[From Erling Jorgensen (2007.11.10 2140 EST)]
Some of the recent discussions about the System Concept level of
the HPCT hierarchy, and a possible 12th level, led me to try to
compile some ideas I have been having. I hope they may become
clear within a broadly-stated developmental approach.
The first idea to note is that a system concept is a highly
abstracted form of constructed perception. It is thus a late
addition, to my way of thinking, to a developing hierarchy of
The second idea to note is that system concepts are not the
true top of a HPCT hierarchy. The neurologically constructed
perceptions, however many there may be at a given stage of
development, exist within a context of what Powers calls
Intrinsic Variables necessary for life. Those intrinsic
variables are the raison d’etre for the rest of the hierarchy
coming into being, and being shaped accordingly. “Shaped�? is
not exactly the right word here, because the intrinsic level
operates with a surprisingly tolerant Reorganization process
as its method of control. The random-search quality of
Reorganization means that any number of possible arrangements
of lower level controlled perceptions might succeed in providing
control of the intrinsic variables.
from a developmental perspective, layers of control arise
because they more efficiently allow for more successful control
of the crucial physiological variables. As such, they become
inserted between the intrinsic domain of control -- which
maintains cellular and other systemic requirements at their
proper amounts -- and the more rudimentary (read: lower or more
peripheral) types of perceptual control.
At every stage in development, it is an insertion of a new type
of perceptual control, on top of the stack of (non-intrinsic)
perceptual control existing to that point. The reason for such
an insertion would be more efficient mediation, between a
developing perceptual hierarchy and the higher (or deeper)
intrinsic domain dealing with physiological variables essential
to the whole system.
For example, a human neonate has certain rudimentary perceptions
capable of being controlled. They likely include things like
intensities (e.g., warmth), sensations (e.g., sound frequencies),
configurations (e.g., crying), transitions (e.g., turning one’s
head). They likely do not yet include abstract notions such as
“family.�? A neonate also has, from the beginning, intrinsic
needs for oxygen, intercellular calcium, blood sugars, and a
host of other physiological variables essential for life.
By controlling some of its rudimentary perceptions -- such as
crying(!), at certain frequencies(!), loudly(!) -- it can
disturb an unknown entity it will later call “mother�? into
supplying some of those intrinsic needs. In this way, it
effectively expands its own feedback path far beyond the limited
proficiency of its own behavioral repertoire.
As it develops and become more proficient, it will learn
to control (i.e., insert on top of its stack of controlled
perceptions) such new perceptions as “proximity-to-mother,�?
as a way to better ensure the provision of those intrinsic
variables. Part of its later development will eventually
include learning to perceive, and then control, such system
concepts as “how-a-family-operates.�? Those layers do not exist
from the beginning. They get constructed and inserted as the
I do believe, however, that within the proposal known as
Hierarchical Perceptual Control, there is room for a better
interface between the intrinsic domain and whatever lower
levels exist at a given point in development. I would call
this interface layer Attachment Variables.
There is evidence, from neurophysiological research with
different “animal models,�? that neuroendocrine substrates such
as oxytocin, vasopressin, and endogenous opioids are implicated
in what appear to be social forms of bondiappear to be operative from both the infant and maternal
directions, mediated by skin-to-skin (or fur-to-fur) contact,
or perhaps by characteristic smells during early development.
I wonder about them as some kind of interface layer, because
control of such variables seems to have one foot in the
physiological camp, as it were, and the other foot in the
camp of social affiliation.
I am not sure these substances have the same status as the
chemical nutrients essential for life. But I believe they
may form a bridge, in social mammals, facilitating access to
the essential intrinsic variables, which in early stages of
development are provided (in part) by parental figures.
The mechanism here would seem to be a redistribution of the
infant’s multi-level output functions, partitioning them among
intra-organism behavioral components and environmental feedback
function components operating within a relatively stable
(i.e., parental) world. If some of the task of controlling
intrinsic variables can be “delegated,�? so to speak, to the
more extensive control machinery of a parent, there is less
for the as-yet-undeveloped machinery of the infant to handle.
