[From Fred Nickols (2004.12.06.1552 EDT)] --
I've been looking into decision-making recently (paid work, of course), and
I posted a request to another list for some "names" related to
decision-making. One respondent gave me a link to a Professor's web site at
a well-known business school (No, it's not Harvard). There, I came across a
piece by said professor, which begins as follows:
"A tennis player's forehand looks like a single fluid movement, but
it's a series of actions. She grips the racket, gets in position, watches
her opponent's approaching shot, pivots her shoulders and hips, turns her
foot, transfers her weight, keeps her forearm parallel to the ground, holds
the racket head at a precise angle, draws back the racket, steps forward,
shifts her weight again, swings the racket forward, keeps her arm straight
and her wrist firm, contacts the ball and follows through with a long
Decisions are made the same way. Each one is the last step in a
series of actions. However, many decision makers, like tennis players, are
unaware of these steps as they occur. And a mistake or miscalculation at any
point in the process can send a decision sailing out of bounds."
Clearly, what the professor describes in those two paragraphs is NOT a
PCT-based view of the tennis player. It is instead what I call a "plans and
programs" view (i.e., the tennis player's behavior is accounted for by plans
and programs carried out by the body in response to commands issued by the
brain). In any event, the professor's description led me to respond back to
the other list that I didn't that description, that I thought it was more
reflective of the professor's analysis than it was of the tennis player's
behavior. My post to this effect then drew the following reply:
Yes, Prof. X did decompose the tennis player down pretty fine, but
indeed each little piece does represent a 'decision' for a specific
action from alternatives at the muscular level. Proof? Witness the
non-expert tennis player who gets some of the actions correct, but
not quite all of them.
I believe that these 'minute' but critical decisions/actions are made
in the case of the knowledgeable tennis player by the medulla oblongata -
the part of the brain responsible for individual muscle action, and that
keeps us balanced & vertical (most of the time :). 'Thinking' processes
are simply too slow to handle all the tiny little decisions necessary to
swipe the tennis ball so it stays in bounds and where it is desired
(desired by the cognitive thinking process?)
We do not think our way through balancing & riding a bicycle - we practice
and skin knees until we teach the medulla oblongata to do it.
To which, I responded as follows:
Ordinarily, I treat anything X says with considerable gravity. In this
case, I won't be disrespectful of X but I will say that I don't buy the
"proof" offered above - nor do I buy the "plans and programs" view of
behavior behind it. The 'proof' is an inference or a hypothesis and it is
certainly X's conclusion or belief but it is not 'proof' - at least not
proof I would accept.
For "desired" in the second paragraph above I would substitute "intended"
because I do believe that tennis players and other athletes do indeed
formulate intentions, short-term and long-term. I just don't think they
engage in a lot of conscious deliberations in the heat of action; instead, I
think their behavior is much better accounted for by the closed-loop,
feedback-governed model that stands at the heart of William T. Powers'
Perceptual Control Theory (PCT). In short, our behavior acts to control our
perceptions and to keep them aligned with our reference conditions (e.g.,
Try this little experiment. Go to a table in your house that has at least
four chairs. Set a glass of water somewhere on the table and then take a
sip of water. Set the glass somewhere else on the table and then take a
different seat and take another sip of water. Do this until you've been in
all four seats, placed the glass in four different positions and taken a sip
while sitting in each of the four chairs. I think what you'll find is that
what you control in the course of this experiment are your perceptions of
things like "sitting in different chairs," "taking a sip of water," "placing
the glass in different positions," etc. What you're not doing is engaging
in a whole lot of conscious, deliberate thought, plans and programs
involving reaching, grasping, lifting, sipping, setting down, placing,
standing, walking, sitting, etc. These kinds of descriptors reflect the
observer's viewpoint, not the subject's.
End of relayed stuff...
It is not my intention here to drag CSG members into a discussion on another
list. Instead, I have a few questions for list members here.
Where can I find Rick's paper on the outfielder and the behavior of catching
a fly ball? Seems to me that it bears on the tennis player example.
Does the experiment I suggested make any sense in terms of what I think I
was trying to illustrate; namely, that we don't carry out plans and programs
but instead simply control our perceptions related to certain situations for
which we have reference conditions?
Finally, has anyone done any PCT-based work on decision-making?