Slippery lines in IMP

[From Dick Robertson] (980126.1137CST)

From: Fred Nickols <nickols@WORLDNET.ATT.NET>
Subject: Slippery Wording

Since I wrote the lines that Fred finds "slippery wording" I guess a reply by
me is in order, Fred says:

After placing my order and waiting patiently, I finally received a copy of
Robertson and Powers' Introduction to Modern Psychology...[on] page
example of...slippery wording. The paragraph in question follows:

"Once organized in the nervous system of a person, a control system (like
the one needed for the above task) can then execute commands such as seeing
a series of number symbols on paper as either (1) a set of random numbers
(look at the numbers in blocks of three)
13141516171819202122232425262728292031, or (2) as a continuation of the
sequence 123456789101112. Notice that how you "see" the upper line of
numbers is not controlled by the environment; it is controlled by you the
organism. The "stimulus" is exactly the same in both cases."

The last sentence in the paragraph above is the one I find troubling. If by
"stimulus" is meant the series of numbers beginning with 1314.., then the
statement is true but pointless. In reading the paragraph I was taken by
the manipulation of what I know as "set" (a predisposition to see, believe,
or act in certain ways). Coming to the 1314... sequence for the first time,
I encountered an instruction in parentheses to examine the numbers in blocks
of three. I did as bid and broke the 1314... block into chunks of 131, 415,
etc. Upon encountering the second point, that the 1314... block of numbers
could be viewed as a continuation of a sequence spanning 1 through 12, I
could perceive the 1314... block of numbers differently.

However, under no circumstance would I accept the subsequent statement that
the stimulus "is exactly the same in both cases."

That's pretty slippery wording, fellas...

My answer is that I was writing a text for my students in a new undergraduate
general psych course. In this first chapter I was trying to suggest that a PCT
based psychology offered many new ways to think about how behavior works. In
the particular piece that Fred objects to I was hoping that the student would
react with something like, "Oh, I see, you're saying that we don't experience
reality passively - all having the same experience from the same set of
physical properties reported on by our senses; rather we construct our
experience with the variables we control in perceiving the signals reflected
from the physical matter." (Of course even this is a more sophisticated
wording than I would expect from most undergraduates taking one of their first
psych courses, but I was hoping their reception of it would be something of
that kind.)

Fred, I think your reaction was on a far more sophisticated level. If your
point is that "stimulus" should be defined Not as a group of black marks on
paper but as the perception we control with the "set" we bring to it, I would
agree with you on technical grounds. But, my reading of most students at that
point in their development was that they already were more likely to hold the
former position. My hope was that they would come to see things more as you
did by the end of the course.

I blush to report that I have no evidence as to whether my intention was
realized, or whether it went awry as it did with you. To my recollection no
student ever brought it up one way or the other.

Best, Slippery Dick