The Allegory of the Coats

[From Rick Marken (2014.08.06.1520)]

RM: I got this email from Barb Powers (Bill’s younger daughter) and I thought it was just a great way to explain why the environment is not correctly viewed as the cause of purposeful (control) behavior. Barb gave me permission to post it to CSGNet so here it is:

BP: PCT just permeates the mind, doesn’t it…

BP: I was talking to a friend about it in very general terms, and they asked what “proof” there might be that changes in the environment don’t actually “make” us behave in certain ways. I blurted out an example of a chilly wind blowing on a group of three people. One pulled their coat on tighter, one took theirs off, and one simply let theirs flap in the wind. One environmental factor, three different reactions, or rather, changes in behavior due to individual internal goals and perceptions. Ding! I saw a light gleam in their eyes…

RM: This puts into nice, clear language what we would describe in PCT as three people with three different references for the same controlled perceptual variable (temperature at the skin). The chilly wind is a disturbance to this variable; but it doesn’t push that variable very far from its reference for the person who does nothing; it drives it well below the reference for the person who puts a coat on and it doesn’t drive it low enough to match the reference of the person who takes off their coat.

RM: Barb’s little allegory is a nice, simple way of saying that, when you are dealing with a control system, the apparent effect of an environmental variable on the observed actions of the the system depends on whether or not the environmental variable is a disturbance to a variable the system is controlling and what the reference for that variable is. In other words, this allegory shows rather neatly that understanding behavior (what we see people doing) according to PCT is a matter of determining what variable(s) they are controlling. That is, PCT is all about understanding behavior in terms of controlled variables – the variables people control and not *controlling variables – *the variables that control people.

RM: As I said in my note to Barb asking if I could post this to the net: The apple clearly does not fall far from the tree!

Best regards



Richard S. Marken, Ph.D.
Author of Doing Research on Purpose.
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