Science or Mush Part 1 of 2

[From Dag Forssell (951029 1445) -1

Part 1 of 2

[Bruce Abbott (951028.1335 EST)] PCT in His Bones

   Dag has reminded me several times now that I have not replied

     to his posts of last July on "Science or Mush" and "PCT in My
     Bones." The general thrust of both posts was that it seemed
     to Dag that I really don't quite "get" PCT, that somehow I
     seem still to be clinging to many of my old beliefs, beliefs
     which, to a true PCT convert, are obviously wrong.

The general thrust was that Reinforcement Theory is mush, not
science. You are avoiding the basic issue in your superficial
treatment of "PCT in My Bones", which I made an effort to clarify
without invoking magic or religious faith.

Last spring, starting with Rick's post on Hateful words, we
discussed the difference between knowledge and belief. (See file
GULLIBILITY on disk or WWW). Towards the end, Bill P. suggested
that the difference lies in the measures of Supportability and

          >--------------> Acceptance

In your discussion, you lump everything together as if all the
things we discuss are high on Acceptance and nothing more.

I grant you that we can visualize and see evidence all over of GODs
hand and forgiveness, angels intercepting with miracles, the
workings of control systems and how behavior is determined by its

A human being can accept most anything, and people do. The
question is what can be supported.

People can also accept more than one explanation, so long as they
are not considered carefully at the same time. I am deeply
suspicious of your understanding based on your insistence on your
simultaneous acceptance of incompatible explanations.

The physical sciences have progressed in recent centuries because
of the stringent requirement for explanatory mechanisms and
experimental verification. The "science" you attempt to build a
bridge to does not require such explanatory mechanisms, only magic
in the form of increasing or decreasing probabilities.

   With regard to those alternatives, one thing to keep firmly in

     mind is that PCT is a scientific theory, not a religion. Bill
     Powers recognizes that any scientific theory must be subjected
     to vigorous testing, and that such testing, when applied to
     the hypothesized hierarchical structure of control proposed in
     B:CP, may well indicate that significant revisions are

This is fine. PCT is based on and utilizes findings from the
physical sciences. PCT and HPCT is in its infancy.

   ....Furthermore, as I have been arguing, significant clues

     about the organization of these systems may have been provided
     by research efforts whose directions were not guided by PCT.

This is highly questionable. Did you note how far off you were
with the "egg-rolling" behavior ANALYSIS. (Not just observation).

   Yet if the theory is to become accepted within the scientific

     community, it must be subjected to rigorous testing and
     evaluation. With such efforts, PCT is science. Without it,
     PCT would be just another Dianetics, and Bill Powers would be
     just another L. Ron Hubbard.

Which "scientific community"? People who have been satisfied with
explanations which invoke magic or people who are trained the
physical sciences. I submit that Reinforcement Theory, as
confusing as you have portrayed it, invoking magic in your own
computer models, is high on acceptance and low on supportability,
just like Dianetics. PCT is high on supportability, readily
recognized by those trained in physical science who see fit to take
a look, but low on acceptance -- particularly those "experts" who
could use it most.

   So when you hear me offering interpretations or suggestions

     that seem to you to be counter to PCT, I'm just doing my job.
     I, too, feel PCT "in my bones," if by PCT you mean the basic
     understanding that behavior is control of perception.

Fair enough, but we have seen no argumentation from you in this
direction, only about the validity and importance of observations
invoking a frame of reference that reeks with magic.

   I'm keeping an open mind to the possibilities.

Does this mean that you will continue to pray to two gods for
safety's sake, articulating prayers to each as a true believer,
getting A+ in each school.

Some belief!



My posts dealt with Science or Mush. I shall attach the thread
from late June /early July below, since the net has a very short
memory and we have new participants who cannot know what Bruce
responded to and what he did not respond to.

But first an excerpt from one of Bill's many lucid essays:

For the whole thing, see PCT Introduction and Resource Guide, on
WWW, disk or paper. I added emphasis with CAPS:


William T. Powers January 1991

I think that all attempts to apply abstract physical principles and
advanced mathematical trickery to human behavior are aimed at
solving a nonexistent problem. They all seem to be founded on the
old idea that behavior is unpredictable, disorderly, mysterious,
statistical, and mostly random. That idea has been sold by
behavioral scientists to the rest of the scientific community as an
excuse for their failure to find an adequate model that explains
even the simplest of behaviors. As a result of buying this excuse,
other scientists have spent a lot of time looking for
generalizations that don't depend on orderliness in behavior; hence
information theory, various other stochastic approaches,
applications of thermodynamic principles, and the recent search for
chaos and quantum phenomena in the workings of the brain. The
general idea is that it is very hard to find any regularity or
order in the behavior of organisms, so we must look beyond the
obvious and search for hidden patterns and subtle principles.

But behavior IS orderly and it is orderly in obvious ways. It is
orderly, however, in a way that conventional behavioral scientists
have barely noticed. It is not orderly in the sense that the output
forces generated by an organism follow regularly from sensory
inputs or past experience. It is orderly in the sense that the
CONSEQUENCES of those output forces are shaped by the organism into
highly regular and reliably repeatable states and patterns. The
Skinnerians came the closest to seeing this kind of order in their
concept of the "operant" but they failed to see how operant
behavior works; they used the wrong model.

