Skip knowing about PCT

[From Dag Forssell (980202 1200)]

Tim Perper, 980201, no date stamp

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to

the good stuff.

PCT is different from most discussion in the life sciences, in that it is
clearly and explicitly offers a physically feasible explanation for
behavior, where most people outside this group think in terms of
descriptions and don't worry about any underlying physics -- they seem
satisfied with magic. The criteria for science used in the physical
sciences are taken seriously here by many participants. This is why our
introductory materials suggest that you state how much of the background
materials you have digested. You seem to be begging for a response such as:
"So you have not studied PCT, don't know what it is about, don't understand
it, and don't want to learn, but want us to love and respect you anyway and
take your questions about "the good stuff" seriously.

Together with my electronics, such a background naturally makes PCT
very interesting, although not from the viewpoint of a psychotherapist or

an engineer.

I find it strange indeed that you dismiss PCT from the viewpoint of an
engineer.
You have not spent much time with the background materials, right?

And so I thought a starting place might be to ask if
Taylor's editorial could be rewritten by replacing the example of aiming a
gun with the example of someone falling in love.

No. This is not possible. Taylor's example is specifically an example of an
engineered control system. If you want to propose a more pacifist
alternative, please propose an engineered control system that fits the bill.

I used to post an introductionary statement on PCT once a month on this
CSGnet. This is no longer necessary, since everyone has ready web access.
Your statement implies that you have indeed visited and read the
introduction at the CSGnet home page. Just to be sure, here is a list
posted by Bruce Nevin earlier this month.

The CSGNet home page:
        http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/csg/

Rick's site, with lots of demos
        http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken/

Rick's introductory paper:
        http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken/SP.html

Bill Powers' site:
        http://www.frontier.net/~powers_w

Ed Ford's site for applications to counselling and other resources,
such as papers by Tom Bourbon:
        http://www.respthink.com/

I happen to be an engineer. I have tried to arrive at a perspective on the
difference between PCT and other social "theories" for some time. Just to
be clear, from my perspective, most contemporary social theories belong in
the "conversation" category below.

Here is my take on the difference; the second half of an intro I wrote last
spring.

···

=========================

Why worry about explanations?
[PCT] offers an explanation. Why should you care about an explanation? I
have heard many people say: "Don't confuse me with theory, tell me what to
do!" I think that there is good reason for this doubting attitude when it
comes to education that deals with social interaction. Let me share some
thoughts on explanations and science:

Explanations are not necessary to live
We all learn from experience. We want something and act in various ways
until we experience what we want. Then we remember what we did (or rather,
what perceptions we were controlling at the time).

Many explanations amount to conversation
Explanations sometimes merely restate the problem (you can't read because
you are dyslexic), offer conversational speculation (the customer bought
from you because he liked you best), or lump symptoms together in groups to
define a "syndrome" which provides an illusion of scientific understanding.

Many widely accepted explanations are wrong
Our language is full of references to the idea that the environment and
people in it make us do and feel things. "You make me so angry!" "Look what
you made me do!" "Our managers reinforce desirable behavior." "I want to
make you happy." "His reaction is understandable when you know how he has
been conditioned." We have all grown up with these concepts and
explanations and they sure can seem valid when you look at people's actions
from the outside. But today's social scientists have not been able to make
much progress based on these long accepted, intuitively appealing
explanations. Statistical findings are most often of very low quality.

Faulty explanations are ignored in practice
It is easy to say you believe one thing but do something else. What we
actually do is specify a perception we want to experience and observe how
our actions affect it. We vary our actions to achieve what we want. Faulty
reasoning makes little difference for hands-on practice - it is just ignored.

Languages are made up of explanations
The language of a particular science at any point in time defines concepts,
explanations and functional relationships in a coherent whole. The language
and its concepts determines how we view and describe what we experience.
When you have learned a scientific language it becomes very difficult to
step outside and see an entirely different explanation, based on different
basic concepts. What you already "know" seems "right" and different
explanations seem "wrong."

In his book _Inventing Reality: Physics as language_ (NY: Wiley, 1990),
Bruce Gregory reviews successive languages in the physical sciences, each
one replacing its predecessor. When a new, more useful, testable and
demonstrably more valid language is radically different, a scientific
revolution has to take place eventually, because the old explanations and
concepts lose their validity when compared to the new.

