Understanding Anxiety

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

I’m
thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT perspective, and wrote
an outline (below) in which my hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right track here? How does this relate to other people’s thoughts and papers?

Eva

PS.
I’m travelling, so I will not be able to respond immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses nonetheless and will react in
time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard

  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding

  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

–> this text will be updated (and comments are welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

···

Let’s imagine a scenario different from
your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing

Hi Eva and Martin,

Before actually replying to your posts, I think I should introduce myself first. I will be a PhD student working with Warren in Manchester. Our project will be modelling anxiety and control within the PCT framework. I have been following CSGnet for a while (I haven’t managed to read all the threads though). I also start to help out with the technical and archiving side of the CSG net.

Introduction aside, I thank Eva to bring up this topic. Your post stimulate my thinking. I have only just started some preliminary reading so my response may not be comprehensive. Nonetheless, my response as below:

I think the premise “anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist” is incorrect. Please consider this counter example: Your friend ask you about your opinions on Brexit. You never follow politics and are not bothered by it. In very simplistic terms, you do not have a high level control system for Brexit and thus a non-existed reference condition. Your friend further explains why you should care about Brexit because it affects the economy, the exchange rate (therefore, you buy less foreign currency with the same amount of GBP), and you. You feel you need to control something around Brexit (now we can drill down to what Brexit means to you at a lower level which we are not going to discuss). However, you don’t necessarily feel anxious although you feel the need to control the effect of Brexit on yourself and your family.

I believe Anxiety is a product of two systems, namely the control systems and the intrinsic control systems which, Powers suggested, are the nervous systems and the homeostatic systems (e.g. circulation and hormonal systems). In physiology, the human circulation system and hormonal systems plays an important role in anxiety. When the nervous system perceives an anxiety-inducing variable (imagined or actual), a control system that communicates with the heart regulates our heart rate and then causes fight-or-flee responses (fyi, the heart is wrapped by a network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves). The bodily response then feeds back to the nervous systems and allows the nervous system to decide whether you fight or flee. This implies the control systems and the intrinsic control systems talk to each other all the time when deciding what and how to control a variable. Therefore, I am confident to say “Anxiety can be caused by intrinsic errors that accumulate from one or more conflicts between or among control systems that cannot be resolved by higher level” as Powers suggested in B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a sum of intrinsic errors (i.e. hyperventilation, rapid heart beats, excessive sweating, adrenaline, etc) and allows reorganisation. I still haven’t thought of a way to test it. Maybe modelling can help proving it.

In addition, feeling excited also share the same bodily responses as feeling anxious. I am still not sure how we decide when to feel excited or anxious. I believe Warren has a book on the development of psychopathology using PCT framework. I haven’t got a chance to read it yet. It may shed some light on this question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Mak


Virus-free. www.avg.com

···

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

  Let's imagine a scenario different from

your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Virus-free. www.avg.com

[From Bruce Nevin (20190803.11:17 ET)]

Rather than an absence of reference signals, consider the values of existing reference signals; reference values for lower systems which work well for familiar situations ‘like this’ (e.g. standing on a sidewalk) do not maintain control in the present situation (standing on a moving skateboard). Restricting ourselves to this example, in the familiar situation controlled perception of pressure on the soles of the feet (an important part of maintaining upright posture) is disturbed by side effects of other control activities (e.g. reaching and lifting an object shifts the center of gravity) or by pressures and impacts (somebody bumps you), and resistance to such disturbances is well practiced. There are well-established memories of recovering from such disturbances by pressing on immovable objects in the environment.

More broadly, what normally works isn’t working. Sensory inputs evoke associated perceptions from memory (expectations of a familiar experience). Ordinarily, when some sensory input for a complex experience is absent from the environment control of remembered aspects in imagination suffices, but here the absent aspects of the experience are supplanted by different and ‘unexpected’ input from the environment.

···

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 5:45 PM Chung Mak csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi Eva and Martin,

Before actually replying to your posts, I think I should introduce myself first. I will be a PhD student working with Warren in Manchester. Our project will be modelling anxiety and control within the PCT framework. I have been following CSGnet for a while (I haven’t managed to read all the threads though). I also start to help out with the technical and archiving side of the CSG net.

Introduction aside, I thank Eva to bring up this topic. Your post stimulate my thinking. I have only just started some preliminary reading so my response may not be comprehensive. Nonetheless, my response as below:

I think the premise “anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist” is incorrect. Please consider this counter example: Your friend ask you about your opinions on Brexit. You never follow politics and are not bothered by it. In very simplistic terms, you do not have a high level control system for Brexit and thus a non-existed reference condition. Your friend further explains why you should care about Brexit because it affects the economy, the exchange rate (therefore, you buy less foreign currency with the same amount of GBP), and you. You feel you need to control something around Brexit (now we can drill down to what Brexit means to you at a lower level which we are not going to discuss). However, you don’t necessarily feel anxious although you feel the need to control the effect of Brexit on yourself and your family.

I believe Anxiety is a product of two systems, namely the control systems and the intrinsic control systems which, Powers suggested, are the nervous systems and the homeostatic systems (e.g. circulation and hormonal systems). In physiology, the human circulation system and hormonal systems plays an important role in anxiety. When the nervous system perceives an anxiety-inducing variable (imagined or actual), a control system that communicates with the heart regulates our heart rate and then causes fight-or-flee responses (fyi, the heart is wrapped by a network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves). The bodily response then feeds back to the nervous systems and allows the nervous system to decide whether you fight or flee. This implies the control systems and the intrinsic control systems talk to each other all the time when deciding what and how to control a variable. Therefore, I am confident to say “Anxiety can be caused by intrinsic errors that accumulate from one or more conflicts between or among control systems that cannot be resolved by higher level” as Powers suggested in B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a sum of intrinsic errors (i.e. hyperventilation, rapid heart beats, excessive sweating, adrenaline, etc) and allows reorganisation. I still haven’t thought of a way to test it. Maybe modelling can help proving it.

In addition, feeling excited also share the same bodily responses as feeling anxious. I am still not sure how we decide when to feel excited or anxious. I believe Warren has a book on the development of psychopathology using PCT framework. I haven’t got a chance to read it yet. It may shed some light on this question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Mak


Virus-free. www.avg.com

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

  Let's imagine a scenario different from

your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Virus-free. www.avg.com

[Rick Marken 2019-08-03_10:24:00]

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

I’m
thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT perspective, and wrote
an outline (below) in which my hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right track here? How does this relate to other people’s thoughts and papers?

RM: For me, anxiety is an emotion that, like any emotion, has two components: feeling and cognitive. From my experience, the feeling component of anxiety is relatively mild compared to that of other emotions, such as fear or love. But I think the PCT explanation of anxiety would be the same as that for any other emotion.Â

RM: PCT would say that the feeling component of anxiety results from error signals that drive outputs that are ineffective. This ineffectiveness has physiological consequences, such as the secretion of adrenaline. It’s these physiological consequences of ineffective outputs that are experienced as the feeling component of an emotion – anxiety in this case. The cognitive component is what leads us to interpret the feeling component as fear, love or anxiety. In the case of anxiety, I suspect that the feeling component of that emotion is identified as anxiety because the source of the error is a system controlling a very high level perception – one that is defined over a rather long time period, such as the perception of the status of one’s career. Anyway, that would be my take on it.Â

RM: One of the problems with the idea that anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist is that there is no such thing as a control system with a reference value that doesn’t exist. All control systems have a reference value for the perceptual input. This reference value will be a constant if there is no variable reference signal that enters the comparator of the control loop.Â

The value of the constant reference value will be 0 if there is no offset built into the comparator itself. Neurologically, the comparator is a synapse that inverts the perceptual input so that there is negative feedback in the loop.Â

RM: This comparator can be represented mathematically as a subtraction. If there is no reference signal input and no offset in the comparator, the comparator process is simply e = 0 - p; so the reference for the perception, p, is the constant 0. If there if an offset then the comparator process is e = c - p; so the reference for the perception is the constant c. If there is a reference signal input to the comparator, the comparator process is the familiar e = r - p; so the reference for the perception is the variable r.Â

RM: I think it would be great if we could continue to develop the PCT model of emotion since emotions are very important to people and it would be nice to be able to explain what is going on with them from a PCT perspective. But I think whatever developments we make to the PCT emotion model should be tempered by observation and test.Â

BestÂ

Rick

···

Eva

PS.
I’m travelling, so I will not be able to respond immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses nonetheless and will react in
time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.Â

We’ll start with an example.Â

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.Â

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.Â

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.Â

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.Â

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.Â

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.Â

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).Â

In order:Â

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.Â

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.Â

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.Â

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.Â

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.Â

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).Â

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).Â

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.Â

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!Â

–> this text will be updated (and comments are welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Richard S. MarkenÂ

"Perfection is achieved not when you have nothing more to add, but when you
have nothing left to take away.�
                --Antoine de Saint-Exupery

[From Bruce Nevin (20190803.13:22 ET)]

RM: PCT would say that the feeling component of anxiety results from error signals that drive outputs that are ineffective.  Â

And the error persists. Known means of control do not reduce it. Even in the case of a momentary surge of anxiety followed immediately by a “whew!” of relief when a danger of failure is past derives from imagining what might have happened.

Internal conflict can give rise to chronic anxiety because of the persisting inability of the conflicting systems both to control. Known means of control fail. Problem solving to devise alternative means of control fail. They all fail because more efficient control results only in continued conflict, or at best it results in more effective conflict.

RM: … physiological consequences of ineffective outputs … are experienced as the feeling component of an emotion – anxiety in this case. The cognitive component is what leads us to interpret the feeling component as fear, love or anxiety. In the case of anxiety, I suspect that the feeling component of that emotion is identified as anxiety because the source of the error is a system controlling a very high level perception – one that is defined over a rather long time period, such as the perception of the status of one’s career.Â

The status of one’s career is indeed difficult to control in the face of countless ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ over a long time span. We may become like Jaques’ soldier ‘seeking the bubble reputation’, and we can understand why Cassio feels so devastated, lamenting to Iago (his betrayer) “My reputation, my reputation, I have lost my reputation!” But there is also inherent conflict between the domain of control that attracted one to work in a given field (not to mention personal relationships, family, and other things that matter in one’s life) and the distracting demands of trying to control other people’s opinions of one’s work andÂ
one’s person. Anyone who thinks they control those perceptions should read your book on Controlling people, Rick.

Â

···

On Sat, Aug 3, 2019 at 1:24 PM Richard Marken csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Rick Marken 2019-08-03_10:24:00]

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

I’m
thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT perspective, and wrote
an outline (below) in which my hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right track here? How does this relate to other people’s thoughts and papers?

