The more I read the more questions I get... 🙈

OK, goodbye.

Do you mean he does see it as a stimulus-respons thing? Because I understand it’s circular (and that’s actually kind of logical. I mean we always do and see things from the perspective that we have (and it’s built on all the things we experienced).

Also: I don’t really know if I read it correctly, but do you say there is no psychological theory that’s based on PCT? I’m asking because you often say that some things aren’t scientifically proven and so it can’t be a topic inside PCT.

Hey Borislav,

I’m not sure if you still get updates from the forum. But reading your text left me with some concerns/questions.

Since I’m a psychology student I’m trying to understand how people ‘work’. So there is more than just the biology and mechanics. How is your vision on this within PCT?
Since Psychology isn’t an exact science it needs another approach than the exact science. And that’s, I think, why there exists so much different theory’s around it. In my experience no one theory get’s it all right. I also feel that there is a big overlap with mechanisms just getting adjusted a bit and given another name saying it’s al so different (while there is actually way more overlap and resemblance).

I must say for now I’m going with Bruce’s view, but am interrested in how you see it.

Hi, Mara.

You can ask your questions of any of us.

Bill criticized ‘mainstream’ psychologies, behaviorism and cognitive psychology alike, because of their assumption that stimuli cause behaviors.

Could you spell out a little more clearly what you see as circular?

None of the established psychological theories in which stimuli cause behavior are based on PCT.

PCT includes psychology, but denies that stimuli cause behavior. So there is a psychological theory that is based on PCT.

If we can’t talk about things that haven’t been scientifically demonstrated yet, then we’re not doing science. The point of hypotheses, experiments, and models is to come up with new ideas and test them.

We can talk about anything that concerns the control-system structure and function of living things. What we propose must be consistent with epistemically prior sciences–neuroscience, neurophysiology, endocrinology, physiology, biochemistry, physics.

If not, are we unscientific? Well, first these sciences grow and change by scientists making hypotheses, testing them experimentally, refining theoretical models, submitting all this to peer review, and maybe influencing the ‘current consensus’ of their field. So we may be consistent with ideas that are not fully accepted, and evidence from PCT may be relevant to that discussion. Secondly, PCT may suggest new hypotheses that can only be tested in one of the more specific fields. Henry Yin, a neuroscientist among us, has shown how his fellow neuroscientists are still thinking in linear input-output terms and how they narrowly focus on small neural systems in isolation–that’s in his chapter in the Interdisciplinary Handbook of PCT.

We can talk about any aspect of our subjective and social experience, seeking to explain perceptions-as-experience in terms of perceptual signals in the PCT model. Subjective experience has a bad reputation in scientific circles. PCT offers ways to talk about subjective experience and explain it scientifically. This kind of topic is inherently more interesting to all of us because subjective experience is where we live, it’s our reality, but it’s also liable to criticism as being ‘unscientific’.

The crucial distinction to anchor to is control: living things do whatever works to make their perceptions be the way they want them to be. The observable ‘doing whatever works’ is the behavior or ‘behaviors’ that other theories are concerned with. PCT has demonstrated that there is no way to make sense of behavior until you identify the perceptions that the organism is controlling thereby.

Stay anchored to that fundamental fact of our science, and there is not so much appearance of overlap and resemblance to the mechanisms proposed by other theories.

That said, I have been proposing that there are phenomena that PCT researchers have not investigated. Other schools of psychology have their stories about these phenomena. Their stories are ignorant of controlled variables, but we can still look at the phenomena. I mentioned hypnotism, for example.

I believe it is important to understand the functioning of the limbic system, the brainstem, and what Bill called the somatic branch of the control hierarchy in relation to the more familiar behavioral branch. I believe this opens the way to a PCT explanation of how environmental ‘stimuli’ can influence how an organism adjusts reference values and gain for controlling its perceptions. By this ‘back door’ rewards and punishments influence us, even though stimuli do not cause behavior. This is somewhat controversial within PCT because of a familiar argument that all the old work in psychology needs to be thrown away as worthless, and psychology needs to begin all over on a new PCT foundation. I think my proposal may make it easier for people to understand and accept PCT even if they are trained in the old S-R framework.

