Strange new theories and angry dogs

[From Bill Powers (931230.1830 MST)]

Osmo Eerola (931230.0820 GMT) --

It's odd how different people will focus on different parts of
your posts. I was most impressed by your friendliness and
willingness to try out the PCT point of view even though it
clashes with some of your previous ways of interpreting behavior.
Learning an approach as seemingly strange as PCT is a job that
requires much mental struggling and a very strong desire to learn
something even if it is new. In my years of introducing PCT to
new people, this internal struggle is very evident in almost
everyone (when it does not appear, the person is not likely to
grasp PCT), and there is little anyone else can do to resolve the
problems that arise. All I can do, standing here outside your
brain, is to keep answering your questions until you begin to
resolve the basic problems for yourself. There will come a time,
and for you I don't think it is very far in the future, when new
questions will arise in your mind, and before you can ask them
you will see the answer for yourself. After a certain point, PCT
becomes self-teaching. When you start seeing the answers to your
own questions, you will be doomed to become one of us, and you
will have my sympathy.

I don't consider your questions "teasing." You are asking exactly
the questions that will bring out the difference between PCT and
more conventional approaches.


Let's consider the angry dog some more. You are right,
observationally, in saying that the appearance of the dog
initiates whatever happens next. However, the appearance of the
dog doesn't _determine_ what happens next, as conventional S-R
psychology would claim. What you do when the dog appears depends
on your goals (reference signals) with respect to that kind of
experience. Those goals can change according to context,
according to the higher-level purposes in effect. For example, on
Sunday through Friday, you might act in a way that increases the
distance between you and the dog, but on Saturday, when you are
serving as a trainer of police dogs, you might "respond" to
exactly the same appearance of the same angry dog by moving
toward it and holding your hand and arm (well padded!) out to it.
The "stimulus" is the same, but the "response" is very different
-- not because the dog is different, but because your intentions
are different. You have set up different reference conditions
against which you compare your experience of the dog. As a
result, your behavior (under apparently identical stimulus
conditions) becomes very different.

Also, it helps to understand the PCT approach if you continue to
imagine the encounter with the dog beyond the first instant of
its appearance. Once the dog is present and your action has
started, from then on your action has a strong influence on the
state of your perception of the dog. Even if you just continue
your stereotyped reaction of running away, the very act of
running away drastically alters the distance and velocity of the
dog relative to you, and hence the state of your perception. Now
your actions are affecting what you experience of the dog just as
much as the dog's actions are, and that will continue to be true
until you have escaped or have been forced into battle with the
dog. Only in the very first instant is the dog an independent
influence on your perceptions. After that instant, you begin to
control those perceptions by acting on the world in a way that
strongly influences them.

One of the errors of standard psychology has been to reduce all
stimuli and responses to "events," ignoring the fact that both
action and perception are continuously present and continuously
having effects. After you have begun to act "in response" to the
dog's presence, traditional psychology is finished with you. All
the dodging and turning, leading the dog to run into obstacles,
working your way toward the door of your house, leaping through
and slamming the door -- all that simply counts as one "escape
response." This highly simplified view of the event gives a false
impression that the behavior has been explained; in truth, 99.9%
of the behavior has been _ignored_. Just one of the myriads of
changing stimuli has been noted, with no awareness that the
initial stimulus is completely altered during even the first
moments of action. And all the complexities of your action and
the way they influence your relationship to the dog are condensed
to a single point on a graph: one "escape response."

Only by understanding the continuing relationship between you and
the dog, the processes that begin, perhaps, at a given moment,
but go on and on for many seconds or minutes, can we begin to
grasp how both you and the dog work to control your perceptions
of what is happening. You live in a continuous world; perceptions
are always present, and your actions are always altering them.
There is no time "between responses" or "between stimuli." You
are part of a continuing, unceasing, relationship with the world
you perceive. When you understand that relationship, as PCT
presents it, you will understand the whole pattern of your
relationship to the dog, not just one oversimplified snapshot of

Bill P.