RM: For me, anxiety is an emotion that, like any emotion, has two components: feeling and cognitive. From my experience, the feeling component of anxiety is relatively mild compared to that of other emotions, such as fear or love. But I think the PCT explanation of anxiety would be the same as that for any other emotion.Â

RM: PCT would say that the feeling component of anxiety results from error signals that drive outputs that are ineffective. This ineffectiveness has physiological consequences, such as the secretion of adrenaline. It’s these physiological consequences of ineffective outputs that are experienced as the feeling component of an emotion – anxiety in this case. The cognitive component is what leads us to interpret the feeling component as fear, love or anxiety. In the case of anxiety, I suspect that the feeling component of that emotion is identified as anxiety because the source of the error is a system controlling a very high level perception – one that is defined over a rather long time period, such as the perception of the status of one’s career. Anyway, that would be my take on it.Â

RM: One of the problems with the idea that anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist is that there is no such thing as a control system with a reference value that doesn’t exist. All control systems have a reference value for the perceptual input. This reference value will be a constant if there is no variable reference signal that enters the comparator of the control loop.Â

The value of the constant reference value will be 0 if there is no offset built into the comparator itself. Neurologically, the comparator is a synapse that inverts the perceptual input so that there is negative feedback in the loop.Â

RM: This comparator can be represented mathematically as a subtraction. If there is no reference signal input and no offset in the comparator, the comparator process is simply e = 0 - p; so the reference for the perception, p, is the constant 0. If there if an offset then the comparator process is e = c - p; so the reference for the perception is the constant c. If there is a reference signal input to the comparator, the comparator process is the familiar e = r - p; so the reference for the perception is the variable r.Â

RM: I think it would be great if we could continue to develop the PCT model of emotion since emotions are very important to people and it would be nice to be able to explain what is going on with them from a PCT perspective. But I think whatever developments we make to the PCT emotion model should be tempered by observation and test.Â

BestÂ

Rick

Eva

PS.
I’m travelling, so I will not be able to respond immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses nonetheless and will react in
time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.Â

We’ll start with an example.Â

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.Â

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.Â

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.Â

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.Â

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.Â

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.Â

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).Â

In order:Â

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.Â

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.Â

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.Â

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.Â

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.Â

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).Â

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).Â

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.Â

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!Â

–> this text will be updated (and comments are welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Richard S. MarkenÂ

"Perfection is achieved not when you have nothing more to add, but when you
have nothing left to take away.�
                --Antoine de Saint-Exupery

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.03.14.16]

        [From Bruce Nevin (20190803.13:22

ET)]

            RM: PCT

would say that the feeling component of anxiety results
from error signals that drive outputs that are
ineffective.

        And the error persists. Known means

of control do not reduce it. Even in the case of a momentary
surge of anxiety followed immediately by a “whew!” of relief
when a danger of failure is past derives from imagining what
might have happened.

        Internal conflict can give rise to

chronic anxiety because of the persisting inability of the
conflicting systems both to control. Known means of control
fail. Problem solving to devise alternative means of control
fail. They all fail because more efficient control results
only in continued conflict, or at best it results in more
effective conflict.

Tolerance (low or zero loop gain when the perceptual value is near

but not equal to the reference value) can eliminate conflict when
control IS efficient. The perceptual converse of anxiety is
insouciance – “North or South, East or West, it’s all the same to
me”. That’s tolerance.

How to balance tolerance against precision is a different and

important question. Too tolerant a laissez-faire attitude can get
you killed. So can too intolerant a control structure that enforces
a rigidity of internal conflict that disturbs others’ perceptions in
ways that they try to restore to their reference values by doing you
damage. The anxious martinet suffers the mutiny, the careless
commander suffers defeat.

Martin

[From Bruce Nevin ɣ20190803.22:16 ET)]

MMTˑ Tolerance (low or zero loop gain when the perceptual value is near but not equal to the reference value) can eliminate conflict when control IS efficient. The perceptual converse of anxiety is insouciance – “North or South, East or West, it’s all the same to me”. That’s tolerance.

Or it could be depression. Nothing matters. Nothing makes any difference. Who cares.

Tolerance – life is a parade of preferences instead of addictive demands. Non-attachment. Mozart on the Koenigsburg bridge: “The most heavenly melody came to me on my walk this morning, and before I could write it down I forgot it. But no matter. There will be another.”

Depression – life is a meaningless wasteland. No escape.

In both cases you could suppose that loop gain is low or zero. Is the difference only in how we perceive it at the level where we assign names to emotions?

Here’s a guess: a depressed person has adopted zero gain as means to ‘resolve’ some internal conflicts. Trouble is, when gain is reduced at sufficiently high level it’s reduced everywhere. MoL might disclose the conflicts, if they’ll talk. How does this ring with your clinical experience, Warren?

···

/B

On Sat, Aug 3, 2019 at 4:28 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.03.14.16]

        [From Bruce Nevin (20190803.13:22

ET)]

            RM: PCT

would say that the feeling component of anxiety results
from error signals that drive outputs that are
ineffective.

        And the error persists. Known means

of control do not reduce it. Even in the case of a momentary
surge of anxiety followed immediately by a “whew!” of relief
when a danger of failure is past derives from imagining what
might have happened.

        Internal conflict can give rise to

chronic anxiety because of the persisting inability of the
conflicting systems both to control. Known means of control
fail. Problem solving to devise alternative means of control
fail. They all fail because more efficient control results
only in continued conflict, or at best it results in more
effective conflict.

Tolerance (low or zero loop gain when the perceptual value is near

but not equal to the reference value) can eliminate conflict when
control IS efficient. The perceptual converse of anxiety is
insouciance – “North or South, East or West, it’s all the same to
me”. That’s tolerance.

How to balance tolerance against precision is a different and

important question. Too tolerant a laissez-faire attitude can get
you killed. So can too intolerant a control structure that enforces
a rigidity of internal conflict that disturbs others’ perceptions in
ways that they try to restore to their reference values by doing you
damage. The anxious martinet suffers the mutiny, the careless
commander suffers defeat.

Martin

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.03.23.56]

Not at all, at least as "tolerance" is used technically in PCT. It

is a question of treating small error as zero error. If the output
of a simple linear comparator is e = r-p, the output of a tolerant
linear comparator is e = sgn(r-p)*(abs(r-p) - z), where z is the
half-width of the tolerance zone. In my undergraduate days, there were no integrated circuits, and
circuits were made of discrete elements such as resistors and
capacitors. Each resistor and each capacitor was labelled with its
tolerance. A resistor might be 1kΩ ±5%, 10%, or 1%, for example. The
manufacturing process was imprecise, so in a batch of resistors with
a target resistance of 1kΩ only a few would actually be within 1% of
the target, and they were selected out of the stream marked with a
gold band and were sold at a premium. Of the remainder, more would
be in the 1-5% tolerance zone. They were marked with a silver band
and were cheaper. The cheapest considered tolerable for were in the
5-10% zone, were marked with a black band and were the cheapest.
Ones beyond 10% were not tolerated for sale and were discarded or
recycled. (Maybe there was a 20% zone, but I don’t think so). Tolerance is not a blanket “don’t care” or a preference. It’s “I
don’t care where you go so long as you stay within the yard”,
coupled with “You will definitely hear about it if you do go outside
the yard”. It’s not “I’d kind of prefer you to stay in the yard.
Just let me know if you don’t”.
The effect of tolerance on loop gain is that no matter what the
asymptotic loop gain for large error is, the loop gain for small
(r-p) values is low or zero. The larger the absolute value of (r-p)
if it is greater than z, the higher the loop gain. Quite different
from your description of it.
Martin

···

On 2019/08/3 10:35 PM, Bruce Nevin
( via csgnet Mailing List) wrote:

bnhpct@gmail.com

        [From

Bruce Nevin ɣ20190803.22:16 ET)]

            MMTˑ

Tolerance (low or zero loop gain when the perceptual
value is near but not equal to the reference value) can
eliminate conflict when control IS efficient. The
perceptual converse of anxiety is insouciance – “North
or South, East or West, it’s all the same to me”. That’s
tolerance.

        Or it

could be depression. Nothing matters. Nothing makes any
difference. Who cares.

        Tolerance

– life is a parade of preferences instead of addictive
demands. Non-attachment. Mozart on the Koenigsburg bridge:
“The most heavenly melody came to me on my walk this
morning, and before I could write it down I forgot it. But
no matter. There will be another.”

[From Bruce Nevin (20190804.08:54 ET)]

I understand the concept and I understand the math, but I don’t understand how neural or chemical mechanisms might implement it. I’ll have to go back (again) and see what I missed (again!) in B:CP. Maybe you have a pointer?

So now my question is about a 3-way distinction: ‘tolerance’ in the technical sense you’ve defined, ‘tolerance’ in the sense of non-attachment or a parade of preferences, and depression defined as low gain on everything.

Perhaps more tellingly, is depression a function of no affect on anything? That suggests reduction of the excitatory traffic between limbic and cortical functions. That’s where I see (reported) evidence of how interactions between limbic, autonomic, and cortical systems give rise to what we call emotions.

In the chapter on emotion Bill wrote about the autonomic and somatic systems as two control hierarchies. The autonomic system, apparently out of reach of awareness, includes the ‘homeostatic’ systems of biochemistry and endocrinology, connecting with and influencing somatic effectors. The somatic system comprises the control hierarchy with which we have always been mostly concerned in PCT. The somatic system is accessible to awareness in any sensory modality and at any level, but not all at once; from which it follows that most of it is out of awareness at any given moment.

The limbic systems appear to me to link and intermediate between these. Like the somatic system, it operates out of awareness. We become aware of its ‘snap judgements’ by perception of its effects in the autonomic system and motor system (Bill terms these ‘readiness for action’ or the like) and by the perceptions that cortical functions construct from those and other inputs (present, remembered, and elaborated by control in imagination).

The cortical functions are a magician performing legerdemain, constructing perceptions that suit input functions at higher levels, which we provisionally suppose are the system concept, principle, planning, and sequence levels. Pay no attention to those details that don’t fit. Trust me, those imagined details must be there in actuality? We want to believe the story–quite literally, we desire it: it is a perception that we are controlling by these means.

Angst: when control at those higher levels is persistently inadequate?

···

/Bruce

On Sun, Aug 4, 2019 at 12:20 AM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.03.23.56]

  On 2019/08/3 10:35 PM, Bruce Nevin > (bnhpct@gmail.com via csgnet Mailing List) wrote:
        [From

Bruce Nevin ɣ20190803.22:16 ET)]

            MMTˑ

Tolerance (low or zero loop gain when the perceptual
value is near but not equal to the reference value) can
eliminate conflict when control IS efficient. The
perceptual converse of anxiety is insouciance – “North
or South, East or West, it’s all the same to me”. That’s
tolerance.