1 Like

Hey Bruce,

Thanks for your response. I know I can ask my questions to all of you. I was just getting a bit triggered (in a more defensive way) to the things Borislav said.
I don’t believe things are only right because they are scientifically proven. We all experience things and so we go from that experience to understand the world and the people around us.

I’m going to try to clarify what I meant in my messages above.

Maybe circular isn’t the right word, it’s more like a spiral with things that influenced us and our perspectives in the past and the things that we do or perceive or… are influencing things now and in the near future. There isn’t an exact beginning, nor an ending.

That I do understand, and as I understand MOL is the psychological theory that’s based on PCT.

I completely agree with you, that’s why I’m confused with what Borislav said and why I want him to explain his idea.

Interesting! I don’t understand actually how people still think that things are standing on its own. I don’t mean it in a rude way, it’s just that I think it’s logical that you can’t pinpoint an exact beginning nor an exact ending (because it’s all, how I understand it, a very complex web of (all) things influencing eachother in many different ways.

Does ‘all the old work’ means everything from systems theory to cliënt centered theory, attachement theory,…? That’s like saying everybody was completely wrong before…
I believe there are truths in every psychological theory I’ve seen so far. In some I find more things that I can relate to than in others, but still there is truth in there.

1 Like

Hi Mara

This idea may come from something Bill Powers said in the Foreword to my book MIND READINGS: Experimental Studies of purpose (which I recommend to you as well as the books on PCT that are listed at my website). In that Foreword Bill said the following:

“Nearly every model in these papers…is the sort that ought to convey to a reader a straightforward message: if the phenomenon you see here really works as the model shows it to work, then a whole segment of the scientific literature needs to be deposited in the wastebasket”.[emphasis mine].

The phenomenon Bill was talking about is the phenomenon of control: the process of producing preselected (goal) results in a disturbance-prone world. The segment of the scientific literature that needs to be “deposited in the wastebasket” is the behavioral science research literature that is based on looking for “statistically significant” relationships between stimulus input (independent) variables and behavioral output (dependent) variables.

The problem with this research is that it ignores the existence of the variables that organisms are controlling: controlled variables. Controlled variables are the central phenomenon of control but their existence implies that behavior is purposeful and that is something up with which behavioral scientists have not been able to put. But when organisms control variables in their internal or external environment, their behavior appears to be caused rather than purposive; caused by external stimuli, internal programs or the consequences of their actions. Thus we have the three general approaches to understanding behavior in psychology: S-R, cognitive and reinforcement, respectively…

So it’s true that PCT suggests that nearly all behavioral research was, as you say, “…completely wrong before” but it’s not true because behavioral scientists were (or are) being stupid. It’s because control (purposeful behavior) looks like caused behavior(S-R), programmed output (cognitive) or selected responses (reinforcement).

While I do agree with Powers that a whole segment of the scientific literature needs to be deposited in the wastebasket, I think one should look it over before tossing it to see if any of that work provides hints about what variable(s) the participants in these studies might have been controlling. Research based on PCT starts with hypotheses about the nature of the variable(s) around which the behavior under study is organized. This is a kind of research that has never been done in the behavioral sciences; it’s a truly revolutionary approach to doing behavioral research, which is described in my most recent book, The Study of Living Control Systems, which is the fist book listed at my books website.

I hope you will take a look at some of the books listed at my website. You seem to be most interested in the clinical implications of PCT so Tim’s “Methods of Levels” and Tim and my “Controlling People” might be most interesting to you. But if you really want to get into PCT I think it would definitely be worth it for you to have a go at MIND READINGS and MORE MIND READINGS.

Best regards


1 Like

Boris has ‘triggered’ a number of people. Despite repeated requests to be civil, he persists with ad hominem insults and outright threats, so when he said ‘goodbye’ I suspended his account indefinitely. My action will be reviewed by the IAPCT Board of Directors. He will probably rejoin under a different name. We will deal with that if and when it occurs.

