The Test for the Controlled Variable

The core methodology of PCT is The Test for the Controlled Variable (or “for the Controlled Quantity”) . “The Test” has been described in a number of places, but questions and requests for clear definition still recur in CSGnet email traffic, and answers given, only to be lost to sight and forgotten. Because it is in the very bedrock of PCT, it seems essential to place a careful and comprehensive definition of The Test front and center where everyone can easily find it and refer to it.

Bill Powers published two formal specifications of The Test.

  • “The nature of robots[:] Part 3: A closer look at human behavior,” BYTE 4(8), August, pages 110, 112 [pp. 10-11 of the online PDF].
  • Behavior: The control of perception, pp. 232–246.

Our late colleague Phil Runkel “rephrased” these two authoritative descriptions in one comprehensive definition in his last book, People as living things (in the last pages of Chapter 7). Because not everyone has that book (though we all ought to), I present that definition of The Test here so that participants in this forum can easily access it and refer to it.


The Test

Marken’s study of intention and the study by Robertson and colleagues of the defense of the self-concept both demonstrate uses of the Test for the Controlled Quantity, which is the basis for method in all PCT research. Marken’s purpose was to show how purpose or lack of purpose can be discerned in the relation between environmental events and the perception the participant brought about of the movements of a line on the computer screen. In Table 7–1, we can look for the connection (the correlation) between the position of a line and the disturbances given it by the environment. In every trial by either participant, when we look for the line having the lower correlation with the environmental disturbance, that line turns out to be the one whose position the participant intended to control. The other line follows the disturbances to a much greater degree. The correlation of the other line with the disturbance given the chosen line was not high—did not approach 1.0—because the position of the other line was also connected to the arrow keys. The correlations between the intended line and the disturbance were small, averaging –.05 for one participant and .09 for the other. That pattern exemplifies The Test, which tells us to look for a variable (one perceivable by the person) that is acting as if a purposeful influence is acting on it. It is often clearer, actually, to say this in the negative: we look for a perceived variable that is not behaving as it would in a nonliving environment. We look for a perceived variable that is not behaving as it would if there were not a purposeful influence acting on it.

Robertson and colleagues wanted to test the opposition of action to disturbance in maintaining a perception very high in the neural hierarchy—the self-concept. They did that by having the “experimenter” present the participant with an idea that they thought would contradict or disturb the participant’s self-concept. That is the core idea of The Test: disturb the presumed perceived quantity and see whether the person opposes the disturbance.

Notice how different The Test is from traditional psychological research. Traditionally, psychologists have looked for strong correlations between input (the “independent variable”) and output (the “dependent variable”). In Marken’s experiment, that would be the correlation between the disturbance (input) and the position of a line the participant can act upon (output). In Table 7–1, the correlations with the line-position the participant does act upon are those in the columns headed “Intended line”; contrary to the traditional assumption, they are not strong, but are very small. Under PCT, they are of course predicted to be small; the intended line is the line moved purposely by the participant and not abandoned to the influences of the environmental disturbances. The correlations with the line-position the participant ignores, shown under “Other line,” are much larger, also as predicted.

I turn now to a more formal and detailed description of The Test for the Controlled Quantity. The procedure is contained in the following nine steps. …

  1. Select a variable that you think the person might be maintaining at some level. In other words, guess at an input variable. Examples: light intensity, sensation of skin temperature, admiration in another person’s voice. (Powers often speaks of the input quantity, because one usually looks for an amount or degree of some variable—such as temperature—the perception of which is controlled.)
  2. Predict what would happen if the person is not maintaining the variable at a preferred level.
  3. Apply various amounts and directions of disturbance directly to the variable.
  4. Measure the actual effects of the disturbances.
  5. If the effects are what you predicted under the assumption that the person is not acting to control the variable, stop here. The person is indeed not acting to control it; you guessed wrong about the variable.
  6. On the other hand, if the effect is markedly smaller than the predicted effect, look for what the person might be doing to oppose the disturbance. Look for a cause of the opposition to the disturbance which, by its own varying, can counterbalance variations in the input quantity (such as pulling as necessary on the handle of your umbrella to keep the wind from carrying it off). That cause may be caused by the person’s output. You may have found the feedback function.
  7. Look for the way by which the person can sense the variable. If you can find no way by which the person can sense the variable (the input quantity), stop. People cannot control what they cannot sense.
  8. If you find a means of sensing, block it so that the person cannot now sense the variable. If the disturbance continues to be opposed, you have not found the right sensor. If you cannot find a sensor, stop. Make another guess at an input quantity.
  9. If all the preceding steps are passed, you have found the input quantity, the variable the person is controlling.

When you find the controlled variable, you can then usually make a very good guess about the nature of the internal standard controlling it. But describing the internal standard in precise words is not of first importance. The important thing, both for further experimentation and in practical affairs, is to have found how to disturb the controlled variable and how to avoid doing so.

Sometimes, both in research and in everyday life, you can ask people to adopt temporarily an internal standard that you describe to them. If they have themselves freely chosen to comply with your request and if you can describe the internal standard clearly and objectively (as in the examples of research I have given so far), you are off and running. At other times, you may not be able to persuade the person to adopt the internal standard you have in mind. Even if the person is willing, the person may not understand your request sufficiently well. In that case, you must start from scratch and use all the steps of The Test to discover what variable the person is indeed controlling.

Guessing Wrong

To use The Test, you must make a guess about an internal standard and then change something in the environment that the person senses. If you succeed in changing the thing—that is, if the person does not act to maintain it the way it was—then you have guessed wrong. If the person does act against the change you try to make, then you have guessed right, or at least you are on the right track. You know something about the person you did not know before. But you may have guessed wrong about the aspect of the change, the input quantity, that you think the person is wanting to maintain. You will discover that fact if later steps in The Test go wrong. Then you have to guess again. You will, however, be ahead of the game, because you know that the input has something to do with the change you tried to make in the environment.

