I thought it would help me to offer myself (and everyone else into the bargain) an overview of PPC rather than the now outdated ToC. Because of the requirements of the publisher to whom I considered proposing the book, I split it into four Volumes, and wrote myself a Synopsis of each as they now stand. This enabled me to see several places, especially in Volume 4, where other orders of Chapters and Sections might work better, where valuable considerations have so far been ignored, and so forth. Nevertheless, I thought that to offer the four Synopses for criticism and comment might be mutually useful to me as author and you as potential readers, so here they are.
Synopsis of Volume 1
Volume 1 is mostly devoted to the foundational concepts underlying “Perceptual Control Theory” (PCT) as developed by W.T Powers from around 1950 until his death in 2013. These concepts support the newer material in the other volumes, some of which diverges from the work of Powers, though his work provides the basis for it all.
The first three Chapters of thirteen form a kind of orientation to this four volume book, Chapters four through seven treat the basic “Laws of Nature” underpinnings of PCT, and what Powers made of them. Similar basic material can be found in many other books about PCT, but this set of introductory chapters may be based more on “hard sciences” with general application than most. Nevertheless, I try to avoid mathematical analysis wherever possible, in order to focus on the meaning underlying the mathematics that is avoided.
Chapters 8 and 9 introduce some concepts about interactions among the “control systems” introduced in the earlier chapters, including an important extension to Powers’s “hierarchical” PCT, “Lateral Inhibition”. These chapters introduce the idea of “Motifs” of perceptual control, such as “stiffness”, “tensegrity”, the reasoning behind the apparently but not actually opposed concepts of similarity and dissimilarity, as well as categorical perception, which will form an important part of the later Volumes of this book.
Chapters 10 through 13 form a group collectively titled “Novelty, Uncertainty, and Trust”. Chapter 10 introduces at a conceptual level the information theory introduced to the public by Shannon in 1949. Much development of “information theory” has been published in the intervening six decades, but I rely on Shannon’s fundamental mathematical work rather than on what other writers have said about it.
Chapter 11 introduces a view of Powers’s perceptual control theory that I believe to be novel, based on Norbert Wiener’s approach to discovering the functioning of a “Black Box” by building a “White Box” that functions the same according to all available tests. The Powers hierarchy is seen as many levels of nested White Boxes that perform the functions of the levels of the PCT hierarchy.
Chapter 12 develops ideas of belief to include illusions, both conceptual and perceptual. It is here that Feynman’s words quoted on the title page of every Volume come into play: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.” I refer to Shakespear’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” as an example (in fact, we refer to the keen insights of Shakespear occasionally throughout the four Volumes). Chapter 12 discusses beliefs, surprises, and the perception of what’s missing or wrong about what you perceive.
The final chapter of Volume 1 returns to the “hard physics” of perceptual control, to talk about control as an active insulator of the living control system from the destructive potentialities of the outer world. Perceptual Control is functionally a refrigerator that uses plugged in electrical energy to flush entropy introduced through the passive insulation from the relatively warm room back to the outer air. In the same way living control systems, whether they be bacteria, vegetation, mammals, fish, or anything else, ingest food to take in energy, and flush out entropy in their waste. This Chapter 13 sets the stage for Volume 2, which continues with Chapter 14.
Synopsis of Volume 2
The reader cannot be expected to retain all the detail in Volume 1, and does not need to do so in order to make sense of the core ideas of Volume 2. Nevertheless, the reader should have enough knowledge of the finer points of PCT covered in Volume 1 but often omitted in PCT books to follow the concepts developed in Volume 2, which is entitled “Creativity, Consciousness, Communication”.
The Volume has four conceptual parts, starting in Chapters 14 through 16 with concepts of autocatalytic and homeostatic loops, which though apparently leading toward stability nevertheless provide creativity that can sometimes generate what I call “Constructive Revolutions”. In the course of this section we use the concepts to suggest a plausible evolutionary approach to the constructive revolution that perhaps produced the first life, following ideas by Stuart Kauffman.