Because of a legacy of belief in the variability of behavior,
scientists have ignored the obvious and tried to look beneath the
surface irregularities for hidden regularities. But we can't
develop a science of life by ignoring the obvious. The regular
phenomena of behavior aren't to be found in subtleties that can be
uncovered only by statistical analysis or encompassed only by grand
generalizations. The pay dirt is right on the surface.

erect. This looks like "no behavior." But the erect position is an
unstable equilibrium, because the whole skeleton is balancing on
ball-and-socket joints piled up one above the other. There is a
highly regular relationship between deviations from the vertical
and the amount of muscle force being applied to the skeleton across
each joint. There is nothing statistical, chaotic, or cyclical
about the operation of the control systems that keep the body
vertical. They simply keep it vertical.

The same is true of every other aspect of posture control and
movement control, and all the controlled consequences of those
kinds of control. Just watch an ice-skater going through the school
figures in competition. Watch and listen to any instrumentalist or
vocalist. Watch a ballet dancer. Watch a stock-car racer. Watch a
diver coming off the 30-meter platform. Watch a programmer keying
in a program.

. . . . .

PCT is the application of physics to behavior. The rest is mush.

Here is the thread from June/July:

From the CSG-L archives.

Date: Thu, 29 Jun 1995 18:11:02 -0400
Subject: Science or Mush?

[From Dag Forssell (950629 1500)]

Bruce Abbott (950628.2020 EST)

Bill Powers (950628.0945 MDT) --

Bruce Abbott (950628.0900 EST)

However, these authors felt that these results might be

     explained by the complex interaction between running rate and
     postreinforcement pause observed in the data. The overall rate
     would result from the combination of these two factors.

  This is a pretty feeble comment on an observation that goes

     directly against the fundamental assumptions behind
     reinforcement theory itself.

   Well, these guys aren't reinforcement theorists, they're just

     humble experimentalists reporting their data. I give them
     credit for perceiving and pointing out the apparent problem
     for reinforcement theory; apparently they felt less than
     comfortable going much further. Their objective was to
     discover what relationships occur in this situation, and
     that's what they did. They were willing to leave the
     theorizing to someone else.

I continue to appreciate and enjoy the discussion of reinforcement
theory. A great number of differences have been clarified. The
discussions are important since the basic notions of Reinforcement
Theory is ingrained in the minds of not only psychologists, but
most lay people as well. You are playing the role of interpreter
and devil's advocate well, Bruce. So well, that I often have to
pinch myself to recall your stated objective, which as I understand
it is to merely offer arguments that are to be expected from those
with a reinforcement point of view.

Your statement above -- "Well, these guys aren't reinforcement
theorists, they're just humble experimentalists reporting their
data." -- offered with an apparently straight face is a sad comment
indeed. Surely these are psychologists with PhD's??? Was this
research report reviewed by a committee of expert peers before
publication? If so, did they not understand either?? Is
Reinforcement Theory so obscure and convoluted that a division of
labor as you indicate is called for? It comes across as a giant
cop-out in a way that I think unthinkable in the physical sciences.
The obvious implication is that the experimentalist accepts no
responsibility for the theory; the theoretician accepts no
responsibility for the experiment. The theoretician can pick and
choose what experiments he or she wishes to comment on, free to
select only those that support the theory for further comment.
Experiments not supportive of theory, in fact disproving it, die a
quiet death. This charade hardly qualifies Reinforcement Theory or
EAB as a science. It cannot be taken seriously. From a PCT
perspective we know that by misleading armies of well-meaning
students of psychology for many decades, it has actually done
mankind an enormous disservice.

Bruce, you have claimed that you are a PCTer, but claiming it does
not make you one. Please save me from having to pinch myself
bloody by following through on your promise to Rick two weeks back:

  [Rick Marken (950616.1400)]
  Maybe on your vacation you could try to think up some ways to

     show that consequences don't actually strengthen the responses
     that produce them. Then I wouldn't feel so bad about spending
     the same time developing the models that show that it can sure
     look like they can.

   [Bruce Abbott (950616.1720 EST)]
   O.K., I'll think about it. Th' check is in the mail, right?


Bruce, you are obviously smart and witty. You have studied PCT,
spending time with DEMO1 and DEMO2. You know how to program, but
math and computer programs are not physical science and do not
necessarily represent physical mechanisms, especially when nebulous
magic like "probabilities" are part of the program.

You will be a tremendous asset to PCT and Humanity when you choose
to go beyond defending or explaining the non-science of
Reinforcement Theory in what seems like 100% of your posts to
actually supporting and promoting PCT and making constructive
suggestions as you indicated above (950616.1720 EST) in at least a
few of your posts. I will welcome some posts from you where you
show in-depth understanding of PCT, not just Reinforcement Theory.
I am very excited about the prospect of having another qualified
scientist on the PCT team and can hardly wait for you to
demonstrate that you are a PCTer by showing that you understand and
(as a consequence of that understanding) are making a personal
commitment to PCT.

Best, Dag

End part 1 of 2