It is easy for an onlooker, watching someone ward off a threat to a controlled variable, to make a wrong guess about the variable the person is trying to maintain. Cries of “No! No!” or “I won’t do it!” or “You think you’re pretty clever, don’t you?” or a stony silence—those are all good indicators that some variable is being disturbed, but poor indicators of what the variable might be like. For example, what perception might a person be defending who said to you, “Don’t talk to me that way!”? Here are some possibilities:

  • I’ve been trying to be helpful to you, and now you tell me I’ve been actually been doing you harm. That’s exactly opposite my intent, and it hurts me to hear that; I don’t want to hear that.
  • I don’t want people to hear you speaking disrespectfully to me.
  • That’s a frivolous way to talk, and I want the people here to believe you are taking this seriously.
  • You sound desperately discouraged; please don’t give up hope. I want to hear optimism.
  • You talk as if I have done something bad! I am not going to think of myself as a bad person! I don’t want to hear you telling me I am a bad person!

Once you have made a guess, you can then hunt for something you can do that might disturb that variable. Then you have to be careful about interpreting the person’s reaction. The person might want you to stop talking out of fear that you will disturb the variable you have hit upon, or simply because you are distracting the person’s attention from a task the person wants to resume.

Even a simple physical action can be perplexing. You move through a crowded hotel lobby. You step aside to avoid someone and find yourself pushing against a third person. The third person makes a quick contrary shove that opposes your push. Is the person simply trying not to fall over, is the person maintaining his manliness, or is the person wanting to communicate an antipathy toward physical contact with strangers?

It is rarely possible, in the natural setting, to hit upon a good guess at the first try. Narrowing the possibilities requires several tries, sometimes a good many. People do, of course, learn a good deal about the internal standards of others after making wrong guesses for several months or years. Still, people can live together for decades, giving careful attention every day to evidences of disturbance, and still be surprised at the reactions of family members. People who claim, “I know what you are thinking!” after brief acquaintance are being fatuous; so are those who say, “Well, you ought to have known what I was thinking!”

Sometimes we are not sure whether a person is intending to control a variable. Sometimes, after we have “defined” a variable in such a way that we can recognize changes in it (for example, the brightness of light on a page or the number of people talking at once in a conversational group) and have tried to alter it, we find that the person pushes back, but not skillfully. That is, the person seems to show poor control. The person may be trying to control that variable, or the person’s effect on it may be a side-effect of the person’s intent to control a different variable. In a message to the CSGnet on 16 October 2000, Rick Marken said this:

[If] The Test tells you that a variable is not being controlled very well, then there are at least three possible reasons for this finding:

  1. The variable, as defined, is not a controlled variable. This is the default hypothesis when a variable fails The Test. The next step is to try a different definition of the possible controlled variable and Test again.
  2. The variable, as defined, is a would-be controlled variable: the behaving system [for example, a human] is trying to control this variable but [has not yet found an effective way to do it]. This might be our hypothesis if we have reason to believe that most control systems of this type do control this variable.
  3. The variable, as defined, is a controlled variable: the behaving system … is not controlling it very well, because there is a conflict. This might be another hypothesis if we have reason to believe that most control systems of this type do … control this variable.

Ethics

Sometimes people new to The Test worry that they might do damage to the people they want to Test. It is essential, in carrying out The Test, to make sure, when you take an act you think will disturb a controlled variable, that you do not move (or speak) so strongly that the person will be unable to counteract what you do (or say). If you move or speak too strongly, you will not discover what you want to discover. Knocking the person over with a bulldozer does not tell you anything useful about the ability of the person to stand upright. The Experimenter with the rubber bands always wants to keep the amplitude of the disturbances small enough so that the Controller can easily maintain control. The piano teacher always wants to keep the bad news about the pupil’s fingering small enough so that the pupil can quickly rectify the faults.

I know a couple of people who were one day talking about perceptual control while they were whizzing along a freeway at about 60 miles per hour. The passenger offered to demonstrate to the driver how people cope with disturbances. He took hold of the side of the steering wheel and pulled down, very gently at first, then more strongly, while the driver, of course, resisted that disturbance and kept the car going along in its lane. Then the passenger gradually, slowly released the wheel. You can see that the passenger in that Test certainly had no wish to exceed the driver’s ability to keep the car in its lane. That is a good example to keep in mind when you are thinking of the degree of disturbance you want to apply. Just imagine that you might be killed if you pull too hard on the steering wheel.


[Excerpted, with permission, from People as Living Things: The psychology of perceptual control by Philip J. Runkel, which may be purchased from Living Control Systems Publishing or from other sources such as Amazon. This book is recommended to every serious student of PCT.]

1 Like

Thanks, Bruce. As it happens, I have Phil’s book.

In the topic Controlled variables are perceptual variables, Adam included Bill’s brief definition of the Test in a 1996 email exchange. It’s worth associating with this topic for the record. In the larger context, Bill affirms that the CV is a perception controlled by the observer.

RM: Bill affirms that the CV is a perception in the observer, not that the CV is a perception controlled by the observer. Big difference.

“The CV” is a perception in the observer, and it is not controlled by the observer, and neither by the subject. The subject is certainly not controlling the observer’s perception, he is controlling his own perception.

It is quite inappropriate to call something that is not controlled - “the controlled variable”. The only variable deserving the name “the controlled variable” is the subject’s perceptual signal (or maybe his experience of it, but let’s stick to signals).

The TCV procedure is looking for the best approximation of “the controlled variable = subject’s perceptual signal”, but using variables available to the experimenter, which we can conventionally call “objective” or “environmental”, but they are still very subjective and inside the experimenter.

amatic
November 19

AM: “The CV” is a perception in the observer, and it is not controlled by the observer, and neither by the subject.