        Or it

could be depression. Nothing matters. Nothing makes any
difference. Who cares.

        Tolerance

– life is a parade of preferences instead of addictive
demands. Non-attachment. Mozart on the Koenigsburg bridge:
“The most heavenly melody came to me on my walk this
morning, and before I could write it down I forgot it. But
no matter. There will be another.”

Not at all, at least as "tolerance" is used technically in PCT. It

is a question of treating small error as zero error. If the output
of a simple linear comparator is e = r-p, the output of a tolerant
linear comparator is e = sgn(r-p)*(abs(r-p) - z), where z is the
half-width of the tolerance zone.

In my undergraduate days, there were no integrated circuits, and

circuits were made of discrete elements such as resistors and
capacitors. Each resistor and each capacitor was labelled with its
tolerance. A resistor might be 1kΩ ±5%, 10%, or 1%, for example. The
manufacturing process was imprecise, so in a batch of resistors with
a target resistance of 1kΩ only a few would actually be within 1% of
the target, and they were selected out of the stream marked with a
gold band and were sold at a premium. Of the remainder, more would
be in the 1-5% tolerance zone. They were marked with a silver band
and were cheaper. The cheapest considered tolerable for were in the
5-10% zone, were marked with a black band and were the cheapest.
Ones beyond 10% were not tolerated for sale and were discarded or
recycled. (Maybe there was a 20% zone, but I don’t think so).

Tolerance is not a blanket "don't care" or a preference. It's "I

don’t care where you go so long as you stay within the yard",
coupled with “You will definitely hear about it if you do go outside
the yard”. It’s not “I’d kind of prefer you to stay in the yard.
Just let me know if you don’t”.

The effect of tolerance on loop gain is that no matter what the

asymptotic loop gain for large error is, the loop gain for small
(r-p) values is low or zero. The larger the absolute value of (r-p)
if it is greater than z, the higher the loop gain. Quite different
from your description of it.

Martin

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.04.09.50]

The key (for me) is that nerves cannot fire at a negative rate. If

the analysis requires negative firing rates, the circuitry must have
parallel positive and inverted positive paths in parallel. For
tolerance, consider only the comparator. It needs four components
that represent (a) r-p positive, p positive, (b) r-p positive p
negative (and thus arriving on a different path as a positive firing
rate), © r-p negative, r positive, (d) r-p negative r negative
(and thus arriving on a different path). For each of the four
components of the comparator, the output is positive, but if the
analytical number r-p is negative the output is on a different path
(we discussed this at length in a thread that involved Erling a
couple of years ago). Each of the four component “sub-comparators” can be imagined as a
single comparator with an excitatory and an inhibitory input . If
the inhibitory input (which might be r or p, depending on the
incoming path) is sufficient to overcome the excitatory input, the
output of that sub-comparator is zero. If it is not (say for the r
-p positive sub-comparator) then the output is r-p. The figure shows
the set of unbiased sub-comparators. The numbers are example input
values used to show the results of operations with positive and
negative r and p.
That’s for the zero tolerance situation. For the tolerance
situation, add a bias value z, presumably input on another path,
which changes the amount of excitation required to overcome the
incoming inhibition. This (always positive) value is an inhibition
or an excitation, depending on which sub-comparator it influences.
For the r-p positive, p positive sub-comparator, a excitatory bias
would create output if r-p is zero, so that comparator wouldn’t
exhibit tolerance. An inhibitory bias z would make it output zero
when the simple analytic (e=r-p) comparator would have a small
positive or negative output. With positive z, the sub-comparator
would output e>0 only if e=r-p-z>0. The same analysis with
appropriate changes of sign would apply to all four sub-comparators.
The positive (excitatory) bias condition corresponds to “don’t just
sit there, do something”, whereas the negative (inhibitory) bias
corresponds to “This, too, shall pass”.
Martin

ikjfcjdheohdmfdc.jpg

···

On 2019/08/4 9:34 AM, Bruce Nevin
( via csgnet Mailing List) wrote:

bnhpct@gmail.com

        [From

Bruce Nevin (20190804.08:54 ET)]

        I

understand the concept and I understand the math, but I
don’t understand how neural or chemical mechanisms might
implement it.

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.05 07:20 CEST)]

Dear all,

Allow me to reply to Martin and Mak first and in the meantime, to some of the other comments as well.

@Martin. Your notion that anxiety happens when the intermediate level loop is missing more than just the reference level, feels right to me. In my example, the intermediate level loop was missing ‘because’ the reference level was missing. But from your example I understand that anxiety might occur as well in the absence of control (and control systems), when you imagine your child in danger and beyond your control. You could be able to control for the safety of your child on his night out, by limiting his options (don’t go far! Don’t be late!) or by tracking his phone (ouch!). However, your higher order goals of wanting your child to be independent one day, won’t allow you to use these means. So you just can’t regain control on that level, and need to resort to other options (going one level up or waiting out the anxiety until your son comes home).

So my hypothesis could be rephrased to: the absence of control in an intermediate level is essential to the experience of anxiety. I’d say the absence of control in anxiety is not necessarily related to conflicting control systems. Conflict may play a role (for example blocking the generation of new control systems, in the example when I don’t want to lose composure but need to in order to learn how to skateboard).

Top level: I want to control X

Intermediate level: Absent: no means to control X.

Sub levels: Sensations of anxiety.

Resolution in my example: trial and error until it ‘feels right’ and X is under control.

Resolution in Martin’s example: remove the top level of wanting to control for X (He’s grown up now). The error disappears as well, without control for X.

Here I’d like to turn to Mak: Welcome! I’ve had the same experience that a post on CSGnet propelled me into the discussion for the first time. You say ‘stimulates my thinking’, I’d say ‘disturbs my perception of how I understand anxiety’.

I believe your example follows the same structure: Top level: I want to have an opinion on Brexit (because my friend wants me to and I care for my friend’s opinion of me). Intermediate level: I haven’t got an opinion on Brexit. Levels below: anxiety symptoms.

In your response Mak, as well as Bruce’s below, we notice the two aspects of anxiety: cognitive (higher level) and physiological (lower level). We could say that these are the ‘normal control system’ and the ‘intrinsic control systems’, but so far in my thinking I haven’t needed the ‘intrinsic system’ to connect the two.

Imagine that the top level control system wants X, but can’t accomplish X because the intermediate level is missing. There will be error in the top level, that translates to the lowest levels: the sensation (and labeling somewhere higher) of anxious symptoms. The difference between anxiety and excitement might just be that in the case of excitement, higher levels tell you “I want to feel like this” and in case of anxiety, higher levels tell you “I don’t want to feel like this”. From the excitement/anxiety example follows the notion that the levels of symptoms aren’t necessary fixed.

The fight/flight response or action tendencies could as easily be understood as control systems, right? The entire control system ‘decides’ whether you’ll fight or flee, through imagining fleeing and fighting, detecting errors, perceiving possibilities or the absence of possibilities. You’ll do what you have to do in order to regain control. Your system will take care of that, not in ‘response’ to stimuli, but because you are a control system.

Questions and discussion topics that I’ve noticed so far in this discussion:

1.How do we understand anxiety from a PCT perspective?

  • I’m sort of contented with my hypothesis once I include Martin’s suggestion, but I don’t know if this is yet correct. Of course, hypotheses need testing through observations or simulations. But I first need to build the model.
  • I think Bruce’s hypothesis is different. Is it a matter of just getting the right perceptual signal within an existing control system, or the absence of a control system? That’s the question, right?
  1. How does the sustained error in a higher system relate to the symptoms of anxiety in a lower system?
  • This question concerns the relationship between the proposed intrinsic system and the control systems hierarchy. I believe that once we understand how error ‘travels’ through the systems, we’ll understand the whole.
  1. How does depression work according to PCT?
  • I think this is a different question. My first thoughts about it are that depression is a way that the control systems handles sustained error at a high level, through shutting down the control systems at that
    level, when you stop controlling for X, the pain (error) ends. But then
    the entire system (human being) will find itself in a less effective state (slowed down, limited) because control at a high level has become more limited.
  1. How does tolerance work within control systems?
  • Martin’s math and thinking below provides answers to that, right?

Eva

···

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 11:45 PM Chung Mak csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi Eva and Martin,

Before actually replying to your posts, I think I should introduce myself first. I will be a PhD student working with Warren in Manchester. Our project will be modelling anxiety and control within the PCT framework. I have been following CSGnet for a while (I haven’t managed to read all the threads though). I also start to help out with the technical and archiving side of the CSG net.

Introduction aside, I thank Eva to bring up this topic. Your post stimulate my thinking. I have only just started some preliminary reading so my response may not be comprehensive. Nonetheless, my response as below:

I think the premise “anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist” is incorrect. Please consider this counter example: Your friend ask you about your opinions on Brexit. You never follow politics and are not bothered by it. In very simplistic terms, you do not have a high level control system for Brexit and thus a non-existed reference condition. Your friend further explains why you should care about Brexit because it affects the economy, the exchange rate (therefore, you buy less foreign currency with the same amount of GBP), and you. You feel you need to control something around Brexit (now we can drill down to what Brexit means to you at a lower level which we are not going to discuss). However, you don’t necessarily feel anxious although you feel the need to control the effect of Brexit on yourself and your family.

I believe Anxiety is a product of two systems, namely the control systems and the intrinsic control systems which, Powers suggested, are the nervous systems and the homeostatic systems (e.g. circulation and hormonal systems). In physiology, the human circulation system and hormonal systems plays an important role in anxiety. When the nervous system perceives an anxiety-inducing variable (imagined or actual), a control system that communicates with the heart regulates our heart rate and then causes fight-or-flee responses (fyi, the heart is wrapped by a network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves). The bodily response then feeds back to the nervous systems and allows the nervous system to decide whether you fight or flee. This implies the control systems and the intrinsic control systems talk to each other all the time when deciding what and how to control a variable. Therefore, I am confident to say “Anxiety can be caused by intrinsic errors that accumulate from one or more conflicts between or among control systems that cannot be resolved by higher level” as Powers suggested in B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a sum of intrinsic errors (i.e. hyperventilation, rapid heart beats, excessive sweating, adrenaline, etc) and allows reorganisation. I still haven’t thought of a way to test it. Maybe modelling can help proving it.

