PCT Explained by Martin Taylor

from [ Marc Abrams (990731.2032) ]

In lieu of some newcomers to the net, namely Mark, Norman, Michael, In my
continuing trip through the CSG archives I came across this gem. The post
speaks for itself. Hope it helps.


[Martin Taylor 930819 18:00] >(Hal Pepinsky 930819 untimed)

Sorry to butt in on this interesting colloquy, but Hal's posting shows how
difficult it is to get the basic idea of PCT across to an intelligent and
willing reader/writer. I doubt I can help much, but I can't resist trying.

"Control" is a slippery term. I want to pin you down on what you mean by
it. I'm indebted to phenomenologist Alfred Schuetz's writing for making
me aware that "control" can be of two kinds in the mind of any beholder:
what Schuetz calls a "because motive"I perceive I have no viable
option or an "in order to motive" I'm trying to get something because I
want it. Your claim to have revolutionized perception research, as I
understand it, rests on positing that the perceiver RATHER THAN external
circumstances controls perceptions.

PCT starts with "Perceptual". It is asserted that what is perceived is a
function of sensory data derived from the real world. In addition, there
can be imagined and remembered perceptions, and they can also serve as data
in higher level perceptions. Fundamentally, however, the control system
(person) perceives what the environment provides. Faulty control systems
may hallucinate, but that's not the normal case.

PCT continues with "Control". The way perception is controlled is to act on
the environment, NOT to decide that something else should be perceived
whether it is there or not. If you perceive the room to be dark and you
want to perceive it to be light, you don't say to yourself "there is light."
You say to yourself "Let there be light" and go to turn on the light switch.
That way, you control your perception to be what you want in ONE respect.
You can't control all your perceptions all the time, and some of them you
can't control any of the time, at least successfully. You can't perceive
the sun to be at the zenith three seconds after you perceive it to be

I infer you must mean my perceptions
are governed by what I want, a means to the ends of my own choosing,
rather than my simply perceiving what externalities tell me I have to


Yes and no. You perceive what externalities tell you you have to perceive,
but you act so as to affect those externalities in such a way that your
perceptions are what you want. So, your inference is right that your
perceptions are governed by what you want, but wrong when you say "rather
than" by the externalities.

Now, "Control" is simply the acting so that the perception being controlled
comes to, and stays at, some reference value. There is a negative feedback
loop, so that if the perception is too high, the actions lower it, and vice
versa. One does not control things in the environment, but by affecting the
environment one controls one's perception of those things. Hence though
there is sense in giving "up trying to separate reality from hallucination",
modifying one's hallucinations will not, in the end, help one to survive.
Modifying one's perceptions of "reality" by changing the environment will.

In this sense, control "because" is not control at all. If one is
physically constrained to do something, one has no control of that action.
Someone else is controlling a perception of their own that involves your
action, and has the force to overcome any control that you might attempt.
All real control is "in order to" do something. Even under threat, one
controls one's perceptions, "in order to" survive, doing what the "overseer"
demands. There is no actual force here, only the maintenance of perceptions
as near their references as you can under the circumstances.

One sentence of yours, Bill speaks volumes to me about the conflict
between control as it works for you and control as it works for me. It
may have been an offhand remark to you, but it reminds me of the position
pacifists repeatedly find themselves in among warriors. You write:

     [If I succeed in turning your anger into happiness,]...I will still
     want you happy, but because I am now in fact seeing you as happy
     thee will be nothing further to do.

I'm reminded of what I imagine to be a universal feeling by a tired
parent: Now that I've catered to my child and quieted her, please let her
sleep and leave me in peace when I walk out of the room!

You couldn't have a more fundamental misunderstanding of the way I see
Bill's sentence. The word "now" is critical. I understand Bill to be
saying that he continuously observes your happiness, and if what he is doing
is achieving the level he wants (be that high or low), he need not do
anything else (i.e. need not change what works). As your happiness level
changes, so will his actions, but when it is what he wants to see, he will
not change.