RM: True, it’s not controlled by the observer. But it is certainly controlled by the subject. Indeed, one of the components of doing “the test” is to make sure that it is the subject – rather than something else, like some sort of artificial control system – that is responsible for the observed behavior of the CV.

AM: It is quite inappropriate to call something that is not controlled - “the controlled variable”.

RM: Yes, that is what “the test” is all about; determining that a variable is, indeed, controlled and that it is controlled by the system that you think is controlling it.

AM: The only variable deserving the name “the controlled variable” is the subject’s perceptual signal (or maybe his experience of it, but let’s stick to signals).

RM: Controlled variables – variables that are kept in reference states, protected by the actions of a subject from the effects of disturbances – are the basic data of PCT research; they are the phenomena to be explained. PCT explains them as a controlled neural signal that is the output of a perceptual function that defines the observed controlled variable.

AM: The TCV procedure is looking for the best approximation of “the controlled variable = subject’s perceptual signal”, but using variables available to the experimenter, which we can conventionally call “objective” or “environmental”, but they are still very subjective and inside the experimenter.

RM: I think this is not the best way to look at it. How could you possibly determine whether the controlled variable equals the subject’s perceptual signal? Besides being a theoretical construct, the perceptual signal is a neural firing rate. How many of the variables that we control look like a train of neural impulses? The correct way to think of the TCV is as a method for determining whether variables are under control – controlled variables.

RM: In PCT it’s phenomena phirst. And the main phenomenon explained by PCT is the controlling done by living systems.

Best

Rick

RM: True, it’s not controlled by the observer. But it is certainly controlled by the subject.

The subject cannot control the observer’s perception.

RM: How could you possibly determine whether the controlled variable equals the subject’s perceptual signal?

By recording the perceptual signal. Firing rates or other neural variables are sometimes accessible to recording instruments. That is maybe a later stage in understanding nervous systems.

By doing the TCV you can find out whether your approximation correlates with the subject’s perceptual signal, which is the controlled variable for his perspective.

RM The correct way to think of the TCV is as a method for determining whether variables are under control – controlled variables.

Sure. The problem is purely linguistic, so it is probably not very important. If you call something “the controlled variable”, then it could be understood as the variable under control by the subject, from the subject’s perspective. Instead, in TCV, it is defined as the variable controlled by the subject, from the experimenter’s perspective.

If a mouse is eating 20 pelets per day, then we could define the CV as the number of pelets per day, with the reference level of 20; while the perception controlled by the subject is maybe something like satiety (if we could talk about the experience of the mouse), or some hormone level or firing rate if we talk about perceptual signals.

RM: My understanding is that if you find that a mouse is controlling for receiving pellets at a particular rate (found by seeing that pellet delivery rate is protected from disturbances) then your current hypothesis is that pellets/minute, say, is the variable being controlled – the controlled variable. And it’s being controlled at a particular reference rate, say 20/minute.

RM: But before concluding that rate of pressing is the controlled variable in this situation you should try testing other possibilities. For example, you might test to see whether grams of food/ minute is a better definition of the controlled variable than pellets/minute. Grams of food/ minute might be what the mouse was actually controlling but you couldn’t tell because all the pellets were the same weight.

RM: So now you do the study by randomly varying the weight of each pellet. If the mouse is controlling pellets/minute the variation in weight will not be a disturbance; the mouse will continue to control pellets/minute at a reference level of 20. If, however, the mouse is controlling something closer to grams of food/ minute, the number of pellets /minute will vary while the grams of food/ minute will be kept at some reference level.

RM: Once you have convinced yourself that the mouse is controlling, say, grams of food/ minute rather than pellets/minute, you can build a model of this behavior, where the perceptual signal will be an analog of the controlled variable, just as Bill did in the shock avoidance experiment. Indeed, like Bill, you could use modeling to test several hypotheses simultaneously about the variable the mouse is controlling. Just set up a situation, such as that in the variable pellet mass experiment, where the mouse could be controlling two possible variables – pellet or gram delivery rate – and then see which controlled variable gives the best fit to the data.

RM: Of course, the perceptual signal in all versions of the models is an analog of each controlled variable tested. To the extent that the model with a particular controlled variable fits the data best – and the fit should be extremely good before you conclude that you have the right controlled variable-- the assumption is that the perceptual signal in the modelled mouse is equivalent to the perceptual signal in the real mouse that was controlling that variable.

RM: The perceptual signal in PCT is always an analog of (and, in that sense, is equivalent to) the controlled variable. How that perceptual signal is experienced by the controller – man of mouse – is not something that PCT deals with. In the mouse, maybe it’s experienced as variations in the feeling of “satiety” or (more likely) “the feeling of getting full”. But no matter how it is experienced, in PCT, variations in perceptual signals are theoretical analogs of variations in controlled variables.

Best

Rick

Somewhere in the csgnet archive Bill wrote that yes indeed we control the sun rising over the eastern horizon, as witness our consternation should it rise anywhere else.

If I say “shut the door, please” I am controlling a perception of the door being shut by means of disturbing some perceptions that I expect that another person is controlling (much as I expect the sun to rise in the east).

In the Test you control a perception that X is the CV by means of (a) controlling a perception that disturbance d should affect the state of X as expected while (b) contrariwise simultaneously controlling a perception that the subject will act to maintain the observed reference state of X. You don’t waste your time introducing disturbances until you have a basis for expecting that the subject is controlling X; and you expect that d should disturb X if it is not controlled, just as you expect the sun to rise in the east. Each of these expectations is control of some perceptual variable or variables. To expect is to control. A statement of the expectation specifies the reference value. To hypothesize is to control. An hypothesis is a statement of an expectation which, like any expectation, might possibly not be met.

