Reply to Bill's critique

[From Brian D'Agostino (950928.1020)]

This replies to Bill's "critique of Brian's paper" (950926.1550

Bill wrote: It is better to define control as a process of
_varying_ outputs in order to create and maintain _intended

Reply: I think I finally see why you are disputing my
conceptualization, but the problem seems to be with the phenomenon
at issue, not with some failure on my part to understand PCT. Your
description pertains to a system that is more or less successful at
maintaining control. The political phenomenon I am investigating
involves, I think, people who are chronically dissatisfied with
their country's level of military power, or with an historical
trend regarding it. Although as individuals they have almost no
control over these variables, hawks and doves nevertheless have a
constant disposition to do whatever they can to bring their
country's military power into line with their reference
perceptions--a state of affairs they strive towards but rarely
achieve. (When they do temporarily achieve it, they tend to reset
their reference perceptions with the result that they continue
pushing against the system in their preferred direction. For
example, in the post Cold War situation, doves have seen some
decreases in military spending, but now they want even greater
decreases.) In this kind of phenomenon, wouldn't the behavioral
output be more constant than in the usual case of successful

Bill: In a hierarchical system, the output of all control systems
but those of the lowest level consists not of producing actions,
but of manipulating goals for lower systems.

Reply: I don't get that. Isn't "manipulating goals" a kind of

Bill: The hierarchy does not have one single apex but many -- if
the idea of system concepts is accepted as the highest defined

Reply: That seems like an empirical and theoretical question, and
I don't think we should assume _a priori_ that PCT has any
inherently correct or incorrect answer to it. I like Ockham's
razor, and therefore I prefer to proceed on the assumption that the
hierarchy has one apex, at least in the absence of evidence to the
contrary. The logical candidate for this is the self. This view
is consistent with empirical work in political psychology from the
1930's through the 1950's suggesting that ideologies or belief
systems are explained in part by psychological needs, rather than
the reverse. The abovementioned phenomenon of hawks or doves
resetting their reference perceptions for military power if they
should temporarily attain their goals is further evidence.

Bill: I would disagree with saying that the perceptual functions
are the sole locus of cognitive functions.

Reply: I was using "cognitive" the way it is commonly used in my
field, which is something like "pertaining to the processing of
information originating outside the person." I'm not interested in
having a semantic debate about how you or I think the word _should_
be used.

Bill: These are not devastating errors, and they are errors only if
your intent was to adhere to PCT rather than invent your own

Reply: In light of the above, maybe they are not "errors" at all,
even if I am concerned about not misrepresenting PCT, which I am.
By the way, although I try to be accurate when stating that "Powers
says X," I am neither interested in "adhering" to PCT, _nor_ in
creating my own system. Rather, I am interested in using other
peoples and my own ideas and methods where they are useful in a
given context, and discarding them where they are not. This is why
I am a heretic to anyone who wants to create and propagate a
system, including you.

Conversely, it is why I did not get any trouble from the eclectic
folks on my Ph.D. committee. You and Rick think the reason is that
my ideas were orthodox from their point of view. In fact, however,
Robert Jervis is a higher ranking and more respected member of the
Columbia Political Science Department than any of my mentors were.
Jervis' ideas were much more of an orthodoxy at Columbia than
behaviorism, and I blew Jervis out of the water. If my mentors
were concerned about upholding orthodoxy, they would have insisted
on putting Jervis on my committee, and I would have either
conformed or perished. (My wife is currently in a lawsuit against
Columbia because _her_ mentors in fact did something exactly

Although I believe it is desirable to construct a single system of
all reliable knowledge--something like "science"--that is an
ongoing process that no one person or group can master. Achieving
such a system would require a general commitment to a much more
serious and mature level of scientific dialogue than currently
prevails in most intellectual communities, including the CSG.
However, the human race is clearly making progress in this
direction. (For example, my wife would have been tortured and
killed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; these days, the priests are
just trying to ruin her professionally, which gives her a fighting

Bill: You could . . . . place the masculine/feminine reference
signal and the military power reference signal at the same level,
so that these become coexisting system concepts. You could also
have placed the concept of military power at the top level with the
masculine/feminine dimension, as a principle, at a subordinate
level. . . . I'm not arguing for or against any of these proposals.
My point is that the thesis you hope to support is built into Fig.
1, with no indication that other arrangements are possible. Since
your data show correlations, . . . at best, you have shown that
they may be of different levels, since if they were at the same
level they might vary independently.