Chapters 17 through 21 form the second part of Volume 2. They consist of the development of the measure called “rattling” and the development and refinement of conscious perceptual control analogous to the crumpling of paper in a process that we call, surprisingly, “crumpling”. I argue that using the crumpling analogy leads directly to PCT-based insights, for which I use as examples the first “words” of a baby communicating with its mother, which we follow in detail in the fourth part of Volume 2, potential avalanches of reorganization following unexpected shocks, and the sometimes unexpected behaviour of teenagers.
Crumpling appears to be closely related to category perception, verbal language, and conscious control leading to reorganization, whereas rattling measures the likelihood that collectives will reorganize and how, statistically, the reorganization will be manifest. The measure itself is of the same nature as “variance” or “uncertainty”, and is widely applicable to the development of structure in general. The structures of most interest to us are of the interactions among control units in the Powers hierarchy and among language elements used in protocols as well as internal thoughts.
The third part of Volume 2, Chapters 22 through 24, is less theoretical and more practical. The reader might not lose too much in a quick scan of the potential “Powers of Perceptual Control” by skipping the first two parts of Volume 2. The third part, Chapters 22 through 24, deals with the initiation and development of language within a real human family and then in a family of“synthetic people” that starts with a small formal language programmed into an interactive robot, which develops into a language with all the flexibility of the languages real humans use.
The final part of Volume 2, Chapters 25 and 26, develops the concept of the “protocol” motif and the control of belief that was introduced in Volume 1. Control of belief is seem as the “syntax” of all protocols. This leads to discussions of various uses of protocols for cooperative and deceitful communications, and the end of Volume 2.
Synopsis of Volume 3
[Note: Material marked off by * is material not yet included in the main text]
Volume 3 has less distinct differences among its parts, though a division into four parts would not be unreasonable. The first part would be a single chapter, Chapter 27, on “Collective Control”, which explains a concept underlying much of the rest of the Volume. The words “collective control” have had a fairly wide variety of meanings in discussions among the PCT community. This range of meanings may be due to there being several different forms of collective control, which I gather into a taxonomy of collective control types.
One particular kind of collective perceptual control is “Stochastic”, in which discrete individual interactions with different actors together have the same effect as would a continued influence from a single imaginary actor that we designate as a “Giant Virtual Controller” who controls a virtual perception not controlled by any of the individuals who form the collective.
Stochastic Collective Control is central to the second part of the Volume, Chapters 28 and 29, in which re-examine autocatalytic loops, this time from the viewpoint of co-reorganization among members of groups by means of side-effect interactions that in sufficiently large collectives might form stable autocatalytic or homeostatic creative loops. These would be favoured by the “low rattling” principle, according to which the lower the structurally induced rattling in a collective, the longer the collective is likely to retain that structural configuration. *By the same token, side-effect loops may generate inter-loop interactions that form super-stable loops of loops in a hierarchical fashion that grows logarithmically as a function of the number of individuals in the collective. This logarithmic growth is found also in the crumpling process,were it is related to the total energy absorbed in the formation of facets that we identify with refinements of perceived categories by facet fragmentation.*
Stochastic collective control, in Chapter 29, is taken to generate a fractal fragmentation of a community into self-similar collections of “roles”. A role is a set of Giant Virtual Controllers with which other roles interact, as when one “shopper” role player interacts with one “cashier” role player while another “shopper” interacts with another “cashier” in a different “shop”. *A “shop” can be treated as a role for environmental places rather than as an individual place where some shoppers interact with some cashiers. The individuals interact by playing the roles, but those roles can be played only where the interactions are in a suitable environment.*
Chapters 30 through 32 begin to ask how individuals new to a community such as babies or immigrants learn to use effectively the language, roles, and culture of the community, and how the process of developing the roles and the structures of language and culture lead to culture-specific protocols, to rights and obligations, and to morals, laws, and authorities that have specialized forms associated with the changing branches of the fractal structure. Chapter 32 asks how this developmental process leads to trust and distrust of “truths” promulgated by members of the larger and slower-changing or smaller and more rapidly changing branches of the community structure. “Truth” may be a stochastically collectively controlled perception as much as it is a perception that can be personally tested by any individual person.