In addition, feeling excited also share the same bodily responses as feeling anxious. I am still not sure how we decide when to feel excited or anxious. I believe Warren has a book on the development of psychopathology using PCT framework. I haven’t got a chance to read it yet. It may shed some light on this question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Mak


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On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

  Let's imagine a scenario different from

your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


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Hi everyone, I’ve not got an answer on this, but I do have some questions…

  • will this explanation distinguish clearly from a PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

-is this a model of the immediate state of anxiety or of persistent anxiety? If it’s the former, how clinically important is it? I can see if it is the former, why conflict might not be quite as key. It might be helpful in working with people in acute extreme states of anxiety, i.e. a panic attack now, rather than in the long term. Also see the Six Cs (Moshe Farchi) work on working with acute trauma which could be linked in to PCT this way.

  • related to the above, to what extent is this explanation necessary? We already have a unifying model of chronic psychological distress in mental health problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim Carey, Sara Tai and myself), and we know that the vast majority of people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety disorder, and even if not they would still report anxiety as being a major problem for them (e.g. people with psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to help, I can see the utility of it.

Talk to you soon

Warren

···

On 5 Aug 2019, at 07:06, Eva de Hullu (eva@dehullu.net via csgnet Mailing List) csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.05 07:20 CEST)]

Dear all,

Allow me to reply to Martin and Mak first and in the meantime, to some of the other comments as well.

@Martin. Your notion that anxiety happens when the intermediate level loop is missing more than just the reference level, feels right to me. In my example, the intermediate level loop was missing ‘because’ the reference level was missing. But from your example I understand that anxiety might occur as well in the absence of control (and control systems), when you imagine your child in danger and beyond your control. You could be able to control for the safety of your child on his night out, by limiting his options (don’t go far! Don’t be late!) or by tracking his phone (ouch!). However, your higher order goals of wanting your child to be independent one day, won’t allow you to use these means. So you just can’t regain control on that level, and need to resort to other options (going one level up or waiting out the anxiety until your son comes home).

So my hypothesis could be rephrased to: the absence of control in an intermediate level is essential to the experience of anxiety. I’d say the absence of control in anxiety is not necessarily related to conflicting control systems. Conflict may play a role (for example blocking the generation of new control systems, in the example when I don’t want to lose composure but need to in order to learn how to skateboard).

Top level: I want to control X

Intermediate level: Absent: no means to control X.

Sub levels: Sensations of anxiety.

Resolution in my example: trial and error until it ‘feels right’ and X is under control.

Resolution in Martin’s example: remove the top level of wanting to control for X (He’s grown up now). The error disappears as well, without control for X.

Here I’d like to turn to Mak: Welcome! I’ve had the same experience that a post on CSGnet propelled me into the discussion for the first time. You say ‘stimulates my thinking’, I’d say ‘disturbs my perception of how I understand anxiety’.

I believe your example follows the same structure: Top level: I want to have an opinion on Brexit (because my friend wants me to and I care for my friend’s opinion of me). Intermediate level: I haven’t got an opinion on Brexit. Levels below: anxiety symptoms.

In your response Mak, as well as Bruce’s below, we notice the two aspects of anxiety: cognitive (higher level) and physiological (lower level). We could say that these are the ‘normal control system’ and the ‘intrinsic control systems’, but so far in my thinking I haven’t needed the ‘intrinsic system’ to connect the two.

Imagine that the top level control system wants X, but can’t accomplish X because the intermediate level is missing. There will be error in the top level, that translates to the lowest levels: the sensation (and labeling somewhere higher) of anxious symptoms. The difference between anxiety and excitement might just be that in the case of excitement, higher levels tell you “I want to feel like this” and in case of anxiety, higher levels tell you “I don’t want to feel like this”. From the excitement/anxiety example follows the notion that the levels of symptoms aren’t necessary fixed.

The fight/flight response or action tendencies could as easily be understood as control systems, right? The entire control system ‘decides’ whether you’ll fight or flee, through imagining fleeing and fighting, detecting errors, perceiving possibilities or the absence of possibilities. You’ll do what you have to do in order to regain control. Your system will take care of that, not in ‘response’ to stimuli, but because you are a control system.

Questions and discussion topics that I’ve noticed so far in this discussion:

1.How do we understand anxiety from a PCT perspective?

  • I’m sort of contented with my hypothesis once I include Martin’s suggestion, but I don’t know if this is yet correct. Of course, hypotheses need testing through observations or simulations. But I first need to build the model.
  • I think Bruce’s hypothesis is different. Is it a matter of just getting the right perceptual signal within an existing control system, or the absence of a control system? That’s the question, right?
  1. How does the sustained error in a higher system relate to the symptoms of anxiety in a lower system?
  • This question concerns the relationship between the proposed intrinsic system and the control systems hierarchy. I believe that once we understand how error ‘travels’ through the systems, we’ll understand the whole.
  1. How does depression work according to PCT?
  • I think this is a different question. My first thoughts about it are that depression is a way that the control systems handles sustained error at a high level, through shutting down the control systems at that
    level, when you stop controlling for X, the pain (error) ends. But then
    the entire system (human being) will find itself in a less effective state (slowed down, limited) because control at a high level has become more limited.
  1. How does tolerance work within control systems?
  • Martin’s math and thinking below provides answers to that, right?

Eva

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 11:45 PM Chung Mak csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi Eva and Martin,

Before actually replying to your posts, I think I should introduce myself first. I will be a PhD student working with Warren in Manchester. Our project will be modelling anxiety and control within the PCT framework. I have been following CSGnet for a while (I haven’t managed to read all the threads though). I also start to help out with the technical and archiving side of the CSG net.

Introduction aside, I thank Eva to bring up this topic. Your post stimulate my thinking. I have only just started some preliminary reading so my response may not be comprehensive. Nonetheless, my response as below:

I think the premise “anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist” is incorrect. Please consider this counter example: Your friend ask you about your opinions on Brexit. You never follow politics and are not bothered by it. In very simplistic terms, you do not have a high level control system for Brexit and thus a non-existed reference condition. Your friend further explains why you should care about Brexit because it affects the economy, the exchange rate (therefore, you buy less foreign currency with the same amount of GBP), and you. You feel you need to control something around Brexit (now we can drill down to what Brexit means to you at a lower level which we are not going to discuss). However, you don’t necessarily feel anxious although you feel the need to control the effect of Brexit on yourself and your family.

I believe Anxiety is a product of two systems, namely the control systems and the intrinsic control systems which, Powers suggested, are the nervous systems and the homeostatic systems (e.g. circulation and hormonal systems). In physiology, the human circulation system and hormonal systems plays an important role in anxiety. When the nervous system perceives an anxiety-inducing variable (imagined or actual), a control system that communicates with the heart regulates our heart rate and then causes fight-or-flee responses (fyi, the heart is wrapped by a network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves). The bodily response then feeds back to the nervous systems and allows the nervous system to decide whether you fight or flee. This implies the control systems and the intrinsic control systems talk to each other all the time when deciding what and how to control a variable. Therefore, I am confident to say “Anxiety can be caused by intrinsic errors that accumulate from one or more conflicts between or among control systems that cannot be resolved by higher level” as Powers suggested in B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a sum of intrinsic errors (i.e. hyperventilation, rapid heart beats, excessive sweating, adrenaline, etc) and allows reorganisation. I still haven’t thought of a way to test it. Maybe modelling can help proving it.

In addition, feeling excited also share the same bodily responses as feeling anxious. I am still not sure how we decide when to feel excited or anxious. I believe Warren has a book on the development of psychopathology using PCT framework. I haven’t got a chance to read it yet. It may shed some light on this question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Mak


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On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

  Let's imagine a scenario different from

your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Virus-free. www.avg.com

[Eva de Hullu 2019-09-02_12:13:09 UTC]

Dear everyone,

Sorry to keep this post waiting for a while.

Your questions made me think some more, Warren. Thanks.

WM- will this explanation distinguish clearly from a PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

EH Good question, I sort of lumped them together but thinking about it now, realize that the problem is that we are used to define fear and anxiety in terms of the characteristics of the stimulus. Fear is the response to an immediate, known threat, such as a car racing towards you. Anxiety is the response to an unknown (often future), vague, threat. But from the PCT framework, the stimulus is not the cause and shouldn’t make the difference. Perhaps we could interpret the difference between fear and anxiety as involving perceptions at different levels in the hierarchy? Fear would then be involved with the impossibility to control a lower level perception and anxiety, involving longer time scales and response times, probably at a higher place in the hierarchy. What do you think of that?

WM-is this a model of the immediate state of anxiety or of persistent anxiety? If it’s the former, how clinically important is it? I can see if it is the former, why conflict might not be quite as key. It might be helpful in working with people in acute extreme states of anxiety, i.e. a panic attack now, rather than in the long term. Also see the Six Cs (Moshe Farchi) work on working with acute trauma which could be linked in to PCT this way.

EH My personal goal through all my messages is to get to a better understanding of human functioning through the PCT framework. Clinical importance is not my main concern, but I believe that understanding anxiety and being able to explain the occurrence of fear and anxiety will ultimately prove useful in a clinical setting. Panic might be another topic, since the positive feedback loop (Fear of losing control makes you lose more control, especially if you focus your attention on the signs that control is lost) is involved. We could work on a PCT view of how to cope with extreme anxiety and panic and publish that :slight_smile:

WM- related to the above, to what extent is this explanation necessary? We already have a unifying model of chronic psychological distress in mental health problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim Carey, Sara Tai and myself), and we know that the vast majority of people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety disorder, and even if not they would still report anxiety as being a major problem for them (e.g. people with psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to help, I can see the utility of it.

EH I think there’s more to the perceptual hierarchy than is currently modelled in what I’ve read on PCT and in your work. We could understand (i.e. model) a vast range of emotions (including fear and anxiety) as specific occurrences within a hierarchy of control systems. While distress is the common ground, there’s more information contained in all emotions. For example: you’ll feel glad when you’ve gained control within a level (‘it works’), and happy when control is gained at a higher (important) level (‘I am who I want to be’). You’ll be angry when someone or something limits your control, when your opportunity to gain control is blocked. You’ll feel sad when control that you had, is lost. I know Spinoza’s philosophy fits within this line of thought, but is there a PCT account that would list emotions from a control theory perspective?

EH Finally, I believe what we call a ‘disorder’ in clinical psychology, is the inability to reorganize at the proper place in the hierarchy. As in your model, internal conflict is most often the cause of limited reorganization. So with regard to fear and anxiety: the experience of fear or anxiety is not a problem; it could easily be overcome by reorganization. It’s a problem when reorganization is blocked, and fear or anxiety persist.

Looking forward to next week!