Scientific revolutions happen
I changed my notions about scientific progress when I read _The Structure
of Scientific Revolutions_ by the late Thomas S. Kuhn (Univ. of Chicago
Press, 1970). I had thought that scientific progress always meant adding
new discoveries to an already validated body of knowledge. Now I understand
that the history of science is a history with long spells (many decades or
centuries) of knowledge accumulation, punctuated by intellectually violent
transitions where old knowledge is superseded by new explanations. Sciences
start over. I am excited to be a part of a movement to bring a
fundamentally new, testable and very practical explanation to the life
sciences.

Where explanations prove correct - science progresses
The impact of correct explanations is readily seen in the recent history of
the physical sciences. A new approach to measurement and a new set of
explanations were introduced by Galileo, Kepler and Newton in the 1600's.
When people study the physical sciences today, they replicate many
fundamental experiments and accept the theoretical explanations that go
with them because they can see near perfect agreement between their own
experience and the explanation. When engineers design devices today, they
confidently expect them to work as predicted.

PCT offers a correct explanation - science can progress
When you study PCT today, you can replicate many fundamental experiments,
run the simulations and accept the explanation that goes with them based on
your own judgement (not because a professor says so), because you can see
near perfect agreement between your own experience and the explanation.
When you offer your friends information passed through the filter of PCT
understanding, you will be offering better (and less confusing) information
than they can get with today's descriptive languages and they will be able
to control their perceptions better than they do now - they can be more
satisfied. When you deal with people in the future, you will have greater
understanding and confidence. I think you will be pleased that you learned
PCT.

==============================

Tim, if you are going to bring something to the CSGnet, or take something
of benefit to yourself away from CSGnet, there is no way around the
requirement that you digest the basics of PCT. I recommend that you put on
your engineering hat when you do. As an engineer, I find PCT relevant to
love in a general sense. But my PCT definition of love is a personal
extrapolation and application, not something that is a part of the theory
in any way, nor does it have anything to do with hormones or falling in love.

Best, Dag

Dag Forsell, in comments below, appears partially to have misread my
comments, and I want to correct the signal lest it escalate. Some of these
misreadings might be clarified, I hope, in the course of an exchange
between Rick Marken and myself.

[From Dag Forssell (980202 1200)]

Tim Perper, 980201, no date stamp

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to

the good stuff.

DF
PCT is different from most discussion in the life sciences, in that it is
clearly and explicitly offers a physically feasible explanation for
behavior, where most people outside this group think in terms of
descriptions and don't worry about any underlying physics -- they seem
satisfied with magic.

TP: My doctoral degree is in radiation genetics and have I published in
the refereed scientific literature. I am not a magician. Nor are most
life scientists.

···

--------

DF
The criteria for science used in the physical
sciences are taken seriously here by many participants. This is why our
introductory materials suggest that you state how much of the background
materials you have digested.

TP: I certainly tried to answer this question -- I am not an engineer nor
a psychotherapist, and do not have the approach that either would take. On
the other hand, I am familiar with the basic principles of PCT. I think
that some of my comments on hierarchical control during escalation in
courtship will indicate that. Nor am I here to tell you, or anyone else,
the "true" or "real" explanation of those phenomena either in PCT or other
terms. Instead, the purpose is to examine the data and ideas jointly and
to an extent collaboratively, insofar as the internet allows one to do so.
I am here to learn and share, not preach.

---------

DG
You seem to be begging for a response such as:
"So you have not studied PCT, don't know what it is about, don't understand
it, and don't want to learn, but want us to love and respect you anyway and
take your questions about "the good stuff" seriously.

TP: May I politely but firmly ask you not to make comments about my
personal motives? You do not know anything about me. If you wish to
respond to the material I posted about courtship, that would be very
welcome. But personal comments are not productive.

---------

TP

Together with my electronics, such a background naturally makes PCT
very interesting, although not from the viewpoint of a psychotherapist or

an engineer.

DF
I find it strange indeed that you dismiss PCT from the viewpoint of an
engineer.
You have not spent much time with the background materials, right?

TP: You have misread my meaning. My sentence meant that my background
makes PCT very interesting, but because I am neither an engineer nor
psychotherapist, my interest arises not from those backgrounds, and so I
cannot judge it from those viewpoints. You have mistaken my sentence to
mean "... naturally makes PCT very interesting, but is uninteresting from
engineering or psychotherapeutic viewpoints." But, to be honest, that
would be remarkably stupid of me to say, because PCT has considerable value
in both fields. You seem to have *assumed* -- too hastily, I fear -- that
I am an ignorant person or am motivated by a desire to attack what I do not
know. But no, that is not my purpose in posting things to CSGnet.