Chapters 33 through 35 deal with ownership, trade, and money. In Chapter 33, Trade is seen to be another PCT motif that uses the protocol motif as part of its structure, and that includes a 2x2 set of conflicts as a necessary component. The Trade motif implies the perception of what I call “Worth”, the ability of some individual or collective to control a range of perceptions to a level of precision. In a fair trade, both parties increase their worth.
Chapter 34 extends this discussion by integrating the concepts of energy and uncertainty (or entropy) to deal with the cost of maintenance of a steady state structure, which must be added to the cost of developing new structure. Money can be valued in terms of the energy needed for maintenance and structural creation, which shows the importance of sufficient steady inflation to continue a stable economy.
Chapter 35 finishes Volume 3 with a discussion of shared ownership and the Commons. There are four types of Commons, only one of which is subject to the famous “Tragedy of the Commons”. These types are distinguished by the energy available for their maintenance and the collective control of the energy extracted in their use, not by what the Commons consists of, which in the original “Tragedy of the Commons” was grazing land for the cattle owned by community members.
The Chapter, and the Volume, concludes with discussion of the Commons of Ideas, in which the maintenance and development energy (and usually monetary cost) is invested in the creative autocatalytic processes with which we started Volume 2. We point as examples to the creative revolutions that occurred in localized places such as the iron and steam-based Industrial Revolution in England, or the computing revolutions in first New England and then California’s Silicon Valley.
Synopsis of Volume 4
[Note: The last part of this Synopsis largely reflects my intentions rather than the existing text, since much of the text is unwritten as of 2021.10.21. Also, very probably some of the Sections and whole Chapters may be shuttled around from time to time.]
Volume 4 is entitled “Society: Politics, Revolution, Us and Them”. As of 2021.10.21, it contains Chapters 36 through 47, which discuss effects in larger groups than in the earlier Volumes. Chapters 36 through 38 deal with rattling and crumpling in these large groups. As we have noted in various earlier parts of the book, new things happen when the numbers of individuals in a collective grows beyond some ill-defined bounds. For example, beneficial loops of side-effect interactions are likely to form, reducing the total rattling over the members of the collective who participated in forming the loop, while enhancing the total rate of creative invention by the loop members.
At the same time, a collective with a large number of members may develop a wide variety of variation in the density of interactions among its members, *often leading to the creation of “small-world” networks. The principle that organizations tend toward low-rattling structures then suggests that although small-world networks reduce the number of direct links from person X to person Y, these relatively short linkage distances also lead to independent reorganizations associated with reducing the rattling in different hub-centred social groups.*
Chapter 37, largely unwritten, deals with rattling induced not by interactions among the members of the organization, but by environmental changes that are likely to disturb many of them at the same time. Hurricanes and earthquakes disturb and increase the rattling experienced by many people in a locality. Climate change and pandemics have wider ranging effects, *mostly reducing the Worth of many people by eliminating many atenfels they would have been accustomed to use to control their perceptions, without offering others of equal effectiveness. Since the environmental change affects many people within the same region of a “small world” network of interactions, that group is biased toward choosing similar actions to correct their increased average error, calming their local rattling total while increasing the rattling experienced by other groups in the network. The result is inter-group conflict and avoidance*.
Other global changes such as the “explosive” growth of the internet may both increase the available atenfels (statistically perhaps tending to reduce rattling) and increase interactive disturbances that increase rattling. *All these increases lead to a wide variety of actions by different people in different hub-centred groups such as internet “echo-chambers”, to reduce the rattling to which the environmental changes exposed them. In other words, some of these groups coordinate to change the local organization drastically, rather than coordinating to reduce the direct effects of the environmental shock.*
Chapter 38, entitled “Social Ecologies and Tipping Points” continues this line of thought, starting with a discussion of archaeological evidence that a particular sequence of rapid Phase changes seem to happen in the same way all over the world, though at vastly different times, when local population densities reach the same approximate sizes, no matter the type of geographical environment. These phase changes are in the form and activities of collectives, such as congregating into towns in which live plyers of various specialized trades or roles, rather than everyone being a Jack or Jill of all trades. The first of these jumps in “Punctate Social Evolution” happens when the number of people living in close proximity reaches about 100.
