The Irony of Illusion

Last night I watched a PBS Nova show called "Your Brain: Who’s in Control?. I was surprised to see that I knew two of the featured researchers on that show. One was Mike Gazzaniga, who was at UC Santa Barabara when I was a grad student there and a good friend of my PhD thesis adviser. That was over 50 years ago and it showed in Mike’s appearance. But he did a nice job of describing his fascinating research on “split brian” patients – people who had their corpus callosum sectioned as a treatment for severe epilepsy.

The other was Uri Maoz, who I know only as the first author of the paper that showed pretty clearly that the so called power law of movement is a statistical side effect of producing curved movement and tells you nothing about how the movement was produced (Maoz et al, 2006). That is, Maoz et al showed that the power law is a behavioral illusion.

For some reason, Maoz et al rejected what was obvious from their own research, saying “We do not suggest that the power-law, which stems from analysis of human data, is a bogus phenomenon…”, “bogus phenomenon” being the non-PCT way of saying “behavioral illusion”. What is interesting about this (to me) is that Maoz’s segment on the “Your Brain” program shows him to be a remarkably skilled magician – a master of illusion.

Maoz does several magic tricks in his segment of the program, the denouement of the best one starts 42 minutes and 35 seconds into the program. It’s a classic “mind reading” trick that is explained here by ChatGPT. The reason for including this trick is never clearly explained but based on what the point of the segment seemed to be I believe it was used to illustrate the contention that things we think we are doing intentionally (with “agency”) often are not. The program host’s choice of the word from a book that matched the one previously hidden on her in an envelope was apparently “forced” (per the ChatGPT explanation) by the “mind reader/ magician”, Maoz.

It’s difficult to see how this “forcing” was done but, assuming that it was done, then, from a PCT perspective, Maoz was creating a disturbance to a variable, such as " cooperation with the magician", that he assumed was being controlled by the host. It was a disturbance that could only be corrected by selecting the word that corresponded to the one in the envelope. So the appearance, to the audience as well as to the host, was that the word was selected intentionally.

And, from a PCT perspective, it was! This could have been demonstraed by introducing a disturbance to the lower level controlled variable (pointing at the word in the book) that was being used to correct the disturbance to the higher level one (cooperating with the magician). The appearance that it was not intended but just a response to the magician’s “forcing” is an example of the S-R illusion.

The irony here is that a master of creating the illusion of intentionality – as when he created the illusion of the host intentionally picking the one word from a book that corresponded to the one in the hidden envelope – by taking advantage of a person’s actual intentionality – their control of cooperation with the magician — failed to see that his own data convincingly showed that the power law of movement is an example of illusory intentionality – an unintentional side effect of intentionally producing curved movement.

I believe that it all springs from a failure to see the fact that behavior is a control process and not a causal process.

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Thanks for sharing this Rick! These kind of shows just annoy me because there is no attempt to bring in PCT or to properly understand control. Im tweeting!

I hope you have more luck with the Nova program producers than I’ve had with the power law researchers.