Now, to be sure, there are a great many things I do not know, something I
say through modesty. I do not claim to have either an engineer's nor a
psychotherapist's insights into PCT, but perhaps, Dag, I have other
insights that might be valuable. Indeed, it follows from the generality of
PCT *itself* that a biologist's insights might complement those of people
in other fields. If you find the material I posted about hierarchical
control of escalation during courtship insightful or interesting, well,
that is good. If you find the material trivial, well, then that is your
opinion. But again I am asking you not to make personal comments about me,
for example, by suggesting that you find something strange in what I did
not say. So may I again ask that we drop the personal comments completely?

----------

TP

And so I thought a starting place might be to ask if
Taylor's editorial could be rewritten by replacing the example of aiming a
gun with the example of someone falling in love.

DF
No. This is not possible. Taylor's example is specifically an example of an
engineered control system. If you want to propose a more pacifist
alternative, please propose an engineered control system that fits the bill.

TP: Perhaps you did not read my comments to Richard Marken and Martin
Taylor about the question of pacifism. If you do, you will see what I was
driving at, perhaps more clearly -- and pacifism is NOT the issue.

If I take your comment seriously that it "is not possible" to rewrite
Taylor's example using love instead of aiming a gun, then it seems to me
that you deny the generality of feedback control of perceptions ("signals,"
if you prefer) for any behavior pattern beyond kinesiology. That is a
viewpoint I do not accept. Instead, I argue that control systems -- whose
nature we know very little about in any kind of *physiological* detail --
operate *throughout* the entire hierarchy of events that occur during
courtship, and, more generally, during any social interaction. In fact, I
would suggest that courtship represents a good example of the generality of
control formulations, suggesting that PCT indeed offers a good deal BEYOND
the level of controlling kinesiology. I do not deny that gunnery robots
exemplfy certain principles of servomechanism control, but I suggest that
during courtship much more is involved than merely tracking a target (in my
reply to Rich Marken, I offered the example of kinesiological motor control
of a man reaching out to take his beloved's hand as an illustration of how
control systems above the level of kinesiology can fruitfully be presumed
to exist.)

The issue, it seems, is a matter of level. At the level of kinesiology
alone, I would not deny at all that parallels to gunnery robots may well
help us understand how muscle movements, eye-hand coordination systems, and
their like permit the organism to track a moving object and touch it.
Indeed, I would argue that such systems can be understood very fruitfully
in such ways. But, in a social interaction like courtship, we are dealing
with phenomena that are not merely kinesiological, but are also emotional
(to mention one difference). I want to know more about the control systems
that determine or influence WHEN the man reaches out his hand (for
example). What control systems determine how he or she will respond
emotionally? What exactly *are* the controlled variables in these
processes? But, to my way of thinking, models of kinesiology -- reaching
out a hand -- are then no longer sufficient, and we must look for
higher-level systems. Thus (again in my opinion) we need to **generalize**
the notion of control over kinesiology (modeled perhaps as a gunnery robot)
to examine control over any system lower in the hierarchy, whether or not
it is kinesiological. In this, I see PCT as offering a pathway to
**general principles** that take us beyond kinesiology and yet retain the
central features of servo control and regulation (e.g., by determining
reference levels of various systems). To my way of thinking, such
generalizations are very helpful and very useful.

And here I suggest that a biologist may indeed offer an insight. Gunnery
robots can be used as good models for one TYPE of biological response,
specifically of how an organism moves its effector systems to track a
moving object and touch it. But such activities do not exhaust the full
repertoire of biological possibilities, no matter how neat or well
understood gunnery robots may be. To explain what lies *beyond* tracking a
target and touching it, we need, I believe, to understand systems that work
on feedback principles and that act between levels, e.g., from higher
levels to lower levels. THAT -- not pacifism nor stupidity nor ignorance
-- is my concern with discussing PCT primarily in the context of a gunnery
robot.

Instead, I am suggesting that gunnery robots are very good models for
certain kinds of biological process (those involving kinesiology), but that
emotional and other processes cannot wisely be modeled as kinesiology.
Instead, we need other sorts of model, especially those that deal with
inter-level feedback regulation, in whatever ways those turn out to exist
in the organism's physiology.

Let me suggest that some of my exchange with Rich Marken may clarify the
other questions about my approach to, or appreciation for, PCT.

Tim Perper

[Dag Forssell (980203 1000)]

Timothy Perper Mon, 2 Feb 1998 21:47:12 -0500

If it's at all possible, I'd like to skip past the part where people post
things starting "I don't know what you know about PCT, but -- " and get to
the good stuff.

Thank you for your extensive introduction of where you are coming from,
offered in response to my post. I trust that in time you will tell us more
of your PCT background, such as whether you have read _Behavior: The
Control of Perception_ already, and what you thought of it.

TP: Perhaps you did not read my comments to Richard Marken and Martin
Taylor about the question of pacifism. If you do, you will see what I was
driving at, perhaps more clearly -- and pacifism is NOT the issue.

I have just read the digest from yesterday, and see that you have indeed
had several extensive, detailed and interesting exchanges already. Welcome
to CSGnet.

If I take your comment seriously that it "is not possible" to rewrite
Taylor's example using love instead of aiming a gun, ...

As I read Martin's editorial, the whole point of the gunnery example was to
relate an engineered control system with known properties -- the gun servo
systems -- with the human equivalent -- the gunner and officer -- so as to
illustrate the relevance of control theory to human behavior -- indeed
illustrate that what humans do is to control their perceptions. It won't
work to substitute a discussion of falling in love, no matter how
exquisitely detailed in PCT terms, hierarchy and all, to serve this purpose
in the editorial, (unless you can point to a widely recognized functioning
robot that falls in love all the time :slight_smile: ).

There are other servo systems that might be candidates for the editorial
purposes, such as autopilot systems used to pilot aircraft when the human
pilot takes a break. Indeed, a few years ago, I read an article about a
Lockheed L1011 that took off from Los Angeles on autopilot, where the human
pilot did not intervene until about one foot above the runway in London. If
we want to suggest alternatives to Martin, they should have the quality of
comparing an engineered system with the human equivalent. Aiming machine
guns using tracer bullets or aiming water hoses are other alternatives that
fall short of the intent of the editorial as I interpret it.

Again, thanks for your more detailed introduction.

Best, Dag

[Dag Forssell (980203 1000)]

Thank you for your extensive introduction of where you are coming from,
offered in response to my post. I trust that in time you will tell us more
of your PCT background, such as whether you have read _Behavior: The
Control of Perception_ already, and what you thought of it.

TP: You seem very interested in this question, since you've asked several
times about my background in PCT. So, no problem -- no, I haven't read
Bill's book, and am trying to find a copy. Does anyone on the list happen
to have an extra that you'd be willing to sell to me?

But let me ask YOU something. What importance attaches to your question?
If I were an expert in PCT, you'd certainly have heard of me, read my
papers on it, and so on. So it seems to me that you *already* know that I
am not an expert in the field. Is there an issue for you or for the group
about this that I do not understand?

It also seems to me -- or I hope I am conveying this -- that I have some
observations that do *appear* to bear directly on what PCT deals with. An
example is the posting I sent in today in response to Rick Marken's
thoughtful comments about controlled variables in synchronization. Now, it
may be that you or others have no interest in what I say *unless* I have
certain official or unofficial credentials, and that is of course your
privilege. Then I will simply not bother you again. It would seem that we
all lose something thereby, if only because the data I've obtained do seem
remarkably consonant with PCT. But perhaps you are not interested in
hearing about it, and again that is your privilege.

Have you read either Lerner 1954 or Rendel 1967?

Lerner, I. Michael 1954/1970 Genetic Homeostasis. NY: Dover

Rendel, J.M. 1967 Canalisation and Gene Control. London: Logos
Press/Academic Press.

Both are genuine classics, but, to be sure, neither deals with PCT. And it
is likely to *stay* that way unless we all make efforts to bridge
disciplinary chasms that have long isolated people with very similar
interests and very similar theoretical perspectives. And I personally
think that bridging such chasms is fruitful -- I am certainly finding Rick
Marken's comments very enlightening, as well as comments by others. So
what sous-texte am I missing in your questions, such that you ask them
again?

