Talking Ruler, E. O. Wilson

[From Rick Marken (970305.0830 PST)]

Bruce Abbott (970305.0855 EST) --

the input line may establish a kind of "feeling" for what the
judgment should be

This brought the following response from Bill:

... I would guess that the person sorts through imagined
verbal size-judgements until one is found which, if someone else
uttered it, would evoke a picture of something of about the right

But how do these two proposals differ? In both proposals the
presented line evokes a sense of length

Not quite. Read your sentence above. According to your description, the
input line doesn't just evoke a sense of length; it evokes a "'feeling'
for what the judgment should be". This may seem like a
nit but saying it this way makes it sound like the sense of length (the
perception of line length) serves as a _reference specification_ for the
judgment of length.

In both proposals the sense of length of the imaginary line is
varied until it matches that of the perceived line. Both
thus function as control systems, bringing the sense of length
evoked by the imaginary line into match with the sense of
length evoked by the perceived line.

Yes. But your description of the control system makes it sound like the
perception (of line length) provides the reference specification for the
judgement. This is precisely what is needed if you want to view the
relationship between perception and judgement of line length in open
loop terms. Indeed, it is the way conventional manual control theorists
have been able to fit control theory into the input-output model of
behavior. According to manual control theorists, the input
to the control system (the distance from cursor to target --what they
call the "error") specifies the output that keeps this error at
zero. The business end of the control system (the process of
comparing reference and perception) is placed in the _environment_
rather than in the organism (see, for example, Sheridan and Ferrell
(1974) Man Machine Systems, p. 177, Figure 9.1).

Bill's description makes it clear that the judgement is part of a closed
loop process that is aimed at making a perception of the relationship
between the sense of line length evoked by the judgment and the sense of
line length evoked by the line itself match a reference set by the

Still slithering in the evolutionary muck,

You'll get there once you stop trying to build an understanding
of PCT on top of your existing beliefs about behavior. Going from
conventional behavior theory to PCT is not like going from mandible
to inner ear ossicles. The path to PCT is _not_ evolutionary; it's
catastrophic. I hope you're on the cusp;-)

Here's an interesting quote of the type that I didn't expect to find >in E. O. Wilson's 1978 book _On Human Nature_ (pp. 76-77):

"... An organism can be guided in its actions by a feedback loop:...

This doesn't seem surprising at all to me. Wilson could have written
this after reading Sheridan and Ferrell (above), for example.
Wilson's idea (like that of all, save Powers, who have applied
control theory to behavior) is that the feedback loop controls
_actions_. This notion is perfectly ridiculous but it is also perfectly
consistent with the prevailing input-output view of behavior. It may
seem like a small step from the idea that behavior
is controlled action (the conventional view) to the idea that
behavior is controlled perception (the PCT view). But people have
a lot of very good (and very mundane) reasons for not taking that step.
So we bide our time writing Java demos;-)




On that note, Gary Cziko (970305.0400 GMT) says: