[Martin Taylor 2007.04.27]
[From Bjorn Simonsen (2007.04.27,11:10 EUST)]
>From Bill Powers (2007.04.26.1420 MDT)
I think this has to be done very carefully to avoid reducing
PCT to the status of a metaphor.
If I don't misunderstand what you are saying, I don't think we shall be
afraid for metaphors. They permeate the language, the thoughts and the
actions people perform.
Quite true, and more true than we sometimes realize.
I think you use metaphors yourself when you say (e.g.): "By lowering
the gain on parallel control tasks, (if necessary lowering it to near zero),
those tasks would not compete for output degrees of freedom in lower level
control loops, & thereby increase the degree of control for this other more
central task." I think upon: lowering, compete, degrees of freedom and lower
level control loops, and maybe more.
Bill can speak for himself, but if I had written that, I would not be thinking I was writing in metaphor. I would think I was describing an engineering situation that could be transcribed into a circuit diagram.
"Lowering" means "bringing closer to zero"; it's a metaphor, in that zero is made analogous to the ground or the bottom of a physical space, but the metaphoric usage isn't in PCT, it's in everyday language. The sense would be no different if Bill had said "reducing". "Compete" may be a little anthropomorphic, as it suggests agency, but what other words would you use to describe a situation in which there are more degrees of freedom at the input to a communication link than can be accommodated by the link? It's no more metaphoric than would be the term "bandwidth", which actually means exactly the same. And in what way is "degrees of freedom" a metaphor (other than in its origin in engineering terminology)?
Lots of engineering terms have their origins in metaphor, but that doesn't mean their use in an engineering context is metaphoric. Would it be metaphoric to talk about a "high" voltage "transmission" "line" when you want to describe a particular copper wire?
We can't live without metaphors
Quite so. But the usage of a word that originates in metaphor does not mean that one is using the mataphor. It is not metaphoric to talk about a high voltage transmission line, and it's not metaphoric to talk about lowering the gain, or about competition among degrees of freedom (which is the nature of conflict). If there are four degrees of freedom at the input to a link, and the link has three degrees of freedom, the output has no more than three. It's an engineering statement, not a metaphor.
>These are all really variations on a single question: does culture
exist outside of individual human brains?
Doesn't this question depend on who's brain we are talking about. I, most
often, talk about culture and I know that what I say are thoughts in my
Isn't Bill's question a variant on "does a rock exist outside the perception of the observer"?
"Culture" is a perception of something in an individual human brain, as is a rock. If the observer acts in certain ways, the perception of the rock and other things (like pain in the kicking toe) change in certain other ways, some of them consistently if the action is repeated, some of them idiosyncratically.
Switch "rock" for "culture" in the last sentence, and it remains equally true. How, then, is Bill's question different from the question that always overhangs us, about the "real" nature of the world we seem to perceive?