[from Kent McClelland (951129.1445 CST)]

Bill Powers (951128.0805 MST) wrote,

. . . It's never easy to be sure, however; two people can be tossing the

same words around for hours and hours and never realize that the

concepts behind the words, in the two heads, are completely different.

It's much easier to detect disagreements than spurious agreements. The

main sign of a spurious agreement is that one person eventually says

something he fully expects the other to agree with, and meets with a

totally unexpected objection to it. The only way to handle this that I

know of is to hunker down and start going through the details one by

one: just what do you mean by "and?"

I wonder if something I've found in playing with simulated control-system

interactions has a bearing on this phenomenon.

My latest spreadsheet model has two perceptual levels. Lower-order systems

control their perceptions of the position of an environmental variable on

an X-Y grid, with some systems controlling in the X dimension and others in

the Y dimension. Higher-order systems control perceptions based on linear

combinations of signals from one or more lower-order X systems and one or

more lower-order Y systems. A higher-order system, then, will be in

control of its perception when the environmental variable falls somewhere

on a straight line on the X-Y plane, with the slope of the line determined

by the coefficients (weights) for the linear combination of X and Y signals

used by the higher-order system, and the intercept of the line being

determined by the reference level of the higher-order system.

For example, if I set a higher-order system to have weights of 2.0 for X

and 1.0 for Y, and a reference level of 10, so that the system is described

by the equation,

2.0 * X + 1.0 * Y = 10,

the system will be "in control" when its perception of the environmental

variable is anywhere on a line that has a slope of -2 and an intercept of

10, including the points (0,10), (2.5,5) or (5,0), as in the diagram below.

Y

\|

>(0,10)

>\

> \

> \

> \

> \(2.5,5)

> \

> \

> \

> \

>_________\________ X

(0,0) \(5,0)

I've been seeing what happens when I simulate the interaction of two

higher-order systems working at cross purposes, so to speak, in the same

X-Y environment. If the two higher-order systems have different weights

for X and Y and so are controlling different perceptions, their

"satisfaction lines" will cross somewhere on the X-Y plane, and thus there

will always be some point, call it the "accommodation" point (Bob Hintz's

term), where both higher-order systems can be "in control" at the same

time. If the two higher-order systems use exactly the same linear

combination of X and Y but have different reference levels, their

satisfaction lines will be parallel and will never cross--thus the two

systems must always be in conflict, at least until something changes to

realign their reference levels.

In real-life terms, I'm looking at how whether the two systems see the

world in the same way or not. How close do they come to sharing the same

perceptual function? Are they controlling parallel or perpendicular

perceptions? (In other words, are their satisfaction lines highly

correlated or orthogonal?) One of my simulations starts with an X-Y point

that satisfies neither of a pair of higher-order systems and then examines

how quickly they are able to bring their perceptions under control by

reaching their mutual accommodation point.

A finding from these simulations that surprised me was that two

higher-order systems with orthogonal or nearly orthogonal perceptional

functions can reach their accommodation point much more quickly than two

with nearly parallel functions. I guess that if there are enough degrees

of freedom, people can share environments easily provided they're

controlling different perceptions.

However, when the perceptions controlled by the two systems are almost but

not quite parallel, the systems quickly succeed in pulling the

environmental variable to a point somewhere in between their two

satisfaction lines, where they are both more or less satisfied. But then

they get stuck in a state of low-level conflict, with the environmental X-Y

position hovering between the two lines and drifting ever so slowly toward

the mutual accommodation point, which if the two lines are almost parallel

is likely to be a long way off. It's like neither system has enough

leverage to drive things quickly toward the only outcome that would provide

complete satisfaction for both.

I imagine that an analogous state of chronic low-level conflict over

nearly-but-not-exactly-parallel perceptual functions occurs pretty commonly

in human interactions, and perhaps this simulation could serve as a model

for the "spurious agreement" that Bill was talking about in his post.

Another implication: the more alike two people are in their thinking (that

is, the more parallel their perceptual control systems), the more prolonged

(and perhaps fiercer) the conflicts they can engage in, when they adopt

different reference levels. Again to quote Bob Hintz (who has seen the

simulation), "Perhaps the reason Clinton and Congressional leaders can't

resolve their differences more quickly is that they think so much alike!"

Kent