Simple Simon?

[From Bruce Abbott (960906.1255 EST)]

Rick Marken (960906.0800) --

Bruce Abbott (960906.0855 EST)

Here is Nobel laureate Herbert Simon's version [of a profound observation
about behavioral simplicity]:

A man, viewed as a behaving system, is quite simple. The apparent
complexity of his behavior over time is largely a reflection of the
complexity of the environment in which he finds himself.
[Simon, H. A. (1969). _The sciences of the artificial_. Cambridge, MA:

         MIT Press, p. 25]

So you see, Bruce (and Rick, maybe), you're in good company.

Although he's a fellow member of the International Jewish Conspiracy (I'm
still waiting for my check, guys), I don't count Herb as "good company".
What he says above sounds good but I think you'll find that it's based on a
version of the old input-output view of behavior: complex inputs lead to
complex outputs while the law relating input to output is simple.

How do you know what kind of company "Herb" is until you spend some time
with him? You're speaking from ignorance. What he says above not only
sounds good, it IS good: it's based NOT on a version of the old input-output
view of behavior, but on the view that the ant is a servomechanism. Here's
how good ol' Herbie developed his point:

  We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded beach.
  He moves ahead, angles to the right to ease his climb up a steep dunelet,
  detours around a pebble, stops for a moment to exchange information with a
  compatriot. Thus he makes his weaving, halting way back to his home. So as
  not to anthropomorphize about his purposes, I sketch the path on a piece of
  paper. It is a sequence of irregular, angular segments--not quite a random
  walk, for it has an underlying sense of direction, of aiming toward a goal.

  I show the unlabeled sketch to a friend. Whose path is it? An expert skier,
  perhaps, slaloming down a steep and somewhat rocky slope. Or a sloop,
  beating upwind in a channel dotted with islands or shoals. Perhaps it is
  a path in a more abstract space: the course of search of a student seeking
  the proof of a theorem in geometry.

  Whoever made the path, and in whatever space, why is it not straight: why
  does it not aim directly from its starting point to its goal? In the case
  of the ant (and, for that matter, the others), we know the answer. He has
  a general sense of where home lies, but he cannot foresee all the obstacles
  between. He must adapt his course repeatedly to the difficulties he
  encounters, and often detour uncrossable barriers. His horizons are very
  close, so that he deals with each obstacle as he comes to it; he probes
  for ways around or over it, without much thought for future obstacles. It
  is easy to trap him into deep detours.

  Viewed as a geometric figure, the ant's path is irregular, complex, hard
  to describe. But its complexity is really a complexity in the surface of
  the beach, not a complexity in the ant. On that same beach, another small
  creature, with a home at the same place as the ant, might well follow a
  very similar path.

  . . .

  These speculations suggest a hypothesis, one that could well have been
  derived as a corollary from our previous discussion of artificial objects:

    An ant, viewed as a behaving system, is quite simple. The apparent
    complexity of its behavior over time is largely a reflection of the
    complexity of the environment in which it finds itself.

  . . .

  In this chapter, I should like to explore this hypothesis, but with the
  word "man" substituted for "ant." [Pp. 23-35]

The ant has a goal (to get home), it knows which way home is, and it moves
so as to bring its current position to the position of the goal. The
irregularities of the beach are just disturbances to continuing on its
reference heading; its complex path traced out while overcoming these
disturbances tell us more about the environment than about the ant.

Maybe Simon isn't so simple after all, eh? (:->

Regards,

Bruce

[From Rick Marken (960906.1320)]

Bruce Abbott (960906.1255 EST) --

How do you know what kind of company "Herb" is until you spend some time
with him?

I have. In person and in print.

You're speaking from ignorance.

Nu?

What he says above not only sounds good, it IS good

When I hear Simon say that behavior is the control of perception and that
psychology is about testing to determine what perceptions organisms control,
then I'll enthusiatically admit that what he and all other "giants" of the
field say is "good".

it's based NOT on a version of the old input-output view of behavior, but on
the view that the ant is a servomechanism.

People have been comparing the behavior of organisms to that of servo-
mechanisms for years; only one of those people actually did the comparison
correctly and, thus, made the startling discovery that behavior is the
control of perception. Simon was not that person!

Here's how good ol' Herbie developed his point:

We watch an ant make his laborious way across a wind- and wave-molded
beach...I show the unlabeled sketch to a friend. Whose path is it? An
expert skier...why is it not straight: why does it not aim directly from
its starting point to its goal?...he cannot foresee all the obstacles
between. He must adapt his course repeatedly to the difficulties he

  encounters

All very nice observations. Congratulations to Herb on noticing the
phenomenon of control. Unfortunately, Herb didn't point out that what the ant
is doing is controlling its own perceptions. It's a long conceptual way
from seeing that an ant acts as though it has the goal of reaching a
particular location and understanding that what you are seeing is a side
effect of the control of perception. Herb's company would be "good" (and,
given his Nobel, very valuable) if he were fighting to turn psychology into
the study of the control of perception. Instead, Herb has given every
indication that he completely supports a psychology based on the input-output
model of behavior (I just saw Francisco Arocha's wonderful post which
confirms my suspicion in spades).

Maybe Simon isn't so simple after all, eh? (:->

Simon, like all the other "biggies" in psychology and the cognitive sciences,
is a very bright guy. It's just that he (like all the other "biggies" -- and
"smallies" --in the field) doesn't understand why behavior is simple.
Behavior is simple because it is organized around a simple principle: control
of perception. Simon is certainly not incapable of understanding control of
perception; he's certainly smart enough. It's just that he (like everyone
else in the field) simply _can't_ allow himself to understand it. If he
allowed himself to understand it then he's would realize that most of what he
has done and written so far can be safely placed in the wastebasket; it's all
wrong. I think Simon and all the others would find this an impossibly
unacceptable conclusion.

The past is very important to most people; history, precedent, and heritage
give many people a sense of meaning in their lives. It must be very
difficult, then, for these people to consider giving it all up -- giving up
their most important perceptions -- for something as elusive and limited as
understanding.

francisco arocha (96/09/06, 15.27, EST) --

Maybe Simon is not so simple, but this sure sounds like input/output.

Boy, does it! Those quotes are a great find, Francisco! Thanks!

It's really hard for these S- R guys to hide from their ideas when they keep
putting them down on paper;-)

RSM