[Hans Blom, 940503]
(Bill Powers (940502.1800 MDT)
OK, you asked for it.
that is both new and appealing must appeal because it speaks to
something that one's former ideas didn't take into account.
even be that what is new about PCT contradicts, in an interesting
way, things one formerly thought were true, or had accepted without
thinking much about it pro or con.
Yes, but this comment, correct in itself, subsequently leads you to a lot
of erroneous conclusions. Let me annoy you with a bit of meta-modelling,
i.e. let's go up a level.
1. Any model is a _simplification_ of reality. Into a particular model one
includes the things that one deems important whereas what one deems unim-
portant is either disregarded or considered to be noise. A model/theory
_focusses the attention_ on a particular aspect of "reality".
2. Therefore, any model is a subjective thing, which depends upon one's
taste about what one considers important and what not. As control engi-
neers are apt to say: one man's noise is another man's signal. This
implies that different models about the same domain will generally be in
conflict: in that they disregard different "details", they will lead to
different conclusions/predictions. Such differences may be extremely large
when one theory includes a detail that another theory does not consider,
as in Einstein versus Newton near the speed of light.
3. Therefore, proposing a model to others is very much the same thing as
saying: "Hey, look, this is what _I_ think is important". Proposing a
model is a social activity, an attempt to focus another person's attention
on the things that you see, one of the steps in the creation of a common
4. As a corollary, rejecting another person's (correct) model is very much
the same thing as saying: "What _you_ think is not important". Or: "Speak
my language. I am not willing to speak yours".
5. Proposing one model and rejecting another (correct one) is therefore a
It is this attitude of "I'm right, you're not" or "I know what's important
in life, you don't" that so often wreaks havoc in csg-l circles. I remem-
ber Rick some time ago telling about his mother's attitude towards him in
terms very much like these. What Rick does not recognize is that he has
exactly the same attitude as his mother in this respect (deep inside, I
assume, both are kind-hearted people). You, Bill, have something of the
same attitude, although less clearly recognizable, as some of your remarks
show. Read your own texts with this in mind and see whether you recognize
some of this attitude.
PCT and its methodology certainly conflict with what many older
theories have assumed to be true.
As I said above, this is generally true of different models/theories. It
is to be expected. Why else a new theory if it does not want to focus the
attention on something not included in other theories?
An interesting feature of
conflicts that I have noticed is that when they are purely internal
-- when one is weighing opposing interpretations and goals without
external interference -- they can cause a great deal of inner
confusion and turmoil. But when a external agency comes along and
start pushing you toward one of the conflicted goals, all doubt
seems to disappear: you take the side of the other goal and
wholeheartedly push back.
So? You see the same thing in a well-balanced heater/cooler system with a
common setpoint where are both operative. At the setpoint, they are in
full harmony. When disturbed, either one starts to fight back. I think
that you confuse "inner confusion and turmoil" with some people's more or
less harmonious tolerance for ambiguity i.e. multiple models.
A small excursion into the philosophy of science. One of the corre-
laries of G"odel's work is the discovery that no single theory can
cover all of truth. The best thing a theory can do is to build a
"web" to "cover" the universe of truth. But inevitably every theory
must leave holes. In turn, these holes may be covered by a web, but
again holes, now smaller, will be left. In essence, G"odel's work
states that even an infinite number of theories will not be enough to
fully comprehend everything. Given our human limitations, it is not
so bad to be eclectic and collect "pretty" theories.
I would like to think that most people who have been around the net
for a while have a pretty clear picture of what PCT is about -- how
we assume behavior works. If that picture had been totally
unbelievable to someone, why would that person stick around to hear
more about it?
The csg-l picture is believable, although I find it too limiting. On
several occasions you said to me something like: "I know that PCT is
incomplete, but let's not bother with details until we understand the
theory as it is now". Although I find PCT a welcome addition to a set of
models/theories/tools that I possessed already when I met csg-l, by and in
itself it leaves too many holes for my taste. It is too coarse a web, I
find, to be able to lead to good solutions to practical problems. The web
is not even sufficiently dense to provide a common language of discourse
But I'm also pretty confident that for a great many
participants and listeners, the concepts of PCT are hard to
assimilate into whatever previous understanding of human nature they
had already accepted. We've seen plenty of evidence of that.
An "assimilation" is impossible because models will generally be in
conflict. I know of no model that builds upon another while leaving the
older theory intact.