Eva

···

On Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 10:55 AM Warren Mansell csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi everyone, I’ve not got an answer on this, but I do have some questions…

  • will this explanation distinguish clearly from a PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

-is this a model of the immediate state of anxiety or of persistent anxiety? If it’s the former, how clinically important is it? I can see if it is the former, why conflict might not be quite as key. It might be helpful in working with people in acute extreme states of anxiety, i.e. a panic attack now, rather than in the long term. Also see the Six Cs (Moshe Farchi) work on working with acute trauma which could be linked in to PCT this way.

  • related to the above, to what extent is this explanation necessary? We already have a unifying model of chronic psychological distress in mental health problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim Carey, Sara Tai and myself), and we know that the vast majority of people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety disorder, and even if not they would still report anxiety as being a major problem for them (e.g. people with psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to help, I can see the utility of it.

Talk to you soon

Warren

On 5 Aug 2019, at 07:06, Eva de Hullu (eva@dehullu.net via csgnet Mailing List) csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.05 07:20 CEST)]

Dear all,

Allow me to reply to Martin and Mak first and in the meantime, to some of the other comments as well.

@Martin. Your notion that anxiety happens when the intermediate level loop is missing more than just the reference level, feels right to me. In my example, the intermediate level loop was missing ‘because’ the reference level was missing. But from your example I understand that anxiety might occur as well in the absence of control (and control systems), when you imagine your child in danger and beyond your control. You could be able to control for the safety of your child on his night out, by limiting his options (don’t go far! Don’t be late!) or by tracking his phone (ouch!). However, your higher order goals of wanting your child to be independent one day, won’t allow you to use these means. So you just can’t regain control on that level, and need to resort to other options (going one level up or waiting out the anxiety until your son comes home).

So my hypothesis could be rephrased to: the absence of control in an intermediate level is essential to the experience of anxiety. I’d say the absence of control in anxiety is not necessarily related to conflicting control systems. Conflict may play a role (for example blocking the generation of new control systems, in the example when I don’t want to lose composure but need to in order to learn how to skateboard).

Top level: I want to control X

Intermediate level: Absent: no means to control X.

Sub levels: Sensations of anxiety.

Resolution in my example: trial and error until it ‘feels right’ and X is under control.

Resolution in Martin’s example: remove the top level of wanting to control for X (He’s grown up now). The error disappears as well, without control for X.

Here I’d like to turn to Mak: Welcome! I’ve had the same experience that a post on CSGnet propelled me into the discussion for the first time. You say ‘stimulates my thinking’, I’d say ‘disturbs my perception of how I understand anxiety’.

I believe your example follows the same structure: Top level: I want to have an opinion on Brexit (because my friend wants me to and I care for my friend’s opinion of me). Intermediate level: I haven’t got an opinion on Brexit. Levels below: anxiety symptoms.

In your response Mak, as well as Bruce’s below, we notice the two aspects of anxiety: cognitive (higher level) and physiological (lower level). We could say that these are the ‘normal control system’ and the ‘intrinsic control systems’, but so far in my thinking I haven’t needed the ‘intrinsic system’ to connect the two.

Imagine that the top level control system wants X, but can’t accomplish X because the intermediate level is missing. There will be error in the top level, that translates to the lowest levels: the sensation (and labeling somewhere higher) of anxious symptoms. The difference between anxiety and excitement might just be that in the case of excitement, higher levels tell you “I want to feel like this” and in case of anxiety, higher levels tell you “I don’t want to feel like this”. From the excitement/anxiety example follows the notion that the levels of symptoms aren’t necessary fixed.

The fight/flight response or action tendencies could as easily be understood as control systems, right? The entire control system ‘decides’ whether you’ll fight or flee, through imagining fleeing and fighting, detecting errors, perceiving possibilities or the absence of possibilities. You’ll do what you have to do in order to regain control. Your system will take care of that, not in ‘response’ to stimuli, but because you are a control system.

Questions and discussion topics that I’ve noticed so far in this discussion:

1.How do we understand anxiety from a PCT perspective?

  • I’m sort of contented with my hypothesis once I include Martin’s suggestion, but I don’t know if this is yet correct. Of course, hypotheses need testing through observations or simulations. But I first need to build the model.
  • I think Bruce’s hypothesis is different. Is it a matter of just getting the right perceptual signal within an existing control system, or the absence of a control system? That’s the question, right?
  1. How does the sustained error in a higher system relate to the symptoms of anxiety in a lower system?
  • This question concerns the relationship between the proposed intrinsic system and the control systems hierarchy. I believe that once we understand how error ‘travels’ through the systems, we’ll understand the whole.
  1. How does depression work according to PCT?
  • I think this is a different question. My first thoughts about it are that depression is a way that the control systems handles sustained error at a high level, through shutting down the control systems at that
    level, when you stop controlling for X, the pain (error) ends. But then
    the entire system (human being) will find itself in a less effective state (slowed down, limited) because control at a high level has become more limited.
  1. How does tolerance work within control systems?
  • Martin’s math and thinking below provides answers to that, right?

Eva

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 11:45 PM Chung Mak csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi Eva and Martin,

Before actually replying to your posts, I think I should introduce myself first. I will be a PhD student working with Warren in Manchester. Our project will be modelling anxiety and control within the PCT framework. I have been following CSGnet for a while (I haven’t managed to read all the threads though). I also start to help out with the technical and archiving side of the CSG net.

Introduction aside, I thank Eva to bring up this topic. Your post stimulate my thinking. I have only just started some preliminary reading so my response may not be comprehensive. Nonetheless, my response as below:

I think the premise “anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist” is incorrect. Please consider this counter example: Your friend ask you about your opinions on Brexit. You never follow politics and are not bothered by it. In very simplistic terms, you do not have a high level control system for Brexit and thus a non-existed reference condition. Your friend further explains why you should care about Brexit because it affects the economy, the exchange rate (therefore, you buy less foreign currency with the same amount of GBP), and you. You feel you need to control something around Brexit (now we can drill down to what Brexit means to you at a lower level which we are not going to discuss). However, you don’t necessarily feel anxious although you feel the need to control the effect of Brexit on yourself and your family.

I believe Anxiety is a product of two systems, namely the control systems and the intrinsic control systems which, Powers suggested, are the nervous systems and the homeostatic systems (e.g. circulation and hormonal systems). In physiology, the human circulation system and hormonal systems plays an important role in anxiety. When the nervous system perceives an anxiety-inducing variable (imagined or actual), a control system that communicates with the heart regulates our heart rate and then causes fight-or-flee responses (fyi, the heart is wrapped by a network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves). The bodily response then feeds back to the nervous systems and allows the nervous system to decide whether you fight or flee. This implies the control systems and the intrinsic control systems talk to each other all the time when deciding what and how to control a variable. Therefore, I am confident to say “Anxiety can be caused by intrinsic errors that accumulate from one or more conflicts between or among control systems that cannot be resolved by higher level” as Powers suggested in B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a sum of intrinsic errors (i.e. hyperventilation, rapid heart beats, excessive sweating, adrenaline, etc) and allows reorganisation. I still haven’t thought of a way to test it. Maybe modelling can help proving it.

In addition, feeling excited also share the same bodily responses as feeling anxious. I am still not sure how we decide when to feel excited or anxious. I believe Warren has a book on the development of psychopathology using PCT framework. I haven’t got a chance to read it yet. It may shed some light on this question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Mak


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On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

  Let's imagine a scenario different from

your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Virus-free. www.avg.com

Thanks Eva, yes let’s continue the discussion next week!

All the best

Warren

···

On 2 Sep 2019, at 13:13, Eva de Hullu eva@dehullu.net wrote:

[Eva de Hullu 2019-09-02_12:13:09 UTC]

Dear everyone,

Sorry to keep this post waiting for a while.

Your questions made me think some more, Warren. Thanks.

WM- will this explanation distinguish clearly from a PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

EH Good question, I sort of lumped them together but thinking about it now, realize that the problem is that we are used to define fear and anxiety in terms of the characteristics of the stimulus. Fear is the response to an immediate, known threat, such as a car racing towards you. Anxiety is the response to an unknown (often future), vague, threat. But from the PCT framework, the stimulus is not the cause and shouldn’t make the difference. Perhaps we could interpret the difference between fear and anxiety as involving perceptions at different levels in the hierarchy? Fear would then be involved with the impossibility to control a lower level perception and anxiety, involving longer time scales and response times, probably at a higher place in the hierarchy. What do you think of that?

WM-is this a model of the immediate state of anxiety or of persistent anxiety? If it’s the former, how clinically important is it? I can see if it is the former, why conflict might not be quite as key. It might be helpful in working with people in acute extreme states of anxiety, i.e. a panic attack now, rather than in the long term. Also see the Six Cs (Moshe Farchi) work on working with acute trauma which could be linked in to PCT this way.

EH My personal goal through all my messages is to get to a better understanding of human functioning through the PCT framework. Clinical importance is not my main concern, but I believe that understanding anxiety and being able to explain the occurrence of fear and anxiety will ultimately prove useful in a clinical setting. Panic might be another topic, since the positive feedback loop (Fear of losing control makes you lose more control, especially if you focus your attention on the signs that control is lost) is involved. We could work on a PCT view of how to cope with extreme anxiety and panic and publish that :slight_smile:

WM- related to the above, to what extent is this explanation necessary? We already have a unifying model of chronic psychological distress in mental health problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim Carey, Sara Tai and myself), and we know that the vast majority of people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety disorder, and even if not they would still report anxiety as being a major problem for them (e.g. people with psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to help, I can see the utility of it.

EH I think there’s more to the perceptual hierarchy than is currently modelled in what I’ve read on PCT and in your work. We could understand (i.e. model) a vast range of emotions (including fear and anxiety) as specific occurrences within a hierarchy of control systems. While distress is the common ground, there’s more information contained in all emotions. For example: you’ll feel glad when you’ve gained control within a level (‘it works’), and happy when control is gained at a higher (important) level (‘I am who I want to be’). You’ll be angry when someone or something limits your control, when your opportunity to gain control is blocked. You’ll feel sad when control that you had, is lost. I know Spinoza’s philosophy fits within this line of thought, but is there a PCT account that would list emotions from a control theory perspective?

EH Finally, I believe what we call a ‘disorder’ in clinical psychology, is the inability to reorganize at the proper place in the hierarchy. As in your model, internal conflict is most often the cause of limited reorganization. So with regard to fear and anxiety: the experience of fear or anxiety is not a problem; it could easily be overcome by reorganization. It’s a problem when reorganization is blocked, and fear or anxiety persist.

Looking forward to next week!

Eva

On Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 10:55 AM Warren Mansell csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi everyone, I’ve not got an answer on this, but I do have some questions…

  • will this explanation distinguish clearly from a PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

-is this a model of the immediate state of anxiety or of persistent anxiety? If it’s the former, how clinically important is it? I can see if it is the former, why conflict might not be quite as key. It might be helpful in working with people in acute extreme states of anxiety, i.e. a panic attack now, rather than in the long term. Also see the Six Cs (Moshe Farchi) work on working with acute trauma which could be linked in to PCT this way.