The experimenter’s control of the perception “X is the CV” is not control of X (which is the CV). It depends upon control of X by two agents, the subject and the experimenter. By means of the Test, you control a perception that X is the CV (when the Test is successful, you might say something like “Aha! X is the CV”) whereas the subject is is not controlling a perception that X is the CV, the subject is controlling the state of X. But in the Test you control this perception that X is the CV by means of controlling X (which is the CV). During the Test you and the subject both control the state of X and your control outputs (your gentle disturbances d) are transiently in conflict with the subject’s control outputs resisting them. For the duration of d the experimenter and the subject are both controlling ‘the same’ CV, and the perception of conflict (resistance by the subject) is the warrant for saying that it is the same CV for both, and that the controlled perception p.e within the experimenter is in some important sense “the same as” the controlled perception p.s inside the subject. It is what makes it legitimate for the experimenter to talk about the subject’s controlled perception when the experimenter has access only to his or her own perceptions.

bnhpct
November 20

rsmarken:

RM: Bill affirms that the CV is a perception in the observer, not that the CV is a perception controlled by the observer. Big difference.

BN: Somewhere in the csgnet archive Bill wrote that yes indeed we control the sun rising over the eastern horizon, as witness our consternation should it rise anywhere else.

RM: Consternation is not really evidence of control. In order to control, the system doing the controlling must be able to have an effect on the controlled variable. We can have no effect on our perception of the sun’s movement relative to the horizon. Evidence of control is always the observation that a variable is maintained in a fixed or variable reference state, protected from disturbance by the actions of the system.

BN: If I say “shut the door, please” I am controlling a perception of the door being shut by means of disturbing some perceptions that I expect that another person is controlling (much as I expect the sun to rise in the east).

RM: Yes, but in this case you have an effect on the controlled variable (by saying “shut the door, please”) because you are taking advantage of the fact that most people (and, therefore, likely the one who you are asking to shut the door) are controlling for something like being “polite” or “cooperative”. Your request is a disturbance to that variable that can be corrected by the person shutting the door. Your control of getting the door shut by another person won’t be perfect since you will occasionally ask someone who is not controlling for being “polite” or “cooperative” but at least you are controlling, if not always successfully. With sunsets there is no control, just passive observation.

BN: In the Test you control a perception that X is the CV by means of (a) controlling a perception that disturbance d should affect the state of X as expected while (b) contrariwise simultaneously controlling a perception that the subject will act to maintain the observed reference state of X.

RM:I think what you are controlling when doing the Test is a perception of the program of activities that Powers describes in the Experimental Methods section of B:CP and that I describe in my forthcoming methodology manual The Study of Living Control Systems (order several copies today). None of the steps in that program involve the controlling that you describe here. The test does not involve controlling for a perception that X is the CV, or for a perception that disturbance d should affect the state of X as expected or for a perception that the subject will act to maintain the observed reference state of X.

BN: You don’t waste your time introducing disturbances until you have a basis for expecting that the subject is controlling X;

RM: True. Disturbances are defined only in terms of possible controlled variables. There is no such thing as a disturbance in and of itself.

BN: and you expect that d should disturb X if it is not controlled, just as you expect the sun to rise in the east.

RM: That is correct. But in neither case is control involved in the expectation.

BN: Each of these expectations is control of some perceptual variable or variables.

RM: Not true. In the test I do expect d to affect X if X is not under control but I am not controlling for d not affecting X. With the sunrise, I do expect the sun to rise in the East but I am not controlling for that to happen. I agree that expectations can become references for actual controlling but that’s not always possible (as in the case of the expectation of the sunrise in the east) or a good idea (as in the case of the expectation that d will affect X)

BN: To expect is to control.

RM: I don’t think so.

BN: A statement of the expectation specifies the reference value.

RM: I agree. But just having a reference for the value of a variable doesn’t mean that you are acting in order to bring that variable to the reference. I expect dinner tonight but tonight is not my night to cook so I won’t be controlling for that expectation tonight. But ask me tomorrow;-)

BN: To hypothesize is to control. An hypothesis is a statement of an expectation which, like any expectation, might possibly not be met.

RM: In science, to hypothesize is specifically NOT to control for the hypothesized (expected) result. Folks who control for making the results of their experiments consistent with their hypotheses are called frauds. It is hard not to control for getting the results you hypothesize; there is certainly a strong temptation to let expectation in passive observation mode slip over into expectation in control mode. But good scientists don’t succumb to this temptation and let the cards fall where they may.

BN: The experimenter’s control of the perception “X is the CV” is not control of X (which is the CV). It depends upon control of X by two agents, the subject and the experimenter.

RM: This is definitely not the case. I refer you to my astounding Mind Reading demo where the Test is conducted by the computer. The computer applies disturbances to each of the three possible controlled variables (the position of the three avatars) and I guarantee you the computer is not trying to control any of those three variables.

BN: By means of the Test, you control a perception that X is the CV (when the Test is successful, you might say something like “Aha! X is the CV”) whereas the subject is is not controlling a perception that X is the CV, the subject is controlling the state of X. But in the Test you control this perception that X is the CV by means of controlling X (which is the CV). During the Test you and the subject both control the state of X and your control outputs (your gentle disturbances d) are transiently in conflict with the subject’s control outputs resisting them. For the duration of d the experimenter and the subject are both controlling ‘the same’ CV, and the perception of conflict (resistance by the subject) is the warrant for saying that it is the same CV for both, and that the controlled perception p.e within the experimenter is in some important sense “the same as” the controlled perception p.s inside the subject. It is what makes it legitimate for the experimenter to talk about the subject’s controlled perception when the experimenter has access only to his or her own perceptions.

RM: Try the Mind Reading demo and see if you feel the same way about the Test. I expect that you will but I’ll be thrilled if you don’t, which wouldn’t be the case if I were actually controlling for my expectation being true. Test me;-)

Best

Rick

RM: My understanding is that if you find that a mouse is controlling for receiving pellets at a particular rate

Why the emphasis on controlling?

RM: But before concluding that rate of pressing is the controlled variable in this situation you should try testing other possibilities. For example, you might test to see whether grams of food/ minute is a better definition of the controlled variable than pellets/minute. Grams of food/ minute might be what the mouse was actually controlling but you couldn’t tell because all the pellets were the same weight.

