Paradox of inquiry

The size of the Message Text is 6146(> 6K), So it is kept in the First Attachmen[From Richard Thurman (951116.1330)]

Bill Powers (951116.0600 MST) said;

If there's no error to be corrected, why should there be any learning?

If a

person isn't bothered by not understanding algebra, why should that lead


understanding algebra?

Then Rick Marken (951116.1030) said;

We learn in order to control better (to reduce the ambient error existing
in control systems that are not controlling very well). If we are already
controlling well then there is nothing to learn; no reason to go through


uncomfortable process of trying to discover as yet unknown approaches to

Then Chris Cherpas (951116.1047 PT) replied;

So what happens the first time somebody tries, let's say,
crack cocaine? Suddenly, there's a very "important" reference
level to maintain. How did the new reference level get there?

I am left wondering about the term 'reference level.' Do you mean that
A) a new level of control (as in the control hierarchy) has been created?
Or B) a new controlled variable has been created? Or C) an existing
control system now has a new reference signal. Or D) an existing control
system's reference signal is now injecting a new (perhaps higher) 'level'
of input into the comparator?

According to PCT (well my take on it anyhow) A, B and C may imply that
learning has taken place through reorganization. However the example
you give of crack cocaine does not lend itself to assumptions A, B or C.
It is an unwarranted assumption that reorganization has taken place the
first time someone tries cocaine.

In fact its easier to assume that cocaine "addiction" takes place via
cooption of an already existing control system. Frankly we can assume
that we all want to feel like that (whatever the feeling is that crack
cocaine gives). Its just that after that we want to feel it more...
and more... and more...

This explanation of addiction lends itself to interpretation D above.
And that interpretation is _not_ learning, in the reorganization sense
of the word.

One can assume that after addiction starts, all sorts of reorganization
may take place. After all the individual now has an intense set of
perceptions to control and it may take some severe reorganizing to be
able to satisfy the new habit (the new reference 'level').

Chris Cherpas (951116.1047 PT) continues;

This is a bit like the paradox of inquiry: if you already
know about something, why inquire (i.e., just maintain your
reference level), but if you don't know about it, then you
don't even know what to inquire about (i.e., there's no
reference level upon which an error can be based).

This is a philosophically important question. It may not be addressable
in a couple of paragraphs, but here goes.

Perhaps the rubber band demo can be
shown to address this inquiry. In the standard demo the subject is asked
to 'place the knot over the dot.' This seems (to the subject) like an
absurd thing to do and the subject may have never attempted such a thing
before. Yet its readily doable and the subject, being a good sport,
complies. My take on this is -- some things we can control without even
knowing we can. They are so similar to perceptions that we have learned
to control in the past that it takes little effort to control a 'new
variable.' (In fact its not a new variable at all.)

In this case the 'paradox of inquiry' can be seen as an illusion. It
only seems that we cannot control until we need to. In reality we have
not 'learned' to control anything new at all. It is the same perception
(relationship of knot to dot) that we have learned to control in
other situations (relationship of one object to another).

There is another angle to the 'paradox of inquiry' and perhaps this
gets to the heart of what you were asking about. That is, sometimes
all that is needed for us to control a certain set of variables is for
the environment to indicate that we need to. In the rubber band demo this
is accomplished by the experimenter asking the subject to "hold the knot
over the dot." And the subject complies. The environment says in effect,
"perceive the knot over the dot" and the subject complies.

But what if the subject truly can't control the asked for perception.
if the subject has never had to create a control system for that
perception? Likewise, in certain situations the environment may be
us to control a perception that we have never had to control before. In
this case we have to hold in memory, or imagination, or somewhere, a
proposed perception and then reorganize until we can make our perceptions
match the proposed one. This requires real reorganization, and not just
the illusion of reorganization that sometimes comes from setting a
signal to a new level.

This is what happens to pigeons in the Skinner box. In effect the
environment is telling the pigeon that if it wants to control its food
intake it also needs to control a new perception (say the relationship of
its beak to a lever when the red light is on). These kinds of
messages happen in nature all the time, and the pigeon can 'learn' to
The pigeon 'control hierarchy' is simply reorganizing, as it does in

Its the same with Thorndike's cats. The environment (in this case the
says in effect "If you want to perceive yourself out of the box, then you
better perceive this lever as 'pushed'." The cat randomly casts about and
eventually comes up with the correct controlled perceptions.

Perhaps I'm rambling. I'll stop.

The bottom line for the dilemma of inquiry is this. If you don't
know about "it" you don't. (And you could care less.) But if the
environment tells you that you don't know "it" and that you must
somehow find out about "it," then reorganization sets in and you
begin to inquire.

Where there is no error -- there is the 'paradox of inquiry'
Where there is error -- there is no paradox -- only inquiry.