Essentially everyone who has come onto the net with some well-
developed conception of how to approach understanding or modeling
human behavior has put up arguments. All those arguments have
amounted to saying the same thing: "Please tell me I haven't been
wasting my time!"
Almost correct, but not quite. Some have said: "Hey, great, I can use
that!". Others have said: "You presume too much. Even if you have some-
thing worthwhile to say, I will not tolerate your attitude of pronouncing
everything that I previously learned as insignificant or erroneous. Who do
you think you are to invalidate me and my whole life thus far?"
Now the interesting thing to me is that these
arguments have had no common theme; that is, they haven't revealed
any consensus to the effect that there is some particular basic flaw
Is the reason for this clear now?
Maybe there are. Maybe in some fundamental way PCT fails to come to
grips with problems that are already handled by other fields -- in a
different way for each field.
This isn't the problem at all. The problem is the exclusivity that PCT
claims as the one and all theory, the theory to end all other theories as
insignificant. This is not acceptable to a scientist. In the hardest
science of all, mathematics, for example, we have both Euclidian and non-
Euclidian geometries. Mathematicians do not fight about which is the
"correct" geometry. They know that both, although in full mutual conflict,
are correct _in themselves_ and that both are extremely useful tools, al-
though for different types of applications. Same thing with relativity
theory and quantum theory. These two are in mutual conflict, although each
yields highly accurate predictions within its domain of applicability.
But if PCT failed in so many different
ways, it would be hard to understand what it is about PCT that has
attracted people from all these different fields.
Every model, every theory fails in that it has its limitations. We do not
talk about the "failure" of a theory; we talk about its limitations. It is
hard not to think deep Freudian thoughts about remarks like these.
I think it is more
reasonable to assume that PCT has provided a single framework in
which many different facets of human nature fall into place and make
sense. But this way of cutting the diamond or the pie reveals
different things that are inconsistent with each other approach. It
just seems likely to me that the fault lies in these various fields,
each of which takes a narrow view of behavior to the exclusion of
See? What others deem important is not so to you. Mutual inconsistency of
theories is not the problem, as I hope is clear by now. The basic problem
is the presumptuousness of PCT as the one and only theory that saves the
world. Very, very sectarian.
The sociologist and the psychotherapist, the linguist
and the behaviorist, the engineer and the personality theorist,
simply see behavior differently, and largely incompatibly.
Of course! They have different concerns and therefore need different
theories i.e. a different focus of attention!
set down in an arena among multitudes of competing and conflicting
ways of explaining behavior. And while eliciting no specific
criticisms from any quarter, it nevertheless is resisted from every
quarter, because in some way it implies that there is something
wrong with each other approach. Nobody has to say what the conflicts
are: just by being what it is, PCT makes the conflicts obvious to
anyone who looks for them.
Once again, conflicts between theories are normal and expected by scien-
tists. Science is used to such a relativism. Why is it that, with csg-l,
conflicts between theories necessarily lead to conflicts between people?
Because in its presentation PCT is a dogmatic power game. "Bill Powers is
right and Rick Marken is his prophet".
I've complained about this before, and made resolutions I promptly
forgot, but I will bring it up again: you people out there on the
net have heard enough about PCT to try to offer your own
Thank you for asking me to say what is hard to say spontaneously. You do
not play by the rules of science. As long as you believe that another
theory is wrong simply because it is in conflict with PCT, you are so
unscientific as to be unwelcome in the circles where scientist convene.
If you come up with some example of behavior that you
think challenges PCT, don't just throw it out on the table and wait
for some expert to provide a plausible answer. Try thinking like a
PCT theorist. ...
if you don't practice thinking in PCT terms, you will
remain stuck in whatever point of view you brought to this
Do you feel the attitude behind this? "See it in the light of PCT".
Basically nothing but "See it my way". Politely asked, you may, and
generally will, have success. As a command or attempt to dominate, you
will be resisted. Elementary PCT.
So what about it: should I disappear for a while, and Tom Bourbon
too, and whoever else has been defending the purity of PCT, to leave
the field free for dissenters?
Defending the purity of PCT is a very different matter from attacking --
and ridiculing or pronouncing as unimportant -- another theory. Of course
we want the purity of Euclidian geometry; if not pure, it's not a science.
But not at the cost of ridiculing all practicioners of non-Euclidean geo-
Do you get what I mean or did you only feel resistance when reading this?