[spam] Re: PC in the classroom

[From Bill Powers (2006.06.26.0841 MDT)]

JIM DUNDON 06.23.06 1147 edst --

Thanks for your long and well-reasoned post., and for sharing the details of your life. I know these subjects are important to you, which makes what I have to say a little difficult.

My main comment is that my preferences are for a different level of explanation. Yours is based on generalization and analogy, whereas I prefer a much more concrete and literal-minded kind of analysis, at least for purposes of simulating any ecnomic system. With respect to money, for example, I'm not so much concerned with its symbolic or functional aspects. To build an economics model that actually behaves, I need to know how money is created and destroyed, and how it passes from one person or account to another one. If money appears in the system, I have to know where it came from. If it disappears, I need to know what process destroys it. The causal books have to balance; nothing "just happens" in a model.

The same goes for concepts like distributed labor. In my model, labor is simply a trade of production for money. The producer and the workers have a bargain (even when they are the same person): the worker puts in so many hours per day, week, month, or year producing goods/services using the producer's facilities, and the producer pays the worker so much money per day, week, month or year out of income from sales. Whether the labor is punctiform or distributed affects only the factor we call productivity, to the extent that cooperative labor is more or less efficient than individual labor (sometimes it is less efficient). If we could model the bargaining process, which would make the model more comprehensive but is beyond me for now, we would see the factors in the plant managers that lead to changing the offered wages, and factors in the consumers that lead to changing the wage demands. I do have a model of bargaining but have never tried to make it part of a larger economic model.

Third, amplification enters my model only as the ratio of output to error signal, and is most properly considered in terms of power amplflification. Amplification allows a feeble train of neural impulses that don't contain enough energy to jostle a gnat to create muscle forces which can range, at the attachments, as high as 800 pounds and produce a tenth of a kilowatt of power output. This conversion, from neural signal to physical force, draws heavily on stored energy in the immediate form of ATP and the more long-term form of stored and circulating glucose. The environment may contain force amplifiers as in using a lever, but that kind of amplifier does not produce more energy than is in the input that directs it, as a muscle does. There are true power amplifiers in the environment, such as chain saws (which a beaver would love to have, I'm sure), and they have additional effects, but in an economic model they simply increase the number we call productivity: how much production is created by an hour of a worker's labor.

The concept of "the market" is much too abstract to put into a model -- even the so-called "law" of supply and demand is too abstract. Generalizations like those should emerge from a proper model if they really exist, not be put into it from the beginning. When the composite consumer's rate of consumption is determined by human reference levels for obtaining goods and services, and when prices for buying goods and services are determined by managers trying to control various aspects of the producing plant's operations, the result will be that certain relationships between wages and savings, production and prices, rate of adding to inventories and rate of purchasing (i.e. supply and demand) will be observed as the model runs. If inventories rise because demand for the product has declined for any reason, then managers will lower prices (if there is a possibility of doing that without going out of business) to increase sales and lower inventories again, keep them within acceptable limits. If managers raise prices but do not at the same time raise wages, consumers will be unable to buy all they are producing, and inventories will rise, so managers will have to lower prices again, or increase wages, or do a little each. The reasons for which consumers and managers do these things is not that there is some mysterious natural law of supply and demand, some "market" that floats above the landscape, but simply that the underlying relationships that make up the economy have those consequences. Change the relationships, and the consequences will change.

Anyway, I hope you can see that my approach to economic questions is at a lower level than yours, a level I consider to be simpler and more directly connected to what actually happens in economic transactions. It's also lower than the level at which most economists work. I'm down here in the basement trying to figure out how the furnace and thermostats work, while the economists up on the 48th floor are wondering how the law of heating and cooling operates to keep the windows from getting steamed up.

I think I, or some co-worker in the basement, will find answers sooner than they will.


Bill P.



Thank you for your enduring patience I really did not do a very good job of making clear how or why I extended what I believe is the essence of your paper. Although you have said you want nothing more to do with economic discussions, I am asking you to look at my inquiry exploring any connection of PCT to distributed labor one more time.

Before I start, however, let me explain why this interests me. I grew up in relative poverty. I went out with a wagon at times to collect newspapers from the trash to take to the junk yard. 100 pounds brought 10 cents and that was enough for a loaf of bread. And that is what we had to eat. I went to school with cardboard inside my shoes so that the concrete would not rub against my skin through the holes in my shoes. I went through ninth grade junior high with two pair of jeans and three flannel shirts. I saw my father sit up at nights worrying about how to provide for his family after working all week as I watched millionaires in newsreels burning one hundred dollar bills.

