Understanding PCT

From Ed Ford (940516.0930)

Since January, I have been working hard on my latest
book, Discipline For Home And School. Bill was kind
enough to write the foreword, after insisting I do a
little more thinking. Both the thinking (I hope) and
the foreword raised the quality of the book. It is now
in the hands of Greg Williams, who is both my final
editor and typesetter. He is doing the latter now. I
should have copies around June 15th.

The book reflects my thinking on how PCT applies to
discipline, and was greatly influenced by my working at
two local elementary schools (two working live models).
They could best be described as multicultural, inner
city, high poverty rate, drugs and gangs, highly transit
area. Of the 36 teachers, 13 were new this year and
inexperienced. I was extremely fortunate to work with
two very dedicated educators, one was an administrative
assistant (like an assistant principal but didn't get
paid like one) for both schools, who handled mostly
discipline problems. The other was the school
psychologist in one of the schools, who sees her role as
changing from testing certain students to becoming more
integrated within the entire school, working programs,
dealing with all children, etc. Both these people are
very unusual, and they were the driving force behind my
presence and the work I did in those buildings. Since
the district office fought this (in the back ground) and
refused funding, then the PTA's of both schools along
with the Teacher's Education Association funded it. In
fact, the teachers took their training during my
Saturday workshops without pay.

I'll not go into detail here as to what we did. The
interesting thing is that a slow and gradual change in
perception of children, a perception based on PCT, began
to emerge. Children were given control by deciding
where they wanted to be based on the rules and standards
of wherever they found themselves, as is true with all
of us. No longer were they manipulated, verbally
abused, or punished in anyway. It has been fascinating
to watch to entire school staff change the way they
perceive children, and realize what you can and cannot
do with a living control system. I don't believe you
can predict outcomes with living control systems, but
you can sure watch them operate and reorganize (at
times) in ways that makes you respect your understanding
(based on PCT) of how their process is designed. Once
you understand the system, then you treat it according
to it's design and guess what, there is a lot more
harmony and much less hassle all around. And how you
treat them is the critical issue in any discipline
program. By the way, I define discipline as teaching
children to respect the rights of others through
responsible thinking by learning how to make plans and
obey rules.

Bill mentioned on the net recently about how many people
get on the net and try to argue points about PCT without
understanding it. It seems the best way to deal with
PCT is to understand it first, then apply it in what
ever you do. The more I work in schools, with
administrators, teachers, counselors, psychologists,
and, more importantly, with children, the more I
understand PCT. You just deal with them as living
control systems, realizing the limits of what the
knowledge of the living control system suggests, and you
learn more and more about PCT. For example, the minute
you try to push on a system, it pushes back, it argues,
it defends. Real knowledge of PCT comes from the
experiments of working with living control systems. It
is all very fascinating.

Best, Ed.

Ed Ford, 10209 N. 56th st., Scottsdale, AZ 85253
Phone 602 991-4860

[From Bruce Gregory (961017.1700 EDT)]

Bill Benzon (961017.1550)

As for me. I'm tired of being treated as a witless moron.

You're too sensitive. To be treated as a witless moron by Rick
is a sign of high regard. I am amazed however that someone with
your depth of understanding is unable to master the art of
putting headers on his mail. Is this more difficult than
understanding the limitations of HPCT?

Bruce

[From Bill Powers (961018.1030 MDT)]

Bill Benzon --

I'm not trying to get rid of you, Bill. Nor am I saying that you haven't
studied PCT. The problem here, I think, is that you have been building up a
system concept that basically has little to do with PCT, and have been
interpreting neural data and language data from a very different standpoint
-- within a very different model. This makes it hard to assimilate the whole
structure of PCT -- what we see in PCT (perhaps mistakenly) as no serious
problem you see as an enormous problem, because our answer doesn't fit your
model. You have been able to make only "limited use" of PCT because in many
regards the models are incompatible. My model and yours slice the pie of
experience and data along different planes, creating different entities with
different interactions. Consider this bit from one of your posts this morning:

And what I think is that, if you want to extend HPCT to cover natural
language in a non-trival way (i.e. something considerably deeper than "it's
up there on level N") you need to work on an explicit theory of those
perceptual functions. HPCT as it stands is well suited to talking about
how lungs, lips, and tongue operate to produce local atmospheric
disturbances which the auditory system perceives as words. But the word
"dog" needs to be linked to the concept of dog, and the concept of dog
needs to be linked to a whole raft of other concepts, paw, tail, eye, fur,
brown, big, run, eat, food, Collie, mammal, etc.