  • related to the above, to what extent is this explanation necessary? We already have a unifying model of chronic psychological distress in mental health problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim Carey, Sara Tai and myself), and we know that the vast majority of people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety disorder, and even if not they would still report anxiety as being a major problem for them (e.g. people with psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to help, I can see the utility of it.

Talk to you soon

Warren

On 5 Aug 2019, at 07:06, Eva de Hullu (eva@dehullu.net via csgnet Mailing List) csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.05 07:20 CEST)]

Dear all,

Allow me to reply to Martin and Mak first and in the meantime, to some of the other comments as well.

@Martin. Your notion that anxiety happens when the intermediate level loop is missing more than just the reference level, feels right to me. In my example, the intermediate level loop was missing ‘because’ the reference level was missing. But from your example I understand that anxiety might occur as well in the absence of control (and control systems), when you imagine your child in danger and beyond your control. You could be able to control for the safety of your child on his night out, by limiting his options (don’t go far! Don’t be late!) or by tracking his phone (ouch!). However, your higher order goals of wanting your child to be independent one day, won’t allow you to use these means. So you just can’t regain control on that level, and need to resort to other options (going one level up or waiting out the anxiety until your son comes home).

So my hypothesis could be rephrased to: the absence of control in an intermediate level is essential to the experience of anxiety. I’d say the absence of control in anxiety is not necessarily related to conflicting control systems. Conflict may play a role (for example blocking the generation of new control systems, in the example when I don’t want to lose composure but need to in order to learn how to skateboard).

Top level: I want to control X

Intermediate level: Absent: no means to control X.

Sub levels: Sensations of anxiety.

Resolution in my example: trial and error until it ‘feels right’ and X is under control.

Resolution in Martin’s example: remove the top level of wanting to control for X (He’s grown up now). The error disappears as well, without control for X.

Here I’d like to turn to Mak: Welcome! I’ve had the same experience that a post on CSGnet propelled me into the discussion for the first time. You say ‘stimulates my thinking’, I’d say ‘disturbs my perception of how I understand anxiety’.

I believe your example follows the same structure: Top level: I want to have an opinion on Brexit (because my friend wants me to and I care for my friend’s opinion of me). Intermediate level: I haven’t got an opinion on Brexit. Levels below: anxiety symptoms.

In your response Mak, as well as Bruce’s below, we notice the two aspects of anxiety: cognitive (higher level) and physiological (lower level). We could say that these are the ‘normal control system’ and the ‘intrinsic control systems’, but so far in my thinking I haven’t needed the ‘intrinsic system’ to connect the two.

Imagine that the top level control system wants X, but can’t accomplish X because the intermediate level is missing. There will be error in the top level, that translates to the lowest levels: the sensation (and labeling somewhere higher) of anxious symptoms. The difference between anxiety and excitement might just be that in the case of excitement, higher levels tell you “I want to feel like this” and in case of anxiety, higher levels tell you “I don’t want to feel like this”. From the excitement/anxiety example follows the notion that the levels of symptoms aren’t necessary fixed.

The fight/flight response or action tendencies could as easily be understood as control systems, right? The entire control system ‘decides’ whether you’ll fight or flee, through imagining fleeing and fighting, detecting errors, perceiving possibilities or the absence of possibilities. You’ll do what you have to do in order to regain control. Your system will take care of that, not in ‘response’ to stimuli, but because you are a control system.

Questions and discussion topics that I’ve noticed so far in this discussion:

1.How do we understand anxiety from a PCT perspective?

  • I’m sort of contented with my hypothesis once I include Martin’s suggestion, but I don’t know if this is yet correct. Of course, hypotheses need testing through observations or simulations. But I first need to build the model.
  • I think Bruce’s hypothesis is different. Is it a matter of just getting the right perceptual signal within an existing control system, or the absence of a control system? That’s the question, right?
  1. How does the sustained error in a higher system relate to the symptoms of anxiety in a lower system?
  • This question concerns the relationship between the proposed intrinsic system and the control systems hierarchy. I believe that once we understand how error ‘travels’ through the systems, we’ll understand the whole.
  1. How does depression work according to PCT?
  • I think this is a different question. My first thoughts about it are that depression is a way that the control systems handles sustained error at a high level, through shutting down the control systems at that
    level, when you stop controlling for X, the pain (error) ends. But then
    the entire system (human being) will find itself in a less effective state (slowed down, limited) because control at a high level has become more limited.
  1. How does tolerance work within control systems?
  • Martin’s math and thinking below provides answers to that, right?

Eva

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 11:45 PM Chung Mak csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

Hi Eva and Martin,

Before actually replying to your posts, I think I should introduce myself first. I will be a PhD student working with Warren in Manchester. Our project will be modelling anxiety and control within the PCT framework. I have been following CSGnet for a while (I haven’t managed to read all the threads though). I also start to help out with the technical and archiving side of the CSG net.

Introduction aside, I thank Eva to bring up this topic. Your post stimulate my thinking. I have only just started some preliminary reading so my response may not be comprehensive. Nonetheless, my response as below:

I think the premise “anxiety happens when a reference value for a needed control system does not exist” is incorrect. Please consider this counter example: Your friend ask you about your opinions on Brexit. You never follow politics and are not bothered by it. In very simplistic terms, you do not have a high level control system for Brexit and thus a non-existed reference condition. Your friend further explains why you should care about Brexit because it affects the economy, the exchange rate (therefore, you buy less foreign currency with the same amount of GBP), and you. You feel you need to control something around Brexit (now we can drill down to what Brexit means to you at a lower level which we are not going to discuss). However, you don’t necessarily feel anxious although you feel the need to control the effect of Brexit on yourself and your family.

I believe Anxiety is a product of two systems, namely the control systems and the intrinsic control systems which, Powers suggested, are the nervous systems and the homeostatic systems (e.g. circulation and hormonal systems). In physiology, the human circulation system and hormonal systems plays an important role in anxiety. When the nervous system perceives an anxiety-inducing variable (imagined or actual), a control system that communicates with the heart regulates our heart rate and then causes fight-or-flee responses (fyi, the heart is wrapped by a network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves). The bodily response then feeds back to the nervous systems and allows the nervous system to decide whether you fight or flee. This implies the control systems and the intrinsic control systems talk to each other all the time when deciding what and how to control a variable. Therefore, I am confident to say “Anxiety can be caused by intrinsic errors that accumulate from one or more conflicts between or among control systems that cannot be resolved by higher level” as Powers suggested in B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a sum of intrinsic errors (i.e. hyperventilation, rapid heart beats, excessive sweating, adrenaline, etc) and allows reorganisation. I still haven’t thought of a way to test it. Maybe modelling can help proving it.

In addition, feeling excited also share the same bodily responses as feeling anxious. I am still not sure how we decide when to feel excited or anxious. I believe Warren has a book on the development of psychopathology using PCT framework. I haven’t got a chance to read it yet. It may shed some light on this question.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Mak


Virus-free. www.avg.com

On Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor csgnet@lists.illinois.edu wrote:

[Martin Taylor 2019.08.02,16,11]

  Let's imagine a scenario different from

your skateboard scenario. You have a teenage son who recently got
his driving licence, and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might you be anxious? You
definitely have a reference value for perceiving him later in the
evening coming happy through the front door, but, as with the
skateboard scenario, you have no means to control for achieving
that perceptual state. As time wears on, and it gets later and
later without your seeing him, might you not get more and more
anxious, even though nothing changed in your ability to control
for achieving a perceptual value equal to its reference value?
After a while, might your anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person to come to the door, your
son or a policeman? You certainly would have a reference for it to
be your son, but again you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

  What I get from your actual text is that the lack of ability to

control, or rather, the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to control, not the reference
value for any of these non-existent loops, that correlates with
anxiety. As another scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane (actually an air-liner)
flying overhead, and I would always be anxious about whether that
plane might be a Soviet bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no conceivable way to learn
techniques for controlling the perception of the identity of the
plane, but inability to do so could easily be construed as
functionally associated, perhaps causally, with my anxiety.

  So I might agree with most or all of your posting if you delete in

the lead paragraph “a reference value for”, and make corresponding
edits where needed elsewhere.

  Martin

[From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02 21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

          I'm thinking about how to explain anxiety from a PCT

perspective, and wrote an outline (below) in which my
hypothesis is that anxiety happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does not exist. I’d love to
hear your thoughts about it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate to other people’s
thoughts and papers?

Eva

          PS. I'm travelling, so I will not be able to respond

immediately or elaborately. I’ll carefully read responses
nonetheless and will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

          --> this text will be updated (and comments are

welcome) at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


Virus-free. www.avg.com

[Martin Taylor 2019.09.02.14.22]

The stimulus is not the cause, but it is the disturbance. Taking

what you say, Fear occurs when you have an unresolved choice but a
distinct immediate choice such as “Fight or Flight”, especially when
neither appears to lead to safety and a return to ability to control
in some part of of your perceptual control hierarchy. As you say,
Fear tends to be immediate, Anxiety tends, as you say, to be diffuse
(and I think always about what you might perceive and might do about
whatever that might turn out to be in the future). There’s very
little uncertainty about the perception that is associated with
Fear, and the problem is what to do about it, whereas for Anxiety,
the problem is the uncertainty about what you may perceive, which
entails uncertainty about what action you may need to take when or
if a “bad” perception finally occurs, but not necessarily about
which appropriate error-reducing action will be effective at the
time.
I doubt it for two reasons: (1) If an error can be corrected by
actions entirely in the non-conscious hierarchy, neither fear nor
anxiety would be experienced, so we must be talking, at least in
part, about control in consciousness where the rules are rather
different and more amorphous. If the hierarchy cannot handle it, we
are looking at probable reorganization. And the experience is itself
conscious, which may tell us something. (2) I see no sense of
“level” in the distinction of what we may fear and about what we may
be anxious. We may see a snake and fear it’s bite, or we may be
anxious about whether what we see is a snake that might bite. Both
are about the possibility of snake bite, but in fear we perceive
that thing as a snake (later we discover it to be a discarded piece
of garden hose), whereas in anxiety we perceive something and are
concerned whether it is a snake or a piece of garden hose. These
seem to me to be at the same level.
That’s a nice example of the “Bomb in the Machine” that I first
discussed with Bill at the '93 CSG meeting.
Don’t forget the interactions between the the non-conscious
hierarchy, conscious control, and the physiological feedback
structure. Not everything is in the non-conscious hierarchy.
Yes. I assume that in my definition of “Value” in my Manchester
talk, though it isn’t central to the argument.
Even when you come to a traffic light that is red?
Could be, though I would replace “at the proper place” with “in the
effective region”
Me too.
Martin

···

[Eva de Hullu 2019-09-02_12:13:09 UTC]

Dear everyone,

Sorry to keep this post waiting for a while.