After graduating high school higher education was out of the question for me so I joined the physical labor market.

I had some success in industry using my military training in electronics and became a supervisor but living within my means always meant living without much of what I saw in the market place and I wondered why. I started two businesses and did reasonably well in each. One was a trucking business which I started just before the gas crisis. I saw my operating costs for gas and parts increase five fold in one year.

It was then I decided to learn something about money. I became active in tax protesters organizations. It was during this time that I learned a lot about the perception of money. What I learned was that not many people understood it. All they knew was they wanted a perception of having more of it. At first I was a staunch hard money advocate, it had to be gold or silver. But even while I advocated this my perception of money began to change because I could see that a commodity based currency is destabilized by the perception of fluctuations in the market value of that commodity. It didn't take reading or meetings. It was a perception just given to me. A sense. A perceptual realization I did not ask for.

I was controlling for less and less government regulation. I was a committed anti government interventionist. I controlled a sense of self perception that said I could do it all alone. Then I discovered that my son was hearing impaired and required 2000.00 for examinations and hearing aids. I did not have it and turned to the government for help and they provided it. Years later my fourth son was born hearing impaired and again the government helped. These experiences changed my perception of government intervention. For many of these years I worked 70 and 80 hour weeks and still found it difficult to make ends meet.

Providing for my wife and six children took most of my energy over the past 35 years but I never lost interest in understanding more about the nature of the beast we call economics. So I did a lot of reading.

When I first became acquainted with PCT it appealed to me because it spoke of the autonomous nature of behavior. Even if we are not as autonomous sometimes as we perceive ourselves to be, that notion says, take another look, don't despair, [reorganize].

I had read of the one man approach to the study of political economy which says basically that all the components of economics are found in one individual living alone on an island. I suppose this also appealed to need for my greater perception of independence and self sufficiency.

When I read B:CP I sensed that there might be some way to map one to the other, because they emphasized looking at the individual. I began to study and look for corresponding components.

After one gets beyond the basic tenets of PCT things get rather technical so that makes it difficult. PCT testing for the controlled variable at higher levels could lead to war so the TCV didn't seem the way to go at higher levels. But if I could deal with just one person as is done with the one man theory I might be then able to convert the terming from one to the other and not run the risk of breaking the law.

One more addition to the package, and a very important one in forming my perception of possibilities here, was reading Where Mathematics Comes From by Lakoff and Nunez. It gave me a great deal of confidence in my ability to gain a perception of the process of mathematics. It eliminated the mystery. Even though I don't intend to get any degrees in them, it served to do two things. It showed how math is metaphorical and that the various moths are accomplished using combinations and mappings of these metaphors. It is all in the brain and it is brain dependent. It is the brain in action. I was able to see that the reiterative, recursive nature of the brain is not only at work in math but in reasoning, verbalizing, conversing, theorizing, systeming, etc. They refer to and emphasize the embodied mind perception.

I realize that you are disinclined to admit to the use of metaphor but so was I for a very long time. I realized that I used it to maintain a perception of safety from attack, immune from disintegration. Guilty if I didn't maintain that purity. I maintained a perception of strength by telling myself over and over that I had maintained that purity. I thought I had established a world with pure definitions, no contamination. that no one could penetrate. I realized that I was fooling myself, that I was using metaphor and would not admit it, that admitting it increased my degrees of freedom. I was helped to this realization by this book. I hesitated to bring this in because of your expressed contempt for metaphor but I wanted to be honest and this is an important part of my perception of how the embodied mind, which is control of perception, works.

A perception began to emerge that combined these three in a form that would facilitate a course in economics for elementary school children.

One man, autonomous perceptual control, embodied mind with a debtive-restorative nature. .

I am 68 years old and began to wonder what I would do if I stopped working before I die. I decided it might be a good idea to make this my retirement activity and perhaps make a positive difference

There are courses in political economy that work with children at higher elementary levels, which depend on interaction, but what I envision is a course which subtly brings to awareness the components of economics in the minds of younger children by speaking in terms of their own embodied minds. From time to time they would be reminded that they are experiencing economic principals but not necessarily in those words.

This brings us to the present.

The word dissipated was a typographical error, had I not understood that you were saying dissipative I could not have linked it to my thoughts on distributed labor. Let me try again to explain what I think I see, and ask your opinion of it.