*Subsequent jumps resemble side-effect loops of loops (Chapter 28 in Volume 3)*, in that they occur at larger reasonably well defined sizes of population centres all over the world. One such jump includes a transition into organizations defined by convention. All these conventions would have been circulating individually in a “soup”, making connections now and then long before the phase change in which they form a self-sustaining creative homeostatic loop. At this level, collectively agreed moral “good and evil” strictures become set, and give rise to supernatural Gods who have long been collectively agreed to exist, but who now form a link that firms up the homeostatic loop.
*These moral strictures, collectively controlled, reduce the rage of atenfels available to individuals, and thereby limit the set of Roles whose interactions will define the culture of the society. Only in the next phase-shift at yet higher population sizes do these moral strictures get refined in the form of defined laws of disallowed and required behaviours of ever-increasing complexity that require the new specialty role of Lawyer to parallel the ancient specialty of priest or shaman or witch-doctor.*
At the next jump, which incorporates written laws, the earliest of which I know being those of Hammurabi around 3800 years ago though I wold not be surprised if there were earlier ones in places like China, we get formal organizations that include roles such as kings and judges, as interactions such as lawsuits and contracts. Chapter 37 also discusses how these phase shifts affect the tensegrity of the post-phase-change culture — its ability to endure despite external events, somewhat akin to the ability of living control systems to bring their perceptions of external states toward their reference values.
Chapter 38 continues the discussion of specific kinds of formal organization and organizations, mostly dealing with their interactions in regard to money, such as corporations and unions, and the Stock Market. This Chapter also begins a discussion of trust and leadership that will later be important when we discuss forms of Government.
The next conceptual chapter sequence, Chapters 39 through 41, is more about “belonging” and “exclusion”, or likeness and difference, which in this context seem to connote very much the same. Between belonging and exclusion there lies a middle ground of those who might come to belong or might be excluded. Chapter 39 deals with social structures, mostly of inclusion, and the reorganization of these structures. People tend to trust members of groups to which they belong rather than members of groups from which they are excluded. Why? The chapter leads toward a discussion of methods of inclusion, such as delighting in the same kind of music and dance, or of exclusion, such as the creation of shibboleths.
Chapter 40 looks more closely at the constructs of “Us” and “Them” that are likely to be in conflict, each perceiving for their own “Us” to be generally perceived as better than the others, the “Them”. If both groups perceive the same group to be “better”, the other is likely to be bullied. As examples, we use a school classroom, colonial expansion, rural and urban political disparity, and income disparity. The bad things that happen to members of either group (significant disturbances to their controlled perceptions) are likely to be perceived as having been caused by the other group as a whole, and the appropriate control actions involve inter-group interactions.
The Chapter then concludes with a discussion of the effect of group interactions with aliens whose cultures differ in unfamiliar ways, whether the alien is an isolated individual, a refugee group, or simple immigrants. The results of such intergroup interactions might be beneficial (hybrid vigour in the form of vivified development of creative autocatalytic networks) or detrimental (combative “my way is right and yours is wrong” conflict). The Middle Ground, in all these cases, allows an individual to perceive atenfels, routes by which they may avoid conflict and perhaps move from one polarized group to the other.
Chapter 41 discusses a different class of alien entirely — the robot as it might become decades or centuries from now. The Chapter deals with “bots” and “botnets”, as well as with physically embodied robots. What does it mean to be “autonomous”, as we believe we are? Is an “autonomous” vacuum cleaner such as those even now being sold, really autonomous? Could they develop consciousness and self-consciousness, empathy with organic living things, and emotions? If not, why not? And is there any reason why robotic intelligence should function in any way as does human “intelligence”. If it did, would robots be a beneficial addition to organic ecologies, beneficial implying the enhancement of the Worth of living control systems? Or would they evolve to become the feared tyrants of much science-fiction?
[Apart from Chapter 45 on political parties, the remaining chapters, currently intended to be Chapters 43 through 46 plus an Epilogue, are only written in parts. I omit them here because they might well change substantially in structure and content as the book progresses toward completion.]