One operational definition of the CV can be better than another operational definition of the CV. But, because the CV is a part of the observer’s environment, The TCV can never find the controlled variable from the subject’s perspective. There is no finding the “actual CV”, mice don’t care or know about grams or pellets or what we call protein or whatever.

Using the TCV you can never find the controlled variable that the subject is controlling, only a correlate of the controlled variable; or a slightly better correlate.

The Test for the controlled variable is called the test for the controlled quantity in B:CP. I think that is a slightly better name. It emphasizes that the hypothesis of the CV is a part of observer’s environment (quantity).

RM: Once you have convinced yourself that the mouse is controlling

Technically, you should only convince yourself that you cannot think of a better approximation of the controlled variable.

RM: The perceptual signal in PCT is always an analog of (and, in that sense, is equivalent to) the controlled variable.

No. In PCT, the perceptual signal is the controlled variable. Sometimes, Bill calls the input quantity or the controlled quantity, or the CV - controlled variables, but also emphasizes that the perceptual signal is the one actually being controlled by the subject or by the control system, not the “objective” CV.

There is a naming conflict here. The CV in TCV is not actually finding the controlled variable, but just an approximation, a correlate.

RM: How that perceptual signal is experienced by the controller – man of mouse – is not something that PCT deals with. In the mouse, maybe it’s experienced as variations in the feeling of “satiety” or (more likely) “the feeling of getting full”. But no matter how it is experienced, in PCT, variations in perceptual signals are theoretical analogs of variations in controlled variables.

When we talk about our own controlled variables, then the experience is all we ever talk about, and all we ever can talk about. PCT very much does deal with experiences of men, and the hypothesis is that perceptual signals are our experience. It is a bit difficult to translate those terms to other people or organisms, so that is why the naming conflicts.

This nicely dices the question

 O where is that which is controlled 
 Or in the head or in the world? 

We control a perception of the sun rising in the east by orienting organs of perception so as to receive inputs from which our brains can construct that perception. If the light of the sun is too bright for comfort, we don’t somehow turn down the rate of fusion in the sun, we shade our eyes.

A cat is intently staring at a mousehole. There is no mouse there. What sounds like gnawing behind the baseboard is actually an old toilet-paper roll stirred back and forth by air from a leaky heating duct. The cat obviously cannot capture a mouse that is not there. Nonetheless, the cat watching the mousehole is controlling a perception of capturing a mouse, irrespective of whether a mouse is there to be captured. The capture is the culmination of sequences of controlled perceptions–whether the sequence of sequences constitutes a program is immaterial here. The reference value for that culmination is the motivation for the first step of it, the intent watch over the mousehole. The visual image of a mouse would provide a reference value for the next step, reducing the distance between paws and mouse.

This has come up before, for example in this 1998 exchange with Fred:

And in 2017 in our exchange about some of Vancouver’s work:

I agree with what you said in 2017, in which you agreed with Bill. I would throw away the verbal fog word “for”. To paraphrase Yoda, there is no “control for”, there is only control. (Tom Bourbon and I had a brief conversation about this unfortunate locution at the meeting in Vancouver.) And the word “implicit” only means that the observer is inferring control as an “implication” of other observations, something which is true even when control has been strongly confirmed by the Test, so throw that bit of verbal fluff away too. From the cat’s point of view, its control of the perception of a mouse is not implicit.

Your present assertion is that there can there be no control if the loop has perceptual input, inhibitory p synapsed with excitatory r yielding error signal e, and diverse means of behavioral output, but no effective environmental feedback path by which those outputs change p.

But we cannot say there is no control, only that control fails–in this case, due to outputs not addressing any effective environmental feedback path. Faced with less cosmic derangements, the usual response often starts with reorganizing in the perceived environment. Go get the needed tool, say. Faced with the appearance of the sunrise in the northwest, an obdurate emperor could have his servants arrange mirrors so that the current manifestation of sunrise appears to him through an east-facing window frame. But if the earth were actually to shift on its axis, failure to regain control by problem-solving strategies arranging an effective environmental feedback function would lead next to internal reorganization. This might result in establishing a new reference value for the location of sunrise (there are less sane possibilities). But if the location of sunrise is not controlled such reorganization will not occur. No control, no error. No error, no reorganization.

Bill’s examples are of sequences: the occurrence of perception A sets a reference for perceiving B. In 1968 I set a reference value of getting a PhD in Linguistics from Penn by means of writing a dissertation describing a language very different from English. I started work on the genocidally extinguished Yana language. In 1970, after giving a paper on this in La Jolla I was invited to work on a related language that was still spoken, and started work with the Achumawi language. In 1975 economic and (academic) political limitations presented overwhelming disturbances for a decade. In 1986 I resumed (while raising a family with unrelated work). In 1998 I turned in a partial description and received the PhD. I am still working on the description of the language. During that 52-year period control outputs were often not evident and elements needful for environmental feedback often were not available, but control has never ceased. It has involved the trial-and-error creation of many sequence perceptions, most of them adapted, diverted, or merged into another sequence after being only partially executed, many interrupted and taken up again, some abandoned.

It also explains how we can conclude that a variable V (which we perceive) is controlled by the subject. Having first verified that the subject can and does perceive V, we perceive that concurrent environmental influences d should ‘adjust’ the state of V but are opposed by the subject so as to maintain V at what we can conclude is its reference value. It is perfectly possible to control a perception with low gain in one loop and at the same time observe it with no control output in another loop. In the Test, we control a perception of the expected state of V under influence of d with the reference value provided from memory in the canonical way (“this is the way physics works”, or whatever). Concurrently, we observe a perception of the actual state of V under the combined influence of d and the subject’s observed outputs q.o. If we are ‘objective’ we are careful not to control this perception of the actual state of V, simply observe. A higher-level system compares the expected state (which we are controlling by means of d) with the observed state (which we are careful only to observe).