          Your questions made me think some more, Warren.

Thanks.

          WM- will this explanation distinguish clearly from a

PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

          EH Good question, I sort of lumped them together but

thinking about it now, realize that the problem is that we
are used to define fear and anxiety in terms of the
characteristics of the stimulus. Fear is the response to
an immediate, known threat, such as a car racing towards
you. Anxiety is the response to an unknown (often future),
vague, threat. But from the PCT framework, the stimulus is
not the cause and shouldn’t make the difference.

          Perhaps we could interpret the difference between fear

and anxiety as involving perceptions at different levels
in the hierarchy? Fear would then be involved with the
impossibility to control a lower level perception and
anxiety, involving longer time scales and response times,
probably at a higher place in the hierarchy. What do you
think of that?

WM-is this a model of the immediate state of anxiety or of persistent anxiety ? If it’s the former, how
clinically important is it? I can see if it is the former,
why conflict might not be quite as key. It might be
helpful in working with people in acute extreme states of anxiety , i.e. a panic attack
now, rather than in the long term. Also see the Six Cs
(Moshe Farchi )
work on working with acute trauma which could be linked in
to PCT this way.

          EH My personal goal through all my messages is to get

to a better understanding of human functioning through the
PCT framework. Clinical importance is not my main concern,
but I believe that understanding anxiety and being able to
explain the occurrence of fear and anxiety will ultimately
prove useful in a clinical setting. Panic might be another
topic, since the positive feedback loop (Fear of losing
control makes you lose more control, especially if you
focus your attention on the signs that control is lost) is
involved.

          We could work on a PCT view of how to cope with

extreme anxiety and panic and publish that :slight_smile:

                      WM- related to the above, to what

extent is this explanation necessary? We
already have a unifying model of chronic
psychological distress in mental health
problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim
Carey, Sara Tai and
myself), and we know that the vast majority of
people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety disorder,
and even if not they would still report anxiety as being a
major problem for them (e.g. people with
psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to
explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to
help, I can see the utility of it.

                      EH I think there's more to the perceptual

hierarchy than is currently modelled in what
I’ve read on PCT and in your work. We could
understand (i.e. model) a vast range of
emotions (including fear and anxiety) as
specific occurrences within a hierarchy of
control systems.

                      While distress is the common ground,

there’s more information contained in all
emotions. For example: you’ll feel glad when
you’ve gained control within a level (‘it
works’), and happy when control is gained at a
higher (important) level (‘I am who I want to
be’)

                      . You'll be angry when someone or something

limits your control, when your opportunity to
gain control is blocked.

                      You'll feel sad when control that you had,

is lost. I know Spinoza’s philosophy fits
within this line of thought, but is there a
PCT account that would list emotions from a
control theory perspective?

                      EH Finally, I believe what we call a

‘disorder’ in clinical psychology, is the
inability to reorganize at the proper place in
the hierarchy. As in your model, internal
conflict is most often the cause of limited
reorganization. So with regard to fear and
anxiety: the experience of fear or anxiety is
not a problem; it could easily be overcome by
reorganization. It’s a problem when
reorganization is blocked, and fear or anxiety
persist.

Looking forward to next week!

Eva

        On Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 10:55

AM Warren Mansell <csgnet@lists.illinois.edu >
wrote:

            Hi everyone, I’ve not got an answer on

this, but I do have some questions…

            - will this explanation distinguish clearly

from a PCT explanation of ‘fear’?

            -is this a model of the immediate state of

anxiety or of persistent anxiety? If it’s the former,
how clinically important is it? I can see if it is the
former, why conflict might not be quite as key. It might
be helpful in working with people in acute extreme
states of anxiety, i.e. a panic attack now, rather than
in the long term. Also see the Six Cs (Moshe Farchi)
work on working with acute trauma which could be linked
in to PCT this way.

            - related to the above, to what extent is

this explanation necessary? We already have a unifying
model of chronic psychological distress in mental health
problems (started by Powers, continued by Tim Carey,
Sara Tai and myself), and we know that the vast majority
of people with these problems have a comorbid anxiety
disorder, and even if not they would still report
anxiety as being a major problem for them (e.g. people
with psychosis or depression). But if the aim is to
explain the immediate state of anxiety and how to help,
I can see the utility of it.

Talk to you soon

Warren

            On 5 Aug 2019, at 07:06, Eva de Hullu (eva@dehullu.net via csgnet

Mailing List) <csgnet@lists.illinois.edu >
wrote:

[From Eva de
Hullu
(2019.08.05 07:20 CEST)]

Dear all,

Allow me to reply to Martin and Mak
first and in the meantime, to some of the other
comments as well.

                    @Martin. Your notion that anxiety happens

when the intermediate level loop is missing more
than just the reference level, feels right to
me. In my example, the intermediate level loop
was missing ‘because’ the reference level was
missing. But from your example I understand that
anxiety might occur as well in the absence of
control (and control systems), when you imagine
your child in danger and beyond your control.
You could be able to control for the safety of
your child on his night out, by limiting his
options (don’t go far! Don’t be late!) or by
tracking his phone (ouch !).
However, your higher order goals of wanting your
child to be independent one day, won’t allow you
to use these means. So you just can’t regain
control on that level, and need to resort to
other options (going one level up or waiting out
the anxiety until your son comes home).

                    So my hypothesis could be rephrased to: the

absence of control in an intermediate level is
essential to the experience of anxiety. I’d say
the absence of control in anxiety is not
necessarily related to conflicting control
systems. Conflict may play a role (for example
blocking the generation of new control systems,
in the example when I don’t want to lose
composure but need to in order to learn how to
skateboard).

Top level: I want to control X

                    Intermediate level: Absent: no means to

control X.

Sub levels: Sensations of anxiety.

                    Resolution in my example: trial and error

until it ‘feels right’ and X is under control.

                    Resolution in Martin's example: remove the

top level of wanting to control for X (He’s
grown up now). The error disappears as well,
without control for X.

Here I’d like to turn to Mak :
Welcome! I’ve had the same experience that a
post on CSGnet
propelled me into the discussion for the first
time. You say ‘stimulates my thinking’, I’d say
‘disturbs my perception of how I understand
anxiety’.

                    I believe your example follows the same

structure: Top level: I want to have an opinion
on Brexit
(because my friend wants me to and I care for my
friend’s opinion of me). Intermediate level: I
haven’t got an opinion on Brexit .
Levels below: anxiety symptoms.

In your response Mak ,
as well as Bruce’s below, we notice the two
aspects of anxiety: cognitive (higher level) and
physiological (lower level). We could say that
these are the ‘normal control system’ and the
‘intrinsic control systems’, but so far in my
thinking I haven’t needed the ‘intrinsic system’
to connect the two.

                    Imagine that the top level control system

wants X, but can’t accomplish X because the
intermediate level is missing. There will be
error in the top level, that translates to the
lowest levels: the sensation (and labeling
somewhere higher) of anxious symptoms. The
difference between anxiety and excitement might
just be that in the case of excitement, higher
levels tell you “I want to feel like this” and
in case of anxiety, higher levels tell you “I
don’t want to feel like this”. From the
excitement/anxiety example follows the notion
that the levels of symptoms aren’t necessary
fixed.

                    The fight/flight response or action

tendencies could as easily be understood as
control systems, right? The entire control
system ‘decides’ whether you’ll fight or flee,
through imagining fleeing and fighting,
detecting errors, perceiving possibilities or
the absence of possibilities. You’ll do what you
have to do in order to regain control. Your
system will take care of that, not in ‘response’
to stimuli, but because you are a control
system.

                    Questions and discussion topics that I've

noticed so far in this discussion:

                    1.How do we understand anxiety from a PCT

perspective?

  •                         I'm sort of contented with my hypothesis
    
    once I include Martin’s suggestion, but I
    don’t know if this is yet correct. Of
    course, hypotheses need testing through
    observations or simulations. But I first
    need to build the model.
  •                         I think Bruce's hypothesis is different.
    
    Is it a matter of just getting the right
    perceptual signal within an existing control
    system, or the absence of a control system?
    That’s the question, right?
    2. How does the sustained error in a higher system
    relate to the symptoms of anxiety in a lower
    system?
  •                         This question concerns the relationship
    
    between the proposed intrinsic system and
    the control systems hierarchy. I believe
    that once we understand how error ‘travels’
    through the systems, we’ll understand the
    whole.
  1. How does depression work according to PCT?
  •                         I think this is a different question. My
    
    first thoughts about it are that depression
    is a way that the control systems handles
    sustained error at a high level, through
    shutting down the control systems at that
    level, when you stop controlling for X, the
    pain (error) ends. But then the entire
    system (human being) will find itself in a
    less effective state (slowed down, limited)
    because control at a high level has become
    more limited.
    4. How does tolerance work within control
    systems?
  •                         Martin's math and thinking below provides
    
    answers to that, right?

Eva

                  On Fri, Aug 2,

2019 at 11:45 PM Chung Mak <csgnet@lists.illinois.edu >
wrote:

Hi Eva and Martin,

                                  Before actually replying to

your posts, I think I should
introduce myself first. I will be
a PhD student working with Warren
in Manchester. Our project will be
modelling anxiety and control
within the PCT framework. I have
been following CSGnet for a while
(I haven’t managed to read all the
threads though). I also start to
help out with the technical and
archiving side of the CSG net.

                                  Introduction aside, I thank Eva

to bring up this topic. Your post
stimulate my thinking. I have only
just started some preliminary
reading so my response may not be
comprehensive. Nonetheless, my
response as below:

I think the premise " anxiety
happens when a reference value
for a needed control system does
not exist" is incorrect. Please
consider this counter example:
Your friend ask you about your
opinions on Brexit. You never
follow politics and are not
bothered by it. In very
simplistic terms, you do not
have a high level control system
for Brexit and thus a
non-existed reference condition.
Your friend further explains why
you should care about Brexit
because it affects the economy,
the exchange rate (therefore,
you buy less foreign currency
with the same amount of GBP),
and you. You feel you need to
control something around Brexit
(now we can drill down to what
Brexit means to you at a lower
level which we are not going to
discuss). However, you don’t
necessarily feel anxious
although you feel the need to
control the effect of Brexit on
yourself and your family.