You say:
But a control system is a dissipative system, [Maintains its structure by continuously dissipating energy, forms as a pattern in the energy flow and has the capacity for self organization in the face of environmental fluctuations Prigogine] He is describing some of the behavior of living organisms. The form stays pretty much the same, while material is constantly being replaced by new material.

You move on to say that:
"this makes amplification possible, where a small cause has a large effect, achieved by drawing on the stores of energy and bringing them to bear on the creation of narrowly focused effects in the environment.

You say in addition,
"the prototypes of systems with the capability for amplification are living systems."

So the prototypes are dissipative-restorative systems and this makes them capable of amplification.

Since living systems have been your prototypes we would expect to find comparable characteristics between the two I see no problem therefore in equating what you say of control systems with a living control systems, in this case human beings and beavers.

Let's take a look dissipative restorative quality.

You mentioned Joslyn's control type 1 and control type 2. These are precisely the distinctions I make as a foundation for a description of what makes it possible for a human to move from one task to another.

A control type 1 system as I see it is one for which the activity that restores the dissipated energy is full time. If my level of needed air exactly equals the amount I can obtain thru full utilization of my time and the level of air is critical, cannot deviate from the level that my actions are capable of maintaining, then if I cease to act full time to maintain that critical level, I cease to fulfill the conditions which describe that system. and I, the system cease to exist. My actions are limited to maintaining that critical level. That is the only activity I can engage in and it must be full time.

As a human being, the fact that the critical level of oxygen is time related allows me to maintain an adequate level while exhaling and pausing between the exhale and inhale. We speak in terms of oxygen debt if I hold my breath, which I can do for a sustained period of time, due to the fact of what you accurately call the dissipative/restorative nature of living organisms. I would not even be able to talk if my oxygen needs were of a control type 1 because I would be constantly inhaling. It is interesting to note that the newborn child's first act is to inhale.

By the same token I can interrupt my breathing while swallowing and eating one, two or three times a day and only occasionally drinking water. This gives me the rest of the day for all kinds of activities. Utilizing the non-critical mass, dissipative-restorative nature of my body's systems and my brain's capacity for creativity I can find lots of interesting things to do. Like aggravating somebody with inadequate, presumptuous e-mails:-].

Can you see how the human body's ability to be maintained by varied and assorted tasks is needed and accomplished by the dissipative-restorative nature of the each of the various needs? Not just dissipative-restorative but DR with storage areas or buffers such as the lungs, the stomach etc. Can you see that the various tasks can be distributed over time with pauses in the type of motor activity needed for each one? While the needs must be continuously met, the body need not be continuously engaged in the motor activity which supplies that need. No one need has to continuously engage my time unless of course we conceptually combine all the activities into the notion of a life and describe the total action time type as my living. We have then of course spanned a greater period of time, I will have ceased to be, and it begins to look like control type 1 ultimately. Can you see that while alive a single human control system, your prototype, is compelled and capable by design to vary the form of life maintaining activities over time in order to be. He can interrupt most of them and just rest at times. He engages in action typing of time. This is of course done via the mechanism of perceptual control.

Now, as I read your paper I think in terms of amplification as an increase in magnitude. In other words an amplified audio signal to which we have added only power while maintaining the fidelity. Since living systems are the prototypes and you do not give a precise example in your paper let me test my understanding by describing what I think you are saying using a living system.

A beaver [prototype of a control system] can cut down a few dozen trees in one day as a result of the reference signals to cut down trees. The signal is small, the signal is "cut down trees and build dam". This has made a major impact on the environment, more impact than the environment has had on the beaver. Is this an example of what you mean by asymmetry and amplification in the prototype? By amplification are you referring to a reference signal bringing about environmental changes measurably larger but identical or very similar to the original signal? The beaver did not require the trees as the source of physical energy while he was cutting them down. It might be said, using the word energy a little differently. that his goal of cutting of trees down provided his stock of energy to do so, his purpose at that time.

If my understanding is correct, and

if you see the need for various types of action times VTATs due to the structure and dissipative restorative qualities of a humans various needs, and

if you see that distributed labor among humans is dependent on each individual's ability to vary tasks of the same kind because of his dissipative restorative nature of each, and

if you can see the least action principal as a perception prompting cooperative effort [distributed labor]

if you see as I do that this is all accomplished via Perceptual control,

then we have come full circle, and you can see, hopefully, that there was some sense, though not adequately presented, in my previous post. And perhaps I have restored a measure of somewhat measurably dissipated respect.

Do you see any problems with my understanding, interpretation application and extension of the essence of your paper?

I really appreciate your time


Jim D

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