Hi Bruce

BN: Somewhere in the csgnet archive Bill wrote that yes indeed we control the sun rising over the eastern horizon, as witness our consternation should it rise anywhere else.

RM: Consternation is not really evidence of control…

RM: I think I found the place where you might have gotten the impression that Bill was saying that consternation is evidence of control:

BP: There’s a television ad showing a sunrise in speeded-up motion. I felt uncomfortable about it several times before realizing what was wrong. It simply shows the disk of the sun moving toward the upper left, away from the horizon. The problem is, I believe the sun always moves up and to the right away from the horizon (in my northern hemisphere). Seeing it move “wrongly” creates a definite sense of error, even though there’s nothing I can do to change it but not look.

RM: Bill gives this as a demonstration that the consternation felt when experience fails to match expectation is evidence that expectation is a reference signal. Since there is nothing that can be done about the error I guess the consternation could be seen as evidence that the perception would be controlled if there were something that the organism could do to control it.

RM: So displays of consternation can be taken as evidence that the system has a reference for some perception even if that perception can’t be controlled. I had an interesting experience of this when we took our kids to see a “mystery house” at Knott’s Berry Farm years ago. A mystery house is one which has been designed so that visual vertical deviates from gravitational vertical. So when you walk in it feels like gravity is pulling at about a 20 degree angle relative to straight down.

RM: My daughter Lise was a babe in arms at the time – about 2 months old – so she was being carried into the house. As soon as we entered the point where the illusion took hold – where gravity felt like it was off kilter – Lise started to cry hysterically. Clearly, the apparent reorientation of gravity was not what she “expected” and this created considerable consternation. I took it as evidence that humans (and probably other animals) have built in references for the perception of the pull of gravity being aligned with the perception of visual vertical. I think having a built in reference for this perception has obvious adaptive value for organisms that will have to learn to balance on four and then, possibly, two legs.

BN: This nicely dices the question

O where is that which is controlled
Or in the head or in the world?

RM: That question is already answered in PCT: both. What is controlled is a perceptual analog, in the head, of a variable aspect of the world. To paraphrase one of the great movie lines, from Night of the Living Dead: Control the perception and you control the world.

BN: Your present assertion is that there can be no control if the loop has perceptual input, inhibitory p synapsed with excitatory r yielding error signal e, and diverse means of behavioral output, but no effective environmental feedback path by which those outputs change p.

BN: But we cannot say there is no control, only that control fails–in this case,

RM: I see failed control as the same as no control.

BN:…In the Test, we control a perception of the expected state of V under influence of d with the reference value provided from memory in the canonical way (“this is the way physics works”, or whatever). Concurrently, we observe a perception of the actual state of V under the combined influence of d and the subject’s observed outputs q.o. If we are ‘objective’ we are careful not to control this perception of the actual state of V, simply observe. A higher-level system compares the expected state (which we are controlling by means of d) with the observed state (which we are careful only to observe).

RM: Teh only problem with that is that we are not controlling for the expected state of V when we do the Test. If we were we would simply be in a conflict with the testee, which could make him or her rather testy.

Best

Rick

I agree here with Rick. One cannot say that control failed if there were no possibilities even to try.

That is from the observer’s point of view, not from the controller’s point of view.

No, it wasn’t the post about the TV ad. Might have been something Bill said in person at a conference, or it might be that I couldn’t find it hidden under the … expansion widget at the bottom of a post in the search results.

Ah, I assumed you would get the reference.

Absence of observable output is not evidence of absence of control. Inadequacy of output (e.g. in a tug of war) is not evidence of absence of control. If your daughter’s distress was evidence for a reference for agreement between visual vertical and inertial vertical it was also her means of control ("Daddy, fix it!). I bet it worked.

There’s a value for “V as influenced by d” if V is not controlled. This value is provided by controlling principles of physics (or whatever) and operations of mathematics in combination with observed values of V and d, and by these means controlling a perception of the expected value. The means of controlling this perception of the expected value of V are not of the same kind as the subject’s means for controlling her perception of V. The controlled perception “expected state of V as influenced by d” is one input to a higher-level system which compares it with its other perceptual input, the “observed state V as influenced by d”.

Concurrently, the investigator is controlling a perception of d. This control of d does indeed conflict with the subject’s control of V. However, the investigator purposely constrains the magnitude and duration of d so that the subject easily overcomes the disturbance and thereby demonstrates the fact of control and its reference value. This constraint is presumably imposed by higher levels of control, perhaps at the same level as the system that is comparing expected and actual values of V. So far as I know, no one has modeled this purposeful limitation of a deliberately introduced conflict, though I have sketched a diagram:

The little green rectangle in the environment is V as hallucinated by both parties, that is, they experience their respective perceptions as realities in the environment. The perceptual input for the experimenter is not labeled p, it is labeled q.i because that is our name for the particular perception that the experimenter is controlling: a value which by inference corresponds to the value of the perceptual signal p inside the subject. That inference is supported (or not) by the experiment, the Test. The disturbance values shown in the environment are also perceptions in side the experimenter, but they are shown as the experimenter projects them to be in the environment. They are perceptions in control loops which are not shown: controlling a bit of conflict with the subject, experimentally, and managing extraneous variables in the experimental setup. Also not shown are a loop controlling the value predicted by physical sciences sans control, and a loop comparing the expected vs. actual value of V, as discussed above.

And thus, the experimenter is controlling a perceptual signal q.i, a perceptual analog in her head of a variable aspect of the world located inside the subject’s head, a perceptual signal p. The signal q.i is controlled by means of devices and procedures for measuring and recording influences on the subject’s sensory organs. Concurrently, in the other “real” world, the experimenter experiences a perception V as existing in the environment, and with it the perception that she has confirmed that it is the same as a perception V that the subject is experiencing as existing in the environment.

