The Perennial Red Herring about why people don't dig PCT

[From Dick Robertson, 2010, 03.27.1145CDT]

On the perennial red herring: why doesn’t PCT grab the minds of most people?

From Kenny Kitzke (2010.03.26 EDT)]

BP:The question I was addressing was whether there is any need for a separate model of the external world: a model within the model. I decided pretty much that no, that wasn’t necessary: the hierarchy itself is a sufficient model, and if we imagine low-level manipulations, the higher-order perceptions that will result from normal hierarchical perceptual processes will do the predicting automatically. I don’t have a clear idea or a runnable model of how that would work, but at least now it seems possible that the
hierarchy itself is the only model needed. I keep trying to think of exceptions, like the plum and the tube, and I’m not sure I’ve taken care of them. What do you think?

KK: No, you have not. I think you are working above your pay grade. While PCT and HPCT are terrific models for how human behavior works (that is visible actions on the environment to control what we perceive through our senses of that environment), I have never considered controlling perceptions in our mind to be anything but a portion of explaining human nature… Your proposed control hierarchy simply does not seem to address the complexity in human consciousness or creativity.

Humanity is not yearning for a better understanding of how to track cursors on computer screens, drive cars, catch baseballs, etc. Until your theory addresses the unique properties of human nature, I am afraid the response and enthusiasm of scientists, psychologists, parents, leaders, etc., will remain largely as they have for 40 years…minimal.

DR: I think this last statement – “Humanity is not yearning for a better understanding (etc.)… I am afraid the response of and enthusiasm of scientists… will remain… minimal.” – mixes together two observations at extreme different levels of abstraction.

IMHO Humanity does yearn for [the practical results of] a better understanding of… the unique properties of human nature. I think it is unreasonable to expect the average ‘lay person’ (all the people whose life work is Not devoted to discovering the nature of human nature) to understand how the principles involved in “how to track cursors on computer screens” derive from the discovery that behavior is the control of perception. Nor is it reasonable – at this stage – to expect “humanity” to see how subsequent derivatives will broaden the understanding of human nature, and that valuable practical applications will eventually follow. That final step is what the broad mass of “humanity” yearns for.

Kenny, you started out “Humanity is not… “ and then you went on to talk about the “enthusiasm of scientists….” Right there you have hidden an all-important distinction. The mass of humanity wants to live a better life… and the scientists you are thinking about assume that their work to deepen knowledge of the nature of human nature will ultimately contribute to that end. Can we agree on that?

If we can, then consider that the mass of humanity is right in not yearning to understand how the simultaneous equations that make it possible to program a computer to track a cursor on a screen – but do yearn for those interested in that to provide others with the foundation for practical applications. Neither do laymen yearn to understand what knowledge a civil engineer requires to build a bridge that will not fall down, but I think they understand there is a necessary step (probably several) between basic theory and the applications. Neither does the civil engineer go to special relativity, to tell him how to calculate the strength of the cables for his suspension. Similarly a psychological clinician (even Tim Carey) does not find advice in PCT/HPCT about what to reply to someone who has just told him, “I feel so depressed I think I will kill myself.” That does not mean it was worthless for him to PCT. In fact we already have the application MOL that Tim shown the value of.

KK: What would be helpful is for those who have applied PCT/HPCT to human troubles and have produced better or more frequent positive results than any other theory of human performance to spread the good news.

DR: I agree.

KK: My how the interest would explode.

DR: I don’t know about that. Ed and the IAACT members have published and workshopped like all getout, and gathered some adherents, but the “established authorities” haven’t flocked to them any faster than their counterparts in science have done with PCT, and for the same reasons of status and turf.

KK: Unfortunately, none of them participate in CSGNet to share their results and spread the value. Do you ever imagine why? Are they using models beyond your hierarchy that you don’t believe are necessary?

RR: We should ask them why they don’t. I have a guess. Their answers might resemble those of the (hypothetical) civil engineer when asked why he doesn’t report back his results to the American Journal of Physics. What I think is needed at the conjunction of PCT and practical affairs is an intermediate body between basic theory and practical application. I hoped that something like that might eventuate when I brought up the Ariely experiment. It sure is an area that “Humanity” IS looking to (again through the intermediation of “economic psychology” like Kahnehman got the Nobel for). It’s a shame that he didn’t know PCT before he went to work, but I don’t think it happens that way. What is needed is for one of the young fellows/gals just learning PCT now to get interested in the subject. He or she will need help via an enlarged view of modeling and simulation before starting to build his bridges.

The PCT venture in the Ariely study foundered, I think, because Bill and Rick (and maybe Martin, too) couldn’t see how to get the needed number of multiple data points to create a “tracking” type of model. A “buying decision” seems like a one shot deal. You don’t have a continuing process as in tracking – or maybe you do – but most of it takes place in one’s head. An outside observer doesn’t get insight into the flow of data points, if such there are.

Actually, the on-going discussion about imagining, visualizing and analyzing might help broaden the concept of modeling and simulating, though that is not immediately apparent. As it is, Ariely seemed to me to be working on trying to create a model or simulation, unfortunately from the old open-loop standpoint.

But there have been attempts more to the point. Carl Rogers, for example, postulated that if you mirror the feelings in what a person is telling you, his responses will frequently be of the sort, “Yes, and furthermore… (and a while later) Now I see I’ve been trying to have it both ways… and of course that doesn’t work.” (Anything familiar in that?) Though Rogers worked before PCT he did hear about it from Bill and Mary and seemed to appreciate it, but his “model” came from his empiricism. His work was “simulation” in one sense: It encouraged interns to do their best to mirror feelings In conversing with clients, rather than just resort to whatever “common sense” habits they had grown up with. By recording these interviews, and recording interviews by other clinicians who didn’t follow this prescription Rogers was able to show that they were noticeably different – and that, in comparison – the clients did more frequently show the “and furthermore” expansion of their exploration that Rogers predicted.

Even more apropos is Frans Plooij’s work. As he said to me long ago, “Video, video, video….” His videos did provide multiple data points (of a different sort, to be sure) that let him discover that the structure postulated in HPCT can be seen during the development of chimpanzee, and human, children.

As a final note: in the March 22 issue of TIME the final chapter of a ten chapter piece on “The Next American Century,” has this comment (p. 59): “Genuinely revolutionary technological innovations are rare, and when they appear, there is a long time lag before they begin to transform the economy and daily life.”