To me, happiness in the form of social security is ACTION a world of
action, of attention. You can expect neither trust nor happiness (Marilyn
French calls it "felicity"; native people speak of "joy") to continue
unless you continue to nurture it. As some parents learn to their sorrow,
leaving a child alone is asking for trouble. That may be solipsistic
freedom, but home it ain't. The science of peacemaking I again join a
host of ancestors in proposing is one of studying how happiness is

That's the essence of control. It's a continuous activity, and it applies
to far more than just happiness. It applies to all controlled perceptions.
The state of the controlled variable (we call the environmental correlate of
a perceptual variable a Complex Environmental Variable) must be continuously
observed and compared with its (possibly changing) reference level, if it is
to stay controlled.

I'll recapitulate briefly here. You see happiness as coming from absence
of conflict standing in the way of attaining some basic goal. When you
get frustrated on your way there, that presents the problem.

There's nothing I know of in PCT that specifies what emotions will occur
under what circumstances. Personally, I would tend to see contentment
rather than happiness as a concomitant of maintained control. Conflict is
not something that stands in the way of attaining some goal, but is a
situation in which two control systems have incompatible reference levels
for the same CEV. The two control systems may be within one hierarchy (i.e.
in the same person, which generates stress, tension, and the like within the
individual), or they may be in different individuals, in which case the
result may escalate to violence (the attempt to deny control to the other by
overwhelming force). Frustration occurs not when control cannot be
achieved, but when it is not achieved under circumstances in which success
is expected.

I suppose instead that persistent drive toward any goal is violence itself,

In a conflict situation, each control system acts as a disturbance on the
other, forcing the other's output to increase (i.e. forcing the other to
apply more force), until one of them can (or will) apply no more. The "(or
will)" acknowledges that the systems are nonlinear, and different
higher?level reference signals may dominate the lower ECSs under different
conditions, one of which may be to avoid the use of excessive force.

A "drive toward any goal" is not a conflict situation in itself, but the
establishment of control, which is inherently non?violent. If the
perception that is being controlled is far from its reference, there are two
possible reasons: The reference level for that perception has undergone a
rapid and large shift (equivalently, the perception is newly being brought
under control and is far from where the new reference level is set), or the
CEV corresponding to the perception has been subjected to a sudden large
disturbance. Whenever the error (deviation between reference and
perception) is large, the output will be large, and this may be, but is not
necessarily, manifest in the use of high force on the world. Is that
"violence?" I don't think so. Is it violent to hit a heavy nail hard to
drive it into an oak beam? A matter of semantics.

Rick's propositions about law'n'order and Gary's about the necessity of
leadership are false, or your theory is false it seems to me.

Personally, I have not noted any fundamental difference of claim between
Rick, Gary, and Bill Powers. Where there are differences, they seem to come
not from any requirements of the theory, but from the fact that the theory
allows many possibilities at the higher levels, and each poster has leeway
to bring in factors that are not inherent, but are plausible within the
theory. But maybe I should look at their postings more carefully.



Date: Thu Aug 19, 1993 3:08 pm PST
Subject: Re: toward a science of happiness

from [Bruce Gregory (990731.2144 EDT)]

Marc Abrams (990731.2032)

In lieu of some newcomers to the net, namely Mark, Norman, Michael, In my
continuing trip through the CSG archives I came across this gem. The post
speaks for itself. Hope it helps.

Thanks for resurrecting Martin's elegant and lucid prose. I would only add
one minor suggestion.

There's nothing I know of in PCT that specifies what emotions will occur
under what circumstances. Personally, I would tend to see contentment
rather than happiness as a concomitant of maintained control.

Happiness seems to me to accompany the exercise of control under difficult
or challenging circumstances. Perhaps exhilaration is a better word in the
cases I have in mind.

Bruce Gregory