You have something in mind that you call a "concept." What is a concept? I'm
sure you know, but I don't. In PCT there are "system concepts", but not
concepts in the sense that you use, where "dog" can be a concept, or "fur".

In my scheme, what you're talking about would be a set of category
perceptions related through linguistic conventions and logical functions,
and in some way I couldn't possibly explain are built into structures of
symbols at the levels I associate with categories, sequences, and programs.
Up there where the structure of language exists. And you seem to be talking
about memory associations, a subject I have done essentially nothing with.

From my perspective you seem to be talking more about activities taking

place in some of the higher levels of perception, not about the nature of
those levels of perceptual functions. You're saying what they do, not what
they are.

I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong; I'm just trying to point out what
happens when you approach the same phenomena from incompatible points of
view, and with a different kind of structure in mind. The significance you
see in a given neural pathway will be different from the significance I
would see in the same pathway, especially considering how little is known
about what those pathways or the areas that generate or receive them do.
Neurology is a lot like a projective test; you recognize what you believe
must be there.

Consider the reciprocal connections that pass between layers of the cortex.
You see these as involving output signals in the perceptual functions, and
others have proposed similar interpretations. I don't have any basic problem
with that, since I've never tried to guess at the internal workings of the
higher perceptual systems. But considering the tangles of connections in
these layers of the brain, how can anyone tell that a given efferent signal
is not simply carrying signals from the output function of a higher system
to the reference input of a lower system? Nobody's even LOOKED at it
experimentally from that point of view. Various layers of the brain have
been conventionally divided into "sensory" and "motor" areas, but at the
higher levels there's no simple or direct relationship between output
signals and the signals that end up in the lower motor nuclei. The pathways
carry no labels saying what they do. You have to put the labels on, and you
do that according to the model that you're trying to fit to the observations.

Yes, when it comes to language I do say "it's up there at level N" at least
with regard to its more abstract aspects. I'm happy to leave the sorting-out
to linguists, except where like any enthusiastic amateur I just have to tell
someone about my wonderful insight. Basically I know that only a serious and
systematic study of language will lead to believable answers.

But what I do want to keep saying is "Hey, you linguists, you're USING
perceptual capabilities that you're not putting into your model." And I want
to keep saying "Don't forget that when you're talking about language
_production_, the only way you or anyone else can know about it is to
perceive it: you're really talking about controlling language
_perceptions_." If you see a linkage between language terms, it's a
_perceived_ linkage, and belongs on the perceptual side of the system. If
you see a rule being applied, it's a _perceived_ rule, and if the rule is
broken, you can know about that only by comparing the rule you _do_ see with
the rule that you think you _should_ see. Rules are not just rules; they're
perceived rules.

So the PCT approach to linguistic problems is to see them as control
problems, and because they are control problems, primarily as perceptual
problems. It's not to examine word associations or rules just to see what
they are. It's to reveal that we have a problem in modeling just what an
"association" is, and just what a "rule" is. Seeing that there's a problem
doesn't give us the answer, but it tells us what we should be looking for.

You say that we can't get anywhere by treating the sensory system as black
boxes. I don't see what else anyone can do, since we have only a vague idea
of what these systems do and essentially no idea of how they do it. It's
easy to confuse studying the program that happens to be running in a machine
with the functions that the machine itself carries out. The programs are
optional, but the basic functions are much less so. When we study the way
language is constructed and how it's used, we're studying the programs that
happen to be running. In order to study the brain, we have to ask what
functions are required in order for those programs, or any others like them,
to run at all.

Consider how visual configurations are perceived. We can see objects in all
sorts of orientations and sizes as being the same, or as being different. We
can also perceive "size" and "orientation" as changing while the object
remains the same, or size remaining the same while orientation and shape
change, and so forth. We might study interactions among these aspects of
configuration perception, and work up rules that allow us to predict them.
But we will still not know how it is that a batch of sensations like light,
dark, edge, shading, color, and so on are combined to produce these
phenomena. The interior of the black box remains as opaque as ever as long
as we're looking only at what the black box DOES.