Tim Perper

[Bruce Nevin (980204. PST)]

(Timothy Perper 10:56 AM 2/4/98 -0500) --

You...'ve asked several
times about my background in PCT. So, no problem -- no, I haven't read
Bill's book, and am trying to find a copy. Does anyone on the list happen
to have an extra that you'd be willing to sell to me?

It's in print. You can order it from amazon.com, for example.

What importance attaches to your question?
[...] Is there an issue for you or for the group
about this that I do not understand? [...] It
may be that you or others have no interest in what I say *unless* I have
certain official or unofficial credentials, and that is of course your
privilege. Then I will simply not bother you again. It would seem that we
all lose something thereby, if only because the data I've obtained do seem
remarkably consonant with PCT. But perhaps you are not interested in
hearing about it, and again that is your privilege.

[...]

what sous-texte am I missing in your questions, such that you ask them
again?

Timothy (or do we call you Tim?), I really like it that you are asking
these questions because they surface an important communication issue for
CSG. I also appreciate your very straightforward style.

When we learn about something new, we naturally try to integrate it with
what we already know. The problem is that many of the theories and
explanations that we already know conflict in fundamental ways with PCT.
Learning about PCT and applying it to the things that interest us brings us
into a series of conflicts. Because they are at a very fundamental level,
resolving these conflicts can be extremely challenging. Over time, this may
come to seem an understatement to you.

In some fields, such as psychology, an enormity of research and literature
appears to be without worth. It is as though we had volumes of meticulously
tabulated data on the correlations of heat vs. cold, humidity vs. dryness,
motility vs. density, various perceptible attributes of the essences Fire,
Water, Air, and Earth, in the selective breeding of plants and animals. The
measurements are meticulous, the experimental design impeccable--they're
just observing irrelevancies. This is why all the heat about psychophysics,
IV-DV research, etc.

In other fields the story may not be so grim--it's hard to tell.
Linguistics (my field) has a history of leaning on whatever psychology is
current without needing it for much more than explanatory context--though
now "cognitive science" leans pretty heavily on the purported findings of
linguistic philosophers (not much science there). The difficulty is that
linguists analyze patterning in some of the behavioral outputs of people as
they control perceptions involving cooperation with others. This is not
utterly wasted, as it appears that people control perceptions of conformity
to established linguistic patterns (which they recreate in a changing way
in the process of so doing); however, much needs to be rethought and
redone, and there's a lot of trash because of presumptions about how the
mind works.

Your fields of interest may be relatively amenable to reworking from the
foundations up, depending on the extent to which linear-causative notions
of behavior are assumed.

But these assumptions are insidious. You simply cannot see them when you
are operating within them. So, as newcomers ask their enthusiastic
questions and proposed their explanations of "established phenomena" here,
work that properly should fall on the learner of PCT--noticing the
conflicts and working out the implications in all intellectual
honesty--falls on those who have worked their way through to a better grasp
of the principles. This gives the appearance of insiders policing the
borders and keeping people out until they meet certain requirements. I
think it is very good that you have given voice to this perception, because
I am sure it is not the intention.

As you deepen your understanding of PCT, as I am confident that you will,
and work your way through the conflicts with your earlier understandings, I
personally would appreciate it if you would keep this issue in the back of
your mind and think about how we might manage this communication issue better.

You can visualize people's approaches to the CSG and PCT as a bifurcation
crisis, as in catastrophe theory. Many people approach with interest and
enthusiasm, and then choose to stay with the theories and methods and
publications and tenure and so on that they identify as important to their
careers or to their intellectual identities, so they curve back out and
away from PCT. Sometimes, carrying forward their original enthusiasm for
PCT, they trumpet to others their own distorted versions of Control Theory,
and this contributes to difficulty for growth and recognition of the field
on its actual merits. A few keep negotiating the conflicts, holding to the
very simple core insights (living things control their sensed inputs by
means of their observable outputs, which are not controlled per se) and
methods (test for controlled perceptions, create a model control system and
test it, expecting near 100% fidelity) of PCT. This can be a long process.
It requires intellectual honesty, intelligence, and the ability to acquire
and apply new skills.

It seems to me that you have these, and your autonomy as a
non-institutionalized researcher (pun perhaps intended) bodes well.

I've only been involved for a few years, and in a left-handed kind of way
(no slight to lefties, I'm right handed :wink: so from a junior participant at
least, welcome, and I hope this helps you understand what seems to be a
warded reception.

  Bruce Nevin