Martin Taylor (2014.01.01.23.48)–
MT: I think you have it precisely backwards… PCT doesn’t explain control. It uses control to explain other things.
RM: What other things
MT: Life, generally. For a few specific examples: why we eat, how we talk, how we walk, how trees deal with parasites or lost branches, what we choose to study, how we treat other people, why dogs live with humans and wolves don’t, how communities evolve, why we accept orders from some people and not others
[From Dag Forssell (2014.01.07.20:10 PST)]
I have been thinking about Martins post and have concluded that he is right on.
PCTers have been talking about the phenomenon of control, as in the late 1980s video by Bill that Rick endorsed today.
The fact that Bill talked about the phenomenon of control does not make control a phenomenon. With hindsight, this now appears to me a mistake.
In astronomy, you have the phenomenon of the sun crossing the sky every day.
To many, this must be magic. But magic one takes for granted. That is the way it is.
Egyptians offered an explanation: The sun is pulled by a chariot.
It was very important to keep the chariot going.
Ptolemy provided an explanation: The sun revolves around the earth, along with everything else.
Copernicus provided an explanation: The earth revolves around its axis.
The question is: Which explanation is best and most useful. Today you might ask: Which explanation will help you navigate your rocket to Mars?
To the best of my understanding we do not call the solar system a phenomenon.
We consider the mechanism of the solar system to be an explanation.
Rick cites “the production of consistent results by variable means in the face of disturbances”. This verbiage is loaded with theoretical interpretation, PCT-style.
Normal human beings do not describe what they see using such terminology.
How about “When I push on you, you push back”?
I would bet that most people have no idea why. It is magic, as is so much else in the world we live in. Lights turn on when you flip a switch – magic. The car accelerates when you step on the gas – magic. Most people skip techie subjects in school. Few ponder in-depth physical explanations for anything. Yet there are physical explanations for everything. Some of them we have not yet figured out, of course.
Watson and Skinner provided an explanation: The environment stimulates you to push back – because you have been reinforced to do so.
Cognitive psychologists provide an explanation: Your brain takes in sensory data from the environment, processes it, decides it does not like it, and issues commands to your muscles to push back.
PCTers provide an explanation: A control system with a given reference signal resists disturbances.
Most every human being, with the exception of a few dozen PCTers, consider the phenomenon to be that you push back when I push on you. Those who have any understanding at all most likely think that the reason is called stimulus and response. Most have no understanding of control, much less interest in how control works. There is no phenomenon of control to take an interest in. So why care?
It has been a mistake to call control a phenomenon. Control is not a phenomenon except perhaps for the very, very few who study control systems in engineering school, where control emerges from a certain arrangement of physical components.
What is interesting is that the mechanism of control provides an explanation for most phenomena in life.
I think Martin is right. By leading a conversation with a proclamation about control – a phenomenon nobody has ever heard of, much less understood – we lose our audience right away. Deservedly so.
If instead we can pick a phenomenon, such as any of the ones Martin alludes to; perhaps even the car staying in its lane on a windy day, and delineating the possible explanations, then evaluate which ones are nonsense and which feasible, we might get somewhere.
There are any number of phenomena one could pick that are of vital importance to people. The phenomenon of people following a leader. The phenomenon of people hating a micro-manager. The phenomenon of people distressing about alternatives in their lives.
Reams of literature has been written to propose explanations for such phenomena in order to provide guidance for better results, peace of mind, whatever. Some explanations offered are on par with the Egyptian chariot, others elaborate and on par with everything revolving around the earth. PCT is the explanation that is on par with the idea of the solar system. Outrageously wrong to those who KNOW in their bones that the earth is the center of the universe, but necessary and useful for those who have aspirations to send rockets to Mars.
PCT provides an explanation for the phenomena of life. An simple and clean explanation with awesome explanatory powers. An explanatory mechanism, not a phenomenon in itself.