The paradox of control

[From Rick Marken (920827.1230)]

Martin Taylor (920827 13:30) says;

All I am saying is that when looking for paradox, one should not take two
simultaneous viewpoints.

But that is precisely what the Behaviorists (a la Skinner) are doing!!
In order to avoid the paradox, they use "control" in the PCT sense when
they claim to be able to control behavior, and they use control in the
"causal" sense when when they say that behavior is controlled by the
environment.

So don't worry about whether I support the S-R position. It is intrinsically
unsupportable, and needs no spurious paradoxes to show its problems.

Let me try to explain what the paradox is and why I think it is not
only not spurious but genuinly important (worth meditating on a bit).

The paradox is like that of the man who claimed to be from Crete, where
all men are liars.

Skinner is saying that people are controlled and that he (a person) can
control them.

If he means control in the PCT sense then this is paradoxical
because it implies that he can "control a person" (bringthe person's behavior
to an intended state) even though his (Skinner's) own behavior is controlled
and, hence, being brought to an intended state that may be different than
"control that person". If Skinner can control (meaning that he can select a
particular behavior for a person to exhibit) then he cannot also be controlled
(which would open the possibility that he would have no choice but to do some-
thing other than select THAT particular behavior for the other person to do).
So, for Skinner's claim to be true (and non-paradoxical) Skinner would have
to be the only person who is NOT controlled (in the PCT sense), in which case
there is no possibility that that which is controlling Skinner could get
Skinner to do anything other than control the other person. The same applies
to the Cretin; for his statement to be true, he would have to be the only
non-lying Cretin.

If Skinner means "control" in the causal sense then the paradox does seem
to evaporate. But then it seems a bit ridiculous for Skinner to encourage
us to control other people -- since this will happen anyway and the results
of our influence will be what they will be -- we have no PCT control over
the outcome. But Skinner is not using control in this way (obviously)
when he claims to be able to control people (as Bill explained) and when
he recommends that we control people in order to produce a particular
result; viz. a good society full of well behaved people.

So I think the paradox of control is very informative. It helps one
get their arms around what it really means to control (which is
the PCT meaning -- ie. produce an intended outcome despite the existence
of influences on that outcome that would tend to make it different
than intended). Control (as Skinner understood about his own efforts at
control) is made of sterner stuff than are causes and influences. Control is
VERY purposeful -- in fact, it is purpose.

The paradox of control reveals the fundemental problem with any scheme for
improving the world by controlling people. If you attribute to all people
the same capabilities that you assume for yourself (the ability to control
people) then you are denying yourself the very ability you claim. For if you
can control, then you cannot be controlled -- and neither, then, can those
who would be the objects of your control.

Best regards

Rick

···

**************************************************************

Richard S. Marken USMail: 10459 Holman Ave
The Aerospace Corporation Los Angeles, CA 90024
E-mail: marken@aero.org
(310) 336-6214 (day)
(310) 474-0313 (evening)

[Martin Taylor 920827 16:15]
(Rick Marken 920827.1230)

I think I agree with the paradox of control when seen from a PCT viewpoint,
with the caveat that full control implies infinite gain, and any departure
from that leaves a little hole in the argument. It's a bit like the liar's
paradox that you used as an analogy. That, too, doesn't work when there are
degrees of truth-telling rather than pure lies and pure truth. But let that be.

You presented the paradox as a way to get non-PCT believers in S-R to see
that their position was untenable and that they should convert to the true
way. If the paradox evaporates when seen from the S-R position, then it
does not provide a very powerful means for inducing that conversion. That's
what I tried to illustrate, in the message that distressed Bill.

When you try to affect someone's actions, it helps to try to see things from
their viewpoint. Of course it isn't possible to do so with any precision,
but one can often get close. Good advertisers and propagandists get quite
close. People who start with the position that they are correct, and that
others should see it from the "correct" point of view, do not get close.
They may well be correct, but they won't have much influence.

Martin

[From Rick Marken (920827.1530)]

Martin Taylor (920827 16:15)

You presented the paradox as a way to get non-PCT believers in S-R to see
that their position was untenable and that they should convert to the true
way. If the paradox evaporates when seen from the S-R position, then it
does not provide a very powerful means for inducing that conversion.

I'm not that interested in the paradox as a way of getting S-R theorists
to switch to control theory. I am much more interested in the paradox
as a way of illustrating the self-contradictory nature of the assumption
that human problems can be solved by control of other people. This
solution to problems is not just a penchant of SR theorists or
reinforcement theorists. It is the the approach that is advocated (and
used) by many people, every day, as a way to make the world a better
place. I bet that most people think about control just the way Skinner did.
They believe that people can be controlled and that they themselves
can exert that control if they just try hard enough. Parents believe it;
teachers believe it; civic leaders believe it; employers believe it;
managers believe it; children believe it; even I apparenly believe it
sometimes (as some of my efforts to brow beat people into accepting PCT
might suggest -- thanks Chuck). The paradox of control is for people
who believe that they can make things better (ie. the way they want it) by
controlling other people. It points to why it doesn't work even though it
seems like it should. It suggests how important it is for psychologists
to start trying to understand how people control, and to stop worrying
about how to control people.

Best regards

Rick

···

**************************************************************

Richard S. Marken USMail: 10459 Holman Ave
The Aerospace Corporation Los Angeles, CA 90024
E-mail: marken@aero.org
(310) 336-6214 (day)
(310) 474-0313 (evening)