Part of the power of the collective control concept, and one reason that I find it particularly relevant to the social sciences, is that people can and do control perceptions collectively from the full range of their perceptions, from the simplest and most concrete perceptions to the most complex and abstract. This extremely wide applicability, of course, is one of the beauties of PCT—that all kinds of the behavior of living things can be understood in terms of a single, unified theory.
In particular, the collective control concept applies to patterns of human action and interaction, as well as to manipulation of the physical environment. The fact that people can collectively control their perceptions of their own actions in the context of other people’s actions is a key to the understanding the behavior of social groups and the formation of cultural patterns.
One important thing to keep in mind when thinking about collective control is that people control their perceptions at multiple levels of perception concurrently, since control of any higher-level perception is based on the simultaneous control of a pyramidal hierarchy of lower-level perceptions that link to and thus define the more complex perception. Much of this lower-level control, of course, occurs unconsciously (at least until any failures of control draw attention to uncontrolled lower-level perceptions). Nevertheless, the complexity introduced by the co-occurrence of control at many different levels of perception makes our analysis of collective control more complex.
Socially relevant collective control takes at least three forms:
- The most straightforward form of collective control occurs when a group of people come together in the same physical environment and actively focus on a single object of perception in order to control their own perceptions of it by doing “the same” thing. One simple example (which I will describe in detail in a later post) is when an audience gives a round of applause at the end of a public performance.
- A more complex form of collective control occurs when groups of people cooperate by collectively controlling a single focal perception at a given perceptual level while independently controlling different perceptions at lower levels. Their various actions taken independently create a complex set of environmental stabilities that make it possible for them to control the focal perception collectively. In simpler terms, this form of collective control happens when people work together by doing different things toward the achievement of a shared goal (the collectively controlled perception). Many kinds of group behavior depend on this form of collective control. Organizations and businesses work on this principle.
- A third and highly consequential form of collective control consists of parallel independent control of “the same” perception or set of perceptions by different people who share a set of common references for their own independent control of those perceptions. In parallel independent collective control, the control can be widely dispersed in time and location. Society-wide and world-wide collective phenomena, such as cultural patterns like languages, are examples of this form of collective control.
In future posts I will offer additional examples of each of these forms of collective control and describe them in more detail.