in a
closed loop put him about 50 years ahead of his time

I look at the writings of people like Dewey, James, Simon (and now Wundt) --
people who knew nothing about control theory or how it applied to human
behavior -- as kind of a Rorschach test. You look at what these people
wrote and see if you can detect something of what has come to be called PCT.
I think these people sometimes did write things that can be interpreted as
an understanding of behavior in PCT terms. But I think it is no more likely
that these people really understood behavior in terms of PCT than that
Democritus really understood matter in terms of modern atomic theory. The
fun isn't to see if Dewey, James, Simon and Wundt really understood behavior
in PCT terms; they almost certainly didn't. The fun is to see if you can
see PCT in their writings.

Based on what I've read of Dewey, James, Wundt and Simon, I have to say
that James writes stuff that sounds the most like PCT.

you don't want to believe that Dewey might have had it right.

No. I just didn't see any of the important PCT concepts -- controlled
perceptual variable, internal reference (intention), The Test -- in the
Dewey Rorschach.

The fact is that stimulus and response are not distinctions of existence,
but teleological distinctions, that is, distinctions of function, or part
played, with reference to reaching or maintaining an end.

That one is pretty good. I admit it. But can it really compare too:

        I trust that I have now made clear what that "idea of movement" is
        which must precede it [voluntary act] in order that it be voluntary.
        It is not the thought of the innervation which the movement requires.
        It is the anticipation of the movements sensible effects, resident
        or remote, and sometimes very remote indeed.
                (James, Principles,vol. 2, p. 521).

The "idea of movement" is clearly a reference specification; and it is a
reference not for "innervation which the movement requires" (which is
clearly an error signal) but for the "sensible effects" (the perceptual
results of the movement). James couldn't have gotten any closer to saying
"voluntary behavior is the control of perception" without saying it. But,
if you like Dewey's stuff that's OK too.

Bruce Abbott (960930.1605 EST)--

I have tried the "coin game," and I understand its implications. My
statement about the Test failing miserably was intended to apply to your
application of it in attempting to deduce one of my CVs. Your conclusion
is flat wrong.

As I said, you might not agree with the verbal description but think I
have a pretty good idea of what variable you are controlling.

Try saying this:

"What conventional psychologists have often concluded is a law of
behavior is in reality only the inverse of the environmental feedback
function, and has nothing whatever to say about the relationship between
perception and action."

Then prepare to be _very_ frustrated. Here's my response:

"No error."

OK. That helps me refine my idea of the variable you are controlling. It
does seem wrong to call that variable (actually the reference state
of that variable) "no conflict between PCT and conventional psychology"
because you don't treat a statement of the most serious conflict between
PCT and conventional psychology as a disturbance. Maybe I should say that
what you are controlling is "no conflict between PCT and conventional
psychology that makes conventional psychology unsalvagable". Let's try
some of these statements:

1. "All research based on conventional IV-DV methodology (including operant
research) produces results that reveal laws of behavior that are, in reality,
only the inverse of the environmental feedback function, and have nothing
whatever to say about the "organism function" that transforms perception
into action."

2. "The 'scientific method' described in all conventional behavioral
research methods texts is of no use in the study of purposeful behavior".

3. "The IV-DV approach to research described in conventional research
methods texts includes the main features of The Test for Controlled

4. "Behavior involves selection of consequences, not selection by

I predict your answers will be "error", "error", "no error", and "error"
to 1,2 3 and 4, respectively.

Feel free to continue to frustrate me;-)

You can try some questions on me, too, if you want, in order to get a
better idea of what I'm controlling for, in case it's not glaringly