As good William Shakespeare put it, all of this, and we as well,

… are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Yeah, I found that post too. Not the right one. It may be that in looking through the search results I haven’t opened all the collapsed text (by clicking the […] at the bottom), or it may have been a remark in person at a conference.

full-moon90

What are we looking at here? Is this an image sent back by Voyager in its travels past the moons of Jupiter and Saturn? The relevance will become evident in a moment.

In general, when control degrades or fails in a given loop because its output function has become ineffective, a living system attempts to regain control, either at that level, or by higher-level systems attempting to recruit other means of influencing and then controlling the desired perception, or by a higher-level system using concurrent input as an alternative, or other strategies that SFAIK have not been systematically investigated (the “Learning Working Group” have been silent), and if all this fails then by random reorganization.

Every non-intrinsic control loop began as an incomplete loop. Playing with outputs and perceiving consequent changes to input, and that controllable input becoming subject to a reference signal. Or a comparator receiving an input signal and reference signal and outputting an error signal that has no effect on the input–a situation similar to an output function becoming ineffective, with like remedies. As Bill observed, we’ve never had to develop an output function to control the sunrise. It always just happens as expected. (Ignoring exceptions like the great London fog, Krakatoa, travel beyond the arctic or antarctic circle, etc.)

“We know” that the hypothetical subject can never develop an output function that moves the location of sunrise, but the biological systems most directly involved do not know this, and it is they which through the somatic branch of the hierarchy cause the feelings which give rise to emotions of consternation and associated activities in the behavioral branch of the hierarchy. When eventually systems controlling principles of physics regain control (if they do), there will still be a desire for things to look familiar, and somatic feelings when they don’t.

The image above will look familiar to John Kirkland for the same reason that the TV commercial with the sun rising on a slant toward the left will look normal to him. My daughter reported that on a trip to Australia it was still a bit unsettling even when she had the rational explanation. Here’s that satellite as we see it at our latitude, rotated about 90º from John’s point of view.

full-moon

There, now–doesn’t that feel better?

Hi Bruce

RM: That question is already answered in PCT: both.

BN: Ah, I assumed you would get the reference.

RM: Still don’t.

RM: I see failed control as the same as no control.

BN: Absence of observable output is not evidence of absence of control.

RM: It’s absence of a controlled variable that is evidence of absence of control.

BN: There’s a value for “V as influenced by d” if V is not controlled…

BN: Concurrently, the investigator is controlling a perception of d. This control of d does indeed conflict with the subject’s control of V. …So far as I know, no one has modeled this purposeful limitation of a deliberately introduced conflict, though I have sketched a diagram:

RM: This diagram is not a correct description of what the observer/experimenter does in the Test. Think about it in terms of my mind-reading demo (https://www.mindreadings.com/ControlDemo/Mindread.html). In that demo the computer is the observer/experimenter simultaneously testing to determine which of three avatars is being moved intentionally around the screen. The computer is not controlling for anything; it is simply measuring the average correlation between the disturbance to each avatar and the position of that avatar. It is testing for the controlled variable without controlling the hypothetical controlled variables.

RM: What is controlled is a perceptual analog, in the head, of a variable aspect of the world.

BN: And thus, the experimenter is controlling a perceptual signal q.i, a perceptual analog in her head of a variable aspect of the world located inside the subject’s head, a perceptual signal p.

RM: The observer/experimenter is observing the correlation between disturbance and hypothetical controlled variable. If the correlation is low then the observer/experimenter is observing – not controlling – the controlled variable, which is a perceptual variable in both observer and controller.

BN: As good William Shakespeare put it, all of this, and we as well,
… are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

RM: Let’s hope so;-)

Best

Rick

Thatʽs an empty statement. The perceptual variable is the sun rising over the eastern horizon. The presence of the variable is not in question. What is in question is whether or not that variable is controlled. So what you are saying is “absence of control is evidence of absence of control.”

What you said before is more plausible; if the system has no output function available that can affect the variable so as to maintain it near the reference value, it cannot control the variable. But there are many situations where a variable is controlled, but no effective output function is presently available. As means of control, the system might recruit, free up, find, learn to use, or develop an effective output function. “Sorry, can’t help you until I put this package down.” Many a resentment has been sustained for years, a reference value for control manqué–control that becomes manifest when effective means become available. “As soon as I put a new point on this arrow and climb that mountain path after him, that Ötzi is a dead man!” Were the poles of the earth to shift, survivors looking toward the formerly eastern landmarks would remember the old days with the visceral intensity of frustrated intentions associated with the sun rising and getting on with another routine day. To distinguish deferred gratification from those cases where there can never possibly be an effective output function is not an easy matter.

This is a novel definition of the Test. The standard definition is quoted for reference in the first post at the start of this topic. Scroll up to the top, or go to p. 77 of Phil Runkel’s big book.

Maybe you’ve got a shortcut here, a simplified methodology. The computer program generates a set of identified variables specifying the locations of pixels which we perceive as the avatars, applies the same disturbance to all of them, calculates the correlation between location and disturbance for each, and identifies the one for which the correlation is low. I don’t think this can be expressed as an experimental procedure for the Test. For example, in the coin game I apply the same disturbance to all possible arrangements of the coins at once and one of them stands out because of its low correlation to the disturbance?

The claim that your demo is demonstrating the Test asserts that the program is an analog of the experimenter conducting the Test. Its program outputs specify the locations of the avatars. If the program were structured as a control system (as the experimenter is), those specifications would be its reference values for variables controlled by the experimenter, the locations of the avatars, and the user input would be a disturbance to one of those variables. The program already ‘knows’ that the user-controlled variable is the x-y location of one of the avatars, so the experimental situation must be likewise constrained. The program identifies the avatar whose location differs from that specified. It does this by comparing the program-specified location with the actual location and calculating their correlation. What is the analogous Test operation for the experimenter? Does the experimenter actually measure and calculate the correlation for each avatar, or is the term ‘correlation’ a bit distracting?