Reply: This problem is similar to the one discussed above about
whether the hierarchy has one apex or more than one. For the same
reasons as I gave above, I believe the self system is superordinate
to policy preferences and belief systems generally, although this
is ultimately an empirical question and Figure 1 is only a
preliminary and exploratory application of control theory. As
such, it is neither more nor less authoritative than your mapping
of HPCT concepts onto certain brain structures in B: CP. I have
proposed using interviews to verify whether this model holds in
individual cases, and the test for the controlled variable that you
indicate may indeed be the way to do this. Any more specific ideas
along these lines would be welcome. In the meantime, however, you
are in no position to criticize my preliminary and exploratory work
unless you can tell me what _you_ have done in the last 20 years to
verify your speculations about brain structure in B: CP. (See, I
can play that macho game as well as anyone!)

Bill: Why can't it be that some people are against war for some
reasons and others are against it for other reasons? . . . All
hawks are not alike and all doves are not alike.

Reply: I agree, and it would seem you have not read my paper
carefully if you think I need to be told this. In my conclusion I
wrote "There are, of course, exceptions to the statistical pattern,
such as male hawks who are not motivated by machismo and male doves
who maintain macho self systems through behaviors other than
militarism." (p. 283) [Here's my first interview question: Are you,
Bill Powers, a male dove who maintains a macho self system through
behaviors other than militarism? Behaviors such as intellectual
contests with real or imagined enemies?]

Bill: A PCT approach to the same problem, as Rick Marken said,
would not use the survey approach at all. It would start with
in-depth interviews of individuals and an attempt to discover their
unique structures of goals, without pushing for any particular

Reply: Yes, this is why PCT is not a self sufficient methodology
and why it needs to be combined with other approaches. A political
scientist is ultimately interested in understanding collective
social phenomena, such as war. While the personality of individual
leaders can sometimes play a decisive role in explaining decisions
associated with individual wars, the institution of war as a whole
is maintained by the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of
innumerable individuals. Some of these beliefs, attitudes and
behaviors are typical and recurring, while others are relatively
idiosyncratic. Only the former are of interest in explaining war
as a social phenomenon. Without conducting a survey first, I would
have had no idea what is typical and what is idiosyncratic in the
vast amounts of information that interviews generate. If I had
listened to your advice, my Ph.D. research would have been a
fishing expedition, and I would have made no contribution to the
field of political science.

Bill: This [in-depth interviews] would be a much more demanding and
time-consuming approach and would obviously not be suitable as
thesis material.

Reply: Wrong on both counts. Fishing expeditions are much easier
and faster than solving all the problems of conceptualization,
measurement, data collection, and statistical analysis that I had
to solve before I could even begin interpreting my data. Precisely
because few graduate students are capable of such work, and because
most Ph.D. committees are not capable of directing or evaluating
it, interviews seem to be a more common method of data collection
in the social sciences than original survey research.

In conclusion, I hope we in this thread can eventually transcend
our adversarial dynamics, and I have seen some movement in that
direction. (Dick Robertson apparently sees the same movement,
although he conceptualizes the underlying problem differently than
I do). I would have preferred a more Socratic exchange from the
beginning, in which you ask me questions and I respond, but I did
not have that option. Since some CSG members have chosen to attack
my research, the only options I saw were to submit, withdraw, or
fight, and I have chosen to fight for lack of a better alternative.
This means that the only way you can now learn about my research is
to admit under the pressure of debate that your initial views were
mistaken, which will be unpleasant for you, and much less
satisfying for me than a Socratic exchange would have been.
Nevertheless, I hope you will have the courage to admit that you
may have unfairly stereotyped my article, which will signal to
others in the CSG that my article might be worth reading after all,
even if they will have their own informed disagreements with me in
the end.