I don’t like being in this role. As more of us participate in collective control of civility and comity here, no individual will have a ‘police’ role imposed on him or her.

Yes, the trial-and-error learning process by which we refine our perceptual input functions, our reference values for them, and our output functions for controlling those inputs.

There are at least three such circular feedback processes at different time scales: the control loop; the slower learning loop of adjustment and reorganization during the development and maturation of the individual, trying alternative ways of controlling and retaining those that work; and across generations the evolutionary process in which those individuals that control most competently are most likely to bring offspring to maturity, which is the definition of ‘survival of the fittest’. I wanted to make sure that you meant the second of these and not the first.

MOL is a clinical application of the psychological theory that is based on PCT.

Re tunnel vision in neuroscience: I think they’re still stuck in the computer analogy of the brain. If the hippocampus is associated with X then it’s analogous to the X-chip on a computer’s circuit board, so just as we might reverse-engineer a chip made by some foreign manufacturer, let’s reverse-engineer the hippocampus. Trouble is, the hippocampus (or whatever functionally and anatomically identified part of the brain) has diverse connections and the functions are not so entirely compartmentalized.

Rick has answered the ‘throw it all away’ question in respect to experimental psychology. There are also problems with schools of clinical psychology insofar as they try to change objectionable behavior, rather than letting that be a consequence of the client controlling better.

There are also organically based pathologies, which I don’t think MOL addresses well. For example, differences in the size and connectivity amygdala account for risk tolerance (see here and here). This can also result in lack of empathy or compunction in psychopaths. If MOL helps the daredevil be unconflicted about risking her family’s resources, or helps the psychopath to control better, is that a good thing?

The growing edge of PCT psychology (from a clinical perspective) is in understanding collective control. That’s what determines what behavior is OK and what behavior is objectionable, often resulting in the internal conflict that MOL addresses.

You may appreciate Kent McClelland’s chapter in the Handbook.

I repeat what I said before:

On the topic of how to deal with the existing scientific literature, there were a couple papers posted on Twitter that are pretty good examples of conventional research that could be useful to PCT researchers.

One is an article in Current Biology called Closed-Loop Control of Active Sensing Movements Regulates Sensory Slip. Using some rather ingenious methodology these researchers found that a little electric fish controls what they call “sensory slip” – the amount of change in the sensed location of their own electrical charge – in the face of variations in what they call the “gain of reafferent feedback” and what we call the “feedback function”. The researchers look at this as control of movement by the fish; in PCT we would look at it as control of perception, in this case the perception of what they call “sensory slip”.

PCT informed research would be most interested in getting a better handle on what this controlled perception is – what perceptual variable is being controlled when the fish are controlling “sensory slip”. I’d have to know more about what the fish were sensing in order to come up with some alternative hypotheses about what “sensory slip” is. But I suspect that one possibility is that the “slip” is a change in the lateral position of the reflected electrical signal emitted by the fish; or, perhaps, it’s a time difference between emission and arrival of the electrical signal, as in the bat. Anyway, the challenge for the PCT researcher would be to design experiments that would make it possible to determine with some confidence what perceptual variable(s) this electrical fish is controlling.

The other article describing conventional research that could be useful to PCT researchers is one by Falandays et al titled “Is prediction nothing more than multi-scale pattern completion of the future?”. This paper is very relevant to research on the control of higher level perceptions because behavior that is organized around the control of such perceptions – behavior such as speech, which is discussed quite a bit in the paper – seems to involve prediction. This is because these higher level controlled variables vary over time. The idea is that in order to be able to control for the production of, say, a grammatical sequence of words, you have to know (be able to predict) what type of word is likely to follow another; verbs are likely to follow nouns, for example.

Falandays et al argue (and produce some evidence) that such apparent cases of prediction could actually involve the production of temporal patterns. This concept is consistent with the PCT concept of control, where higher level perceptual variables, even those defined over fairly long periods of time, would be represented as the scalar output of perceptual functions – corresponding to what the authors call multi-scale patterns – that are defined over time rather than space.

Best, Rick