# Tetrahedrons and PCT

[From Bill Powers (931005.0800 MDT)]

Hal Pepinski (931004) --

Thanks for the description of your tetrahedron model. It
clarifies the difference in our approaches. When I first read it
I got hung up on some rather odd statements ("two lines never
meet"), but once I was past that I started trying to visualize
the relation of the tetrahedonic figure to the strategies of
the sides of the tetrahedron representing vectors of motivation
(in three dimensions). Then I began to see how properties of the
tetrahedron were analogs of relationships between control
processes. Let me check with you to see if my interpretations of
the situation are at least similar to yours.

First, let's start with a top view of the tetrahedron (as near as
I can get in ASCII):

B bed

···

*
/ \
/ * \
/ \
/ * \
/ \
/ A * \
/ * * \
/ * * \
T * ---------------------------------* C
Toys Cocoa

The center point A represents the peak. Let's call that the
starting point, the condition in which both you and your daughter
to point B, bed. If your daughter also wanted to go to bed, her
reference vector and yours would both go from A to B and she
would simply go to bed, satisfying both of you.

However, at that moment your daughter says she wants some cocoa
more than she wants to go to bed: her reference vector points
from A to C. Clearly, if you physically move her along the line
A->B, this will conflict with her vector: there's no way she can
be both at C and at A. She will resist your attempt to move her
from A to B directly, so your efforts and hers will be directly
opposed: your effort points along the line from A to B, and hers
points in the opposite direction along the same line. Pure
conflict.

Your solution is to visualize this diagram and see that there is
more than one path to bed (you have not actually given up your
goal of seeing her in bed; you have simply modified the time-
scale and the path). Rather than confronting her, you allow her
to go from A to C, but by way of T, cleaning up her toys. You go
to C yourself and prepare the cocoa, and presumably she goes from
A to T to C, and ends up where she wanted to be, drinking cocoa
and not being in bed (and, incidentally, not doing whatever she
was doing at point A when the suggestion of bedtime occurred).

Now both you and she are at point C, having cocoa. I find that I
now have a question: why will it be any easier to get her to go
from C to B than it was to get her to go from A to B? If she
really wanted some cocoa and that was all that kept her from
going to bed, then of course there will be no conflict: both of
your vectors will now point from C to B and she will go to bed.
But what if she has some reason for not wanting to go to bed?
What if she wet the bed at naptime and doesn't want you to find
out? What if she's been having nightmares and doesn't want to go
to sleep? In that case, she will think of a new goal other than
B, and you will have to start another tetrahedron. If her goal is
to be anywhere else than in bed, it doesn't matter how many
tetrahedrons you set up. When you finally try to take the last
step, she will resist, because the problem is that she doesn't
want to perceive whatever she perceives when she goes to bed.

I'm not saying you should just put her in bed. The direct
conflict simply creates a relationship of opposition between you,
and that isn't what you want to establish. You could simply keep
setting up tetrahedrons until nature takes over and she is too
sleepy to think up another delay, or runs out of ideas. Or you
could, after trying a few more tetrahedrons, wake up to the fact
that she's been playing tetrahedrons with you, too. In her mind,
there's something about bed that she's avoiding. When you realize

Well, I'm sure you know more about your daughter than I do. The
point of this exercise was just to see if I get the idea of your
tetrahedron, not to play family counsellor.

How does PCT fit into this scenario? It doesn't conflict with
your tetrahedron strategy, because that's a matter of how one
person, you, visualizes and reasons about interpersonal
relationships. You're recommending one way of thinking about and
dealing with the situation, and I have no basic problems with it.

PCT is concerned with explaining HOW this strategy can possibly
be carried out -- this one, or any other. How can the idea of a
tetrahedron lead to speech and actions that exemplify the concept
it represents? How is it that wanting some cocoa can lead to an
action that will result in drinking some cocoa? Make it even
simpler: how is it that you can sit at a table with a cup of
cocoa in front of you, and end up with the cocoa in your stomach?
Anyone who has raised very small children knows that there are
many other possible destinations for the cocoa, most of them
messy. How does a person have to be organized inside in order to
reach out, grasp the cup, lift and move it while keeping it
level, bring its rim to the lips, and coordinate tilting,
slurping, and swallowing to get the cocoa where it is wanted?

At a higher level more pertinent to your example, how does one
person get another to do something that the other didn't
spontaneously choose to do? Your strategy may well be a good one
for avoiding direct conflicts and leaving all parties as
satisfied as possible. The image of the tetrahedron is a useful
one, showing that one needn't always head directly toward a fixed
goal, and perhaps never should when conflict threatens. PCT can't
supply such images; they come out of human creativity.

What PCT aims to do is explain how any such image can direct the
words you say, the way you move your appendages, the sub-goals
you select and carry out. How does thought connect to action?
What is imagery, and how can it possibly have any physical
consequences? What does it mean to say that your daughter "wants"
a cup of cocoa? What is wanting? How can wanting lead to action
that satisfies the want? How can a generalized goal lead to
selection of more specific goals, layer after layer, until
finally there is a specific goal to tense THIS muscle by THIS
much? And how can that muscle tension possibly create
consequences in the external world and inside other people that
turn out to satisfy ALL the levels of goals?

PCT attempts to explain how you can be doing all the things you
are doing at all the levels at which you do them. It's not
concerned with the specific things you do, either alone or in
relation to other people: PCT is about HOW, not WHAT. The
predictions of PCT are not based on experience, but on
extrapolations from the basic properties of the human organism,
as explained by control theory. Control theory predicts that if
you try to get your daughter to go directly on a line from A to B
when her goal is to be at C, your efforts and hers will be
directly opposed, which is a definition of conflict. It predicts
that if you change your goal to bring it into alignment with a
modified version of hers, and she makes the complementary
adjustment, there will be no conflict. Control theory itself
doesn't recommend one course over the other. It simply predicts
what will happen in either case. It's up to the participants to
decide which outcome is preferred. If you ask me for my
recommendations I will happily give them, but they will have
nothing to do with PCT. They will simply reflect what I have come
to prefer perceiving, in my world.

If you want the simplest possible picture of the problem that PCT
attempts to answer, do this: hold one hand in front of you with
the fingers spread. Then close the fingers into a fist. PCT
explains how you do that. PCT doesn't recommend that you hold
your fingers spread or curl them into a fist. It simply tries to
answer the question of how you do either one.
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Best,

Bill P.