[From Rick Marken (931209.1030)]
Hal Pepinsky (931208) --
I'm not sure to which of my posts this is a response but I'll
try to answer your questions as best as I can.
Me too. If only there were far more of us. Skeptical people
like you make the BEST PCTers.
In form, I pick up that PCT takes the position of
those who defend free will versus those who find human behavior to be
I would say that PCT takes NEITHER position -- but it explains
why people have taken each. I delt with this, to some extent, in
the "Blind men and the elephant" paper which is available in
Closed Loop (1993, Winter, vol. 3, no. 1). The "environmental
determinists" are noticing mainly disturbance resistance or
compensation for changes in feedback functions. A reflex, for
example looks like an environmentally determined response to a stimulus
only because the perceptual goal is not noticed. So when you throw a
fist and a person "reflexively" dodges; it looks like a stimulus
(fist approach) causes a response (dodge) -- environmental
determinism. In fact, the dodge is the perfectly appropriate
compensating action of a person who is controlling a perception
of "how close things get to the face". The stimulus would not
produce this response if the person suddenly changed his or her goal to
allow fists to hit the face. So "environmental determininsm" depends
on purposes . The same thing occurs in "operant conditioning"; it
looks like reinforcement (the environment) determines (selects)
behavior but, in fact, the reinforcement is being controlled by the
behavior. This is made clear by the fact that the "power" of
reinforcement disappears as soon as the organism stops controlling
for it (it doesn't want the "reinforcement" any more). So the notion
of "environmental determiniism" is partly an illusion created by
ignoring certain aspects of control -- in particular, the goal of
control (which, in PCT, is called the reference state of the
Free will appears in the apparently spontaneous way that people
select goals (reference states for controlled variables). People
who see "free will" in behavior are looking only at controlled
variables (goals) and ignoring disturbance resistence AND the higher
level goals that are achieved by the apparently arbitrary selection
of these goals; the selection is really NOT arbitrary. A hier-
archical control system must have SOME freedom to select lower level
goals -- or it will lose control. But this freedom is contrained
by the environmental realities (I am not "free" to achieve the
goal of taking a sip of coffee by setting a lower level goal of
reaching for the image of the cup on my TV) and higher level goals
(I am not free to drive to Reno -- lower level goal -- if my higher
level goal was to go skiing in Mammouth -- 200 miles south).
I think the PCT position would be that 1) actions are determined by
environmental effects on controlled variables; but the reference states
of controlled variables are determined by the person so, ultimately,
the person determines the effect of the environment on behavior
and 2) people are free, but they are only "free to be human" (I think
Bill Powers said somethong like that) where one's ultimate human-ness
is determined by what are probably genetically fixed "survival" goals.
Simply put, PCT says that there is no environmental determinism,
there is no free will, there IS hierarchical control.
I can think of numerous examples of
"control" phenomena that have been defined as you seem to define PCT
premises, Rick, such at WI Thomas's theorem that things that are
defined (read "we choose to define") as real are real in their
I don't really understand what you are saying here. Let me try an
interpretation. You seem to think that PCT says that people "define"
what consequences of their actions matter to them. In a sense this
is true; the nature of our perceptual functions define the
consequences of actions that will be controlled. But the perceptual
functions are built up silently; we don't really choose HOW we
will perceive the world. The perceptual functions we have are presumably
developed as we "grow up" becuase they are what have allowed us to
control successfully (to throw balls and pass tests and get dates).
The outputs of the resulting perceptual functions ARE reality, from
our point of view. What you are looking at, feeling, smelling, hearing
-- everything you are experiencing right now is the REALITY of your
perceptions. There is no other reality. It is ALL perception.
I think the term "perception" has become slightly synonymous
with "illusion". This is not what PCT means by "perception".
The "perceptions" we talk about are what you would call reality;
that screen in front of you, the keyboard, everything "out there"
is actually neural signals in your brain. But you (and I) don't care
about that in our everyday activities -- perception IS reality from
your (and my) point of view, and THAT's what we control.
Some time back I remember writing that if one takes the
Swahili-language broad view of what "see" means, PCT amounts to
presupposing that we see what we want to see and act accordingly.
I think this results from thinking of "perception" as kind of
an "illusion". PCT does say that we see what we want to see --
but not because we imagine or hallucinate it. We see what we want
becuase we ACT in such a way that what we see changes from what it is
to what we want it to be. There is no mystery here. When I want to see
the palm of my hand I hold up my hand (ACT) so that this is what I see.
The "ACT" part of this process is quite involved -- becuase there
are many muscles that have to produce just the right forces
in a changing world (my hand is moving, for example) but I know
nothing of the details of this action; I just "want" to see my
palm and there it is -- REALLY there. The palm is a perception
but it is a reality for me -- and I have controlled it, making it
appear before me.
PCT could be called "Reality Control Theory" because our perceptions
ARE our reality. But the fact is that reality IS perception. This
is important (and we keep calling it Perceptual Control Theory) becuase
1) your reality may not be exactly the same as mine and 2) there are
different ways of experiencing the "same" reality. I can experience
the reality of the color of me palm, its texture, it's orientation
in space, it's relationship to other objects, it's movements (if
I move my hand) it's ability to grasp objects, etc etc. All the
same reality -- just different perceptual aspects of it -- different
I risk demonstrating my continued
abysmal ignorance of what PCT is all about by repeating that
perception of mine.
Assuming ignorance on one's own part is the RIGHT approach to
LEARNING something that you haven't learned yet. We wouldn't have
J. S. Bach if, when he was a little kid, he assumed that he already
KNEW how to write a fugue. Instead, he assumed that he was ignorant
(he was) and literaly stole his brother's advanced music text's
in order to study and practice them. Thank god Bach was willing to
"demonstrate his abysmal ignorance" when he really WAS abysmally
ignorant. I celebrate this excellent attitude of yours, Hal; with this
attitude -- and a real desire to LEARN PCT -- you will learn it;
you may even become the Bach of PCT.
A sure-fire way NOT to learn PCT is to assume LACK of ignorance
of it when you have never studies of learned it. We have run
into plenty of people who, when they encounter PCT for the first
time, ASSUME THAT THEY KNOW IT ALREADY. And sometimes they
start explaining it to people who DO know it. This is a lot like
me trying to tell Bach how to write a fugue; it is an attitude that
guarantees that one will never learn PCT. I like your attitude
a LOT better.