There is obviously no way for the infant to cognitively “know�?
how to partition its feedback path into such components on the
output side of things. So if it occurs, it must be as an
offshoot of controlling a higher level variable, which I would
propose is an attachment variable. To increase the amounts of
its own attachment variables would seem to simultaneously
increase the attachment variables of the caretaker, leading to
a complicated but reliable feedback path serving the infant’s
needs. In this way, the parent becomes part of the lower-level
means of attainment of the infant’s higher-level intrinsic needs.
from the infant’s side of things, attachment variables could
funnel its own lower level hierarchy of control toward
developing variables indirectly helpful for intrinsic control.
While a random E-coli reorganization process can indeed converge
successfully on a control arrangement that works, the presence
of attachment variables might constrain the search space to
arrangements with social utility. Again, the utility of such
social arrangements is that of expanding the feedback path,
to include the much more extensive competence of a parental
figure as the means for the infant to “meet its own needs.�?
That could be a distinct advantage to animals with a fairly
vulnerable and dependent period during infancy.
Some of the benefit of controlling these relatively high level
attachment variables could be as a guide to the operation of
the lower level hierarchy. Attachment variables may provide
the “interim rationale�? (read: reference signals) for the lower
level stack of control systems. Lower level perceptions which
succeed in increasing the amounts of attachment variables would
have a greater chance of having an indirect payoff in terms of
attaining intrinsic variables themselves. In other words,
control for the attachment variables and you may end up
successfully controlling for the intrinsic variables.
Because attachment variables, if they exist, are part of the
perceptual hierarchy itself (albeit at a high level), their
mechanism of action is different from that of the intrinsic
variables. Intrinsic control uses reorganization to achieve
its effects. Perceptual control uses reference signals. To
put it colloquially, successful intrinsic control means
“stop changing,�? which amounts to saying “retain that ability.�?
Perceptual control means “follow me, (whether I change or not).�?
I believe attachment control is a bit of a hybrid between the
two. Successful attachment variable control could mean
“you’re in the right vicinity,�? or “you’re going in the right
direction,�? which amounts to saying “keep doing (whatever is
There is an implication of thisin mind. If Attachment Variables operate as the highest
(i.e., 12th) level of the HPCT hierarchy, for stability’s sake
they must operate relatively slowly. As new layers of control
are constructed and inserted beneath them, control of
attachment variables must continually be slower than whatever
new layers emerge, or the overall system becomes unstable.
One cannot (successfully) call for results faster than they
can be produced.
This implies relatively wide tolerances in how attachment
control systems operate. In other words, control of attachment
variables may function as a steady tendency or gentle press on
lower level references, but nothing immediately life-threatening
that requires high-gain action. This may explain how “failure
to thrive�? in neglected infants -- thought to result in part
from lack of tactile stimulation -- arises as a gradual wasting
away that indeed has an effect, but seemingly elicits no strong
The other implication of this proposal, and where this notion
first began, is that control of the attachment variables may
provide a (slowly operating) frame of reference for control of
one’s system concepts, once that level has emerged. Let me
suggest a possible example, albeit from adult development. In
grad school, I remember reading an article by Julian Rappaport
(who at least at the time was at Gary Cziko’s institution, the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). I found it very
insightful about potential mechanisms of change. The article
was “Narrative Studies, Personal Stories, and Identity
Transformation in the Mutual Help Context,�? _The Journal of
Applied Behavioral Science, Vol.29, No. 2_, June 1993, pp.
The heart of the article was conceptualizing self-help
organizations as “narrative communities,�? constituted by
shared stories. He makes the case that “the way that a
mutual help organization provides members with an identity
is through the narrative it tells about the community of
membership, about how members change�? (p. 247). He asserts,
“an alternative identity is provided,...those who become
embedded members do so by transforming their personal life
stories so as to conform to the community narrative�? (p. 249).
What came to mind for me was the quite extensive change in
system concepts about the self, encountered for many in AA.
For instance, the formerly adamant assertions that “I don’t
have a drinking problem!�? somehow turn into “Hi, I’m Bob,
and I’m an alcoholic.�? What seems to make the difference is a
change of affiliations, embodied in a change of communities.
Perhaps this is just talking about different sub-layers of
system concepts. But I suspect there is a deeper affiliative
core, similar to what are thought of as attachment patterns.
Because they are slow-acting, one’s system concepts do not
change frequently or easily. But when they do, they often
take the form of conversions, annunciations, or transformative
events. Perhaps this notion of Attachment Variables, acting
as physiological-and-social hybrids bridging the Intrinsic
domain and the constructed Perceptual hierarchy, has something
to offer to the discussion.
All the best,
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