Let’s take the analogy of program to experimenter at face value. The experimenter employs this methodological shortcut in a particularly constrained experimental setup. The experimenter is controlling a number of replications of an identified variable (or instances of the same ‘kind’ of variable) simultaneously, and identifies which one the subject is controlling by observing which one is disturbed from its intended value. As the experimenter, I don’t need to calculate any correlations because I am a control system controlling each of those variables, and there’s error output causing control output in respect to just one of them.

OK, but the program is not resisting the user’s control because the program is not controlling the locations of the avatars, it is only determining them, and that is why there is no conflict. The program presumably has an analog of perceptual input for the actual current locations, but instead of subtracting that from the specified location and transforming the delta into output that changes the actual location it calculates the correlation between the actual location and the user’s x-y specification for the location, which you call the disturbance as though the computer were a control system controlling the location.

In the experimental analog, the experimenter is in fact a control system, the locations of all the avatars are controlled by the experimenter, and the user’s control of the location of one avatar is a disturbance to the experimenter’s control of it because the user and the experimenter are in conflict over the value of that variable. In the demo, there is no conflict because the program is not structured as a control system.

The computer program does not implement a control system acting in a way that is analogous to an experimenter conducting the Test, so the demo is not a demonstration of the Test.

The term disturbance is often equivocated in a less obvious way. The disturbance is an environmental influence upon the variable under consideration, and a measure of the effect of that influence is properly called the disturbance quantity. Equivocation using the word “disturbance” both for the environmental influence and for its effect probably arose in the description and discussion of computer programs which do not simulate the physical properties of the environment. In early tracking experiments, the disturbance quantities are not measurements or specifications of any disturbing influence in the environment. They are specifications of changes in x-y location values, quantities that would be transforms of physical pressures upon another joystick (or mouse) affecting the cursor, perhaps, if such a disturbing influence existed in the environment. But because there is no influence in the environment to be represented by the disturbance quantity–indeed, there is no simulation of the physics of the environment at all in these programs–there can be no distinction between the disturbance and the disturbance quantity. They are conflated. This is the case also in the demo in which the program identifies which avatar has its location controlled by the user. The demo has no simulation of the physics of the environment and cannot distinguish between the disturbance and the disturbance quantity. For this reason, too, it is not an analog of an experimenter conducting the Test.

In our diagrams, the disturbance d is represented as an influence that affects the value of the controlled input variable. If the objects whose locations are measured were billiard balls or shuffleboard discs then d would be a measurement of a physical influence that changes their locations. Computer code just knows to paint pixels in specified locations. It knows nothing of forces that move painted pixels from one location to another. When you’re just counting pixels it’s all location and there is no choice, the word disturbance can only refer to the effect of the disturbance upon the value of the variable. This goes unnoticed when there is no physical environmental feedback function. If your demo included code to simulate physical relationships and influences, then the calculation of a correlation of d to V would be rather different.

The reference was to the place where I had already said “it’s both”. Since you didn’t get the reference I gave you a link to it, and in addition I quoted it. I don’t have an effective output function at present, but it’s because the effect of the output depends upon your perceptual input functions, a part of the environment over which I have no control.

Hi Bruce

A friend of mine reminded me of this nice quote from Winston Churchill: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”. There are a lot of dogs barking in these posts of yours – most of them the same old mutts that have been barking at me since I got into PCT. So I will heed Winston’s advice and throw stones only at a couple of them and then continue on to my destination.

RM: It’s absence of a controlled variable that is evidence of absence of control.

BN: Thatʽs an empty statement.

RM: To you, perhaps. To me the statement is filled with the essence of perceptual control theory.

BN: But there are many situations where a variable is controlled, but no effective output function is presently available.

RM: I think it is interesting that organisms do apparently come into the world with some built in references for the state of perceptual variables – such as a reference for alignment of the direction of gravitational pull with visual vertical. But I would prefer to call that a potentially controlled variable and reserve the term “control” for describing behavior that actually involves control – maintaining variables in constant or variable reference states.

RM: In that demo the computer is the observer/experimenter simultaneously testing to determine which of three avatars is being moved intentionally around the screen. The computer is not controlling … anything; it is simply measuring the average correlation between the disturbance to each avatar and the position of that avatar. It is testing for the controlled variable without controlling the hypothetical controlled variables.

BN: This is a novel definition of the Test.

RM: There are several ways to do the Test. But they are all the same inasmuch as they are ways of determining the same thing: the best definition of the variable(s) around which the observed behavior is organized.

BN: The claim that your demo is demonstrating the Test asserts that the program is an analog of the experimenter conducting the Test. Its program outputs specify the locations of the avatars.

RM: The subject specifies the location of one of the avatars; the computer determines which avatar that is using the Test: looking for lack of expected effect of a disturbance to the variable.

BN: As the experimenter, I don’t need to calculate any correlations because I am a control system controlling each of those variables, and there’s error output causing control output in respect to just one of them.

RM: A human experimenter could not do (unassisted) what the computer experimenter is doing because a human cannot apply three different time varying disturbances simultaneously to the positions of three different objects and at the same time determine which of these disturbances is being resisted – and therefore which object’s position is being controlled.

BN: The computer program does not implement a control system acting in a way that is analogous to an experimenter conducting the Test, so the demo is not a demonstration of the Test.

RM: False. But I think you have to believe that this is true for some reason so I’m not going to take the time to try to explain why it’s false.

BN: The demo has no simulation of the physics of the environment and cannot distinguish between the disturbance and the disturbance quantity. For this reason, too, it is not an analog of an experimenter conducting the Test.

RM: This is also false. If you don’t think my Mind Reading program (https://www.mindreadings.com/ControlDemo/Mindread.html) is a good example of the Test then you are living in a completely different PCT world than I am.

Best

Rick