                                    I

believe Anxiety is a product of
two systems, namely the control
systems
and the intrinsic control
systems which, Powers
suggested, are the nervous
systems and the homeostatic
systems (e.g. circulation and
hormonal systems). In
physiology, the human
circulation system and hormonal
systems plays an important role
in anxiety. When the nervous
system perceives an
anxiety-inducing variable
(imagined or actual), a control
system that communicates with
the heart regulates our heart
rate and then causes
fight-or-flee responses (fyi,
the heart is wrapped by a
network of
sympathetic and
parasympathetic nerves).
The bodily response then feeds
back to the nervous systems and
allows the nervous system to
decide whether you fight or
flee. This implies the control
systems and the intrinsic
control systems talk to each
other all the time when deciding
what and how to control a
variable. Therefore, I am
confident to say “Anxiety can be
caused by intrinsic
errors that accumulate from one
or more conflicts between or
among control systems that
cannot be resolved by higher
level” as Powers suggested in
B:CP (2005). Anxiety can be a
sum of intrinsic errors (i.e.
hyperventilation, rapid heart
beats, excessive sweating,
adrenaline, etc) and allows
reorganisation. I still haven’t
thought of a way to test it.
Maybe modelling can help proving
it.

                                    In

addition, f eeling
excited also share the same
bodily responses as feeling
anxious.
I am still not sure how we
decide when to feel excited or
anxious. I believe Warren has
a book on the development of
psychopathology using PCT
framework. I haven’t got a
chance to read it yet. It may
shed some light on this
question.

                                  Looking forward to hearing from

you,

Mak


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                      On Fri, Aug 2,

2019 at 9:35 PM Martin Taylor <csgnet@lists.illinois.edu >
wrote:

                        [Martin Taylor

2019.08.02,16,11]

                          Let's

imagine a scenario different from your
skateboard scenario. You have a teenage
son who recently got his driving licence,
and you have permitted him to drive his
girlfriend proudly to a dinner date. Might
you be anxious? You definitely have a
reference value for perceiving him later
in the evening coming happy through the
front door, but, as with the skateboard
scenario, you have no means to control for
achieving that perceptual state. As time
wears on, and it gets later and later
without your seeing him, might you not get
more and more anxious, even though nothing
changed in your ability to control for
achieving a perceptual value equal to its
reference value? After a while, might your
anxiety change its reference source to a
question of who will be the first person
to come to the door, your son or a
policeman? You certainly would have a
reference for it to be your son, but again
you have no way to influence what you will
perceive.

                          What I get from your actual text is that

the lack of ability to control, or rather,
the lack of intermediate-level loops that
would affect the perception you want to
control, not the reference value for any
of these non-existent loops, that
correlates with anxiety. As another
scenario from my youth, I would be playing
golf and would often see a large plane
(actually an air-liner) flying overhead,
and I would always be anxious about
whether that plane might be a Soviet
bomber about to drop an atom bomb on
Edinburgh. There would have been no
conceivable way to learn techniques for
controlling the perception of the identity
of the plane, but inability to do so could
easily be construed as functionally
associated, perhaps causally, with my
anxiety.

                          So I might agree with most or all of your

posting if you delete in the lead
paragraph “a reference value for”, and
make corresponding edits where needed
elsewhere.

                          Martin
                                  [From Eva de Hullu (2019.08.02

21:46 CEST)

Dear all,

                                  I'm thinking about how to

explain anxiety from a PCT
perspective, and wrote an outline
(below) in which my hypothesis is
that anxiety happens when a
reference value for a needed
control system does not exist. I’d
love to hear your thoughts about
it, do you think I’m on the right
track here? How does this relate
to other people’s thoughts and
papers?

Eva

                                  PS. I'm travelling, so I will

not be able to respond immediately
or elaborately. I’ll carefully
read responses nonetheless and
will react in time.

Understanding Anxiety from a PCT perspective

This is an effort to understand anxiety and explain its symptoms from a perceptual control theory perspective.

We’ll start with an example.

Imagine that you’re trying to ride a skateboard, for the very first time in your life. You have no idea at all how to stay upright and ride the board, while it’s rolling.

There are several ways this scenario could pan out. First, you could lift your foot off the ground, place it on the board, look in the direction you’d like to roll, and start rolling. You’ll get the feeling! Now the second time you ride the board, it will be your second time in your life, and you know how it feels. You can probably do this again.

A second scenario could go like this: You imagine lifting your foot from the floor, and falling over backwards, hurting your head and landing yourself in hospital. The moment you hesitantly lift your foot, you feel the board starting to roll and you immediately step off the board, safely on the ground. It’s probably not for you.

A scenario in between would be something like you stepping on the board, feeling insecure for a moment, stepping off again, trying again and slowly starting to feel more confident. But in understanding anxiety, we’ll start from the extremes.

Anxiety is the absence of control in a context where you want to have control. Control from a PCT perspective means that you are able to have the experience you want to experience. In the skateboard example, you’ll want to ride the skateboard smoothly. If you manage that, you’ll have control. If you want to ride the board, but you can’t manage to, you don’t control the perception of yourself riding the board.

If you don’t control a perception that you don’t want to control, there’s no problem. I never have wanted to ride a skateboard, so it’s not something I’m anxious about. The wanting to control a certain perception, is a central aspect of anxiety: it’s the reference point, your goal.

You want something that you’re not yet able to accomplish. You’re not able to accomplish your goal, because you haven’t got the reference of how your goal should be, yet. You know you want to ride a skateboard, but you haven’t got the reference to guide you through the motions yet. You haven’t got a sense for the right posture. You have never experienced it before.

We can look at this situation through the hierarchical levels of perceptions.

The highest order goal (the why) is that you want to be able to ride a skateboard, for reasons that are important to you, such as to gain street credibility. You want to be a person that rides a skateboard. In order to do so (the how), you need to have to develop skills to ride the skateboard, consisting of certain motions and body positions. These motions and positions together form a reference for ‘skateboarding.’ Skateboarding is a single perception, consisting of many lower-level perceptions (the motions and positions).

In order:

  • System concepts level: To be a person that’s able to skateboard
  • Principle level: To find myself skateboarding
  • Program level: various postures and moves that help me ride the board, using all the lower level systems.

So the control that needs to be established is at the principle level. There’s no reference yet inside my system that tells the lower level systems how skateboarding done right, feels. So all the postures and moves that I try, are unguided and disconnected. And still I want to be able to skateboard, the highest level tells me. So there’s a gap in the control system hierarchy.

This gap, the missing reference on the principle level, can be filled from two directions. One is top-down, if somehow the higher system could specify all the correct programs to run. But that’s the most difficult route for a thing such as skateboarding, better try bottom up: once you experience how skateboarding feels, you’ll be able to use that perception as a future reference for skateboarding. In order to get this perception, you need to find yourself in a situation where by chance and persistence (and some help from an expert perhaps), all the lower level systems are aligned well enough to keep you on the rolling board. At the moment where you’ll get the feeling that you’ve got it, you’ve got this new perception and you’ve gained control (albeit fragile) of this new skill.

Back to anxiety. So we understand that anxiety accompanies this situation where you want to control something, but need to experience loss of control (acting in the absence of control: jumping on the board) before control is gained. Without a successful experience, anxiety persists.

This temporary loss of control is not a problem for many of us. We step into the unknown hesitantly, but step forward nonetheless. We accept the risk, the slight feeling of insecurity.

The problem starts when you don’t accept this moment without control, for example because you’ve got a higher order reference to be composed and well mannered at all times. Loss of composure would then conflict with this higher level goal, and you’d avoid finding yourself in a situation where you lose control both of the lower level goals (skateboarding) and the higher level goal of preserving a favorable self-image.

Once you are anxious, the lower levels of our control systems, your sensations, start demanding attention. Whatever you’re doing: it doesn’t feel right. You’re trembling, sweating, heart pounding. These are unwanted sensations (errors): you probably don’t want to feel like that. Again, some higher level systems guide how you want to feel, and these demand that these sensations return back to normal. So there’s another incentive to quit trying to ride the skateboard (or ask for proper help).

Perceptual Control theory poses that when there’s no control within a set of control systems, attention is directed towards these systems. Depending on the level involved, this could have the form of attention, awareness or consciousness. Wherever attention is directed, that’s where the control systems generate random outputs in order to regain control within that system. These are random references (‘make it so’) to lower-level systems, or actions (at the lowest systems).

What happens to attention in case of anxiety? Attention goes to the perceptions of anxiety sensations: the trembling, sweating. And to the highest level system, where you want to ride the skateboard. But since there is not yet a control system that guides riding the skateboard on the principle level, attention cannot be directed towards that system. It’s not yet complete, because there is no reference yet.

Attention is needed at the level below the demanding control system: at the program level, where all the moves and postures are taken care of. It’s like concentrating on the task: when you do that, all attention is used to generate the best possible solutions for all those control systems, until the higher level systems senses that control is gained: now you’re rolling!

                                  --> this text will be

updated (and comments are welcome)
at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1A0IL2sQejZQQBKW68Fyp6LAW5VABVypbcOr6H8JooCQ/edit?usp=sharing


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This is really in response to discussion of a proposal for presentation at the 2020 conference. I think that thread did not get posted here on Discourse. But this topic is in the same vein, so I hope these thoughts are consistent with both.

I strongly agree with the emphasis that you and Ger put on these processes and their relevance for MoL.

You may have seen my earlier posts about Bill’s discussion of emotion, the somal branch of the hierarchy, and so on. Commonly, functions in the limbic system are described as making rapid situational snap judgements. My supposition is that they associate current perceptual input signals with memory. Systems receiving current input have in the past concurrently received and controlled other signals which are not present in input from the environment, but which are now evoked from memory and included in further input at this level and at higher levels. Functions in the limbic system ready the body for ‘fight-flee-freeze-fawn’ control of these perceptions. Sensations in the body arising from these somal control activities also contribute to the growing chorus of perceptual signals. More time is required to construct the higher-level perceptions that we call emotions. Emotions are cortical ‘opinions’ about sensations in the body, and the associated environmental input is what we perceive the emotions to be about.

I believe that the arising of emotion becomes disabling when control of remembered perceptions in imagination strengthens signals entering the amygdala, setting up positive feedback. There is fMRI evidence of traffic between the amygdala and cortical functions when a subject has viewed an emotionally provocative image. One way to interrupt this traffic is to talk about what one is feeling. See the discussion of memory in my chapter of the Handbook on p. 361 and the reference in footnote 18:

Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer, J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18(5), 421e428. http://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/AL(2007).pdf.

Another way is simply to cultivate a practice of awareness of sensations in the body as they arise, making them the object of deliberate attention with no purpose other than to observe them as they are. This is the basis of contemporary vipassana meditation practice.

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