Best regards,


[From Rick Marken (950928.1300)]

Brian D'Agostino (950928.1020) --

The political phenomenon I am investigating involves, I think...

It seems to me that we should know the phenomenon we are investigating
before we start proposing explanations of that phenomenon. You say that you
"think" the phenomenon you are investigating is:

people who are chronically dissatisfied with their country's level of
military power, or with an historical trend regarding it.

but it seems to me that this is more an interpretation of some phenomenon
than a phemomenon in itself. If "chronic dissatisfaction" is a phenomenon,
then what should I look for in order to see it? Is the perception of "miltary
power" a controlled variable? If so, then it is an observable phenomenon.
What can I do to see for myself that military power is a controlled variable?

In your next sentence you suggest that you might not be dealing with a
control phenomenon at all:

Although as individuals they have almost no control over these variables
[like military power],

If not, then why apply control theory? There are many perceptual variables
over which people have no control. It's true that PCT applies to cases where
people are trying to control variables -- but how do we know people are
actually trying to control a variable if there is no possibility of control?
People have no control over the weather; should we, nevertheless, try to
apply PCT to explain what seems to be people's chronic dissatisfaction with
the weather? I don't think it is appropriate to use PCT to explain anything
other than demonstrated examples of control.

I think the crux of my problem with your paper (and, for that matter, with
all the work done in what I call "conventional" behavioral science) is that
it is not an attempt to understand the phenomenon of control. None of the
data described in your paper clearly reveals any controlling; the people you
studied are unquestionably control systems but your data don't reveal what
these people are controlling. The methods of conventional behavioral science
are not designed to reveal controlling; in fact, they actually make it
difficult or impossible to see that control is occuring.

You can only see control by identifying a possible controlled variable,
introducing disturbances to that variable and watching to see whether
those disturbances have the expected effect; if they DON'T have the expected
effect, then you are probably watching a variable that is under control.

It is hard to precisely measure the kinds of variables you are interested in;
variables, like "militarism", that currently can be measured only by the
perceptual systems of humans. But informal measures of these varioables can
be obtained using paper and pencil testing. When you do this testing you have
to be prepared to accept the possibility that people may not be controlling
or even trying to control the variables you assume they are controlling.

The phenomenon of control must be demonstrated before the theory of control
is applied. That is why control theory is basically orthogonal to
conventional behavioral science, which looks at the side effects of control
-- phenomena like S-R, selection by consequences, planned output -- rather
than at control itself.

In order to understand the theory of the controlling done by living systems
(PCT) one must first understand the phenomenon (control, also called
purposive behavior) that that theory is designed to explain. PCT is NOT an
alternative to existing theories of behavior because PCT is not designed to
account for the "facts" of conventional behavioral science. In order to use
PCT propoerly, I'm afraid, you have to first re-think what you consider to be
a behavioral fact. The facts of conventional behavioral science are not facts
from a PCT perspective because they were collected without an understanding
that the organisms MIGHT be controlling the consequences of their actions.

Control is unquestionably at the heart of the phenomena which interest you:
miltarism, war, peace, cooperation, self image, etc. Only control systems
care about results produced by other control systems, and only control
systems will act to bring results to preferred states. Only control systems
build and maintain arsenals of weapons; only control systems will do whatever
is necessary with these weapons- - including destroy other control systems --
in order to produce the results they want. Control theory is DEFINITELY
relevant to your interests; you are right to see in PCT a powerful tool for
understanding human interaction. But you have to apply that tool
appropriately -- the appropriate application of PCT is to the phenomenon of