Even at the level of configuration perception, the problem of understanding
how it works is only very partially solved. We have neural nets that sort of
work, in limited ways. And that's about it. I don't see any alternative to
the black-box approach for a long time to come, even at the lower levels but
even more obviously, and in spades, at the higher levels.

Anyone who understands the structure of HPCT can see that we are very short
of hard data at the higher levels, "higher" being anything more than level
3, or 2-1/2. All of what we know about the higher levels has to come from
direct experience and from behavioral experiments. Brain data, especially
data on anatomy, is of little use, because the physical locations of
structures give us no clear picture of functional relationships. There are
control loops passing through the cortex that have the same level (judging
by counting synapses and looking for comparators) as those of the spinal
cord. Geometry is not a good guide to level or to function.

If you want to investigate phenomena at the higher levels, that's wonderful.
But if, in interpreting what you find, you decide to abandon the basic
_principles_ of the HPCT structure, you might as well abandon HPCT
altogether. You will only be seeing what some other set of principles allows
you to see, and you will never see whether the HPCT principles would suggest
a different view and perhaps fit better. We're talking about big wrenching
differences of viewpoint here. Trying to merge them is, I think, a fruitless
endeavor. It has never worked before.

Best,

Bill P.

Bill Powers (961018.1030 MDT) sez:

Bill Benzon --

I'm not trying to get rid of you, Bill.

Nor am I threatening to leave. But I gotta eat and I like sleeping under a
roof, etc. And the way I do that is spend about half of the year working
real hard at making money and the other half doing interesting things which
don't pay the rent, alas (like this). Well, the time is drawing near to do
what I have to do to pay the rent, etc.

regards the models are incompatible. My model and yours slice the pie of
experience and data along different planes, creating different entities with
different interactions.

Yes

You have something in mind that you call a "concept." What is a concept? I'm
sure you know, but I don't. In PCT there are "system concepts", but not
concepts in the sense that you use, where "dog" can be a concept, or "fur".

As I understand it, in your model, "system concepts" is a technical term,
etc. "Concept" is not a technical term in my model. Since I was talking
about language, words have meaning and what I was talking about is the
meaning of words. That's all I had in mind. I suppose a word's meaning is
what the word allows/directs you to perceive, the pattern of reference
signals it somehow establishes in the stack. Figuring out how words can do
that is a very difficult problem.

From my perspective you seem to be talking more about activities taking

place in some of the higher levels of perception, not about the nature of
those levels of perceptual functions. You're saying what they do, not what
they are.

Yes, I am talking about activities taking place at those higher levels.
I'm not so sure you can make a clean separation between what they do and
what they are.

I really don't think the brain has any physical levels above what you call
the program level. But I don't for a minute think you can analyze human
behavior as though there is no level of organization above the program
level. There surely is. Not only that, but I think the number of such
levels goes up as culture evolves.

Now one can investigate this without ever having to worry about how one
gets the behaviors characteristic of a higher level without having those
levels directly implemented in a physical mechanism. But at some point it
does become an issue, especially if you're the kind of person who likes to
count synapses. I want those behaviors and I worry about how the brain
does it in order to assure myself that I'm never going to have to postulate
things like "the left temporal incorporeal lobule" in order to get those
behaviors.

Consider the example I introduced earlier about swing improvisation vs. bop
improvisation. The most straight-forward way to state my hypothesis is that
swing is done with an N-level stack while bop is done with an (N + 1) level
stack. [I originally used a slightly more complex formulation so that it
would fit in neatly with the fixed-depth-stack of your model.] Dizzy
Gillespie was controlling a level of perceptions which simply didn't exist
for Louis Armstrong. However, I think the genetic "programs" guiding the
development of Dizzy's brain were pretty much the same as those guiding the
developments of Armstrong's. So how is it that one man ends up with a
deeper stack than the other?

That is a very strange question and I don't have a satisfying answer. But
it's the sort of thing I have thought about and it's the sort of thing
driving my concern with what those upper levels are doing. In fact, what
I'm trying to figure out is what is it that those LOWER and MIDDLE levels
are DOING that allows their behavior to regulate higher level perceptions.
I don't think this strange question applies to any non-human species. It's
strictly about homo sapiens sapiens.

Given that I don't have a satisfactory answer to this, such ideas as I do
have lead back to the general questions which brought me to this list:
cultural evolution and those some 1000-odd intrinsic variables. And that
is cheek-by-jowel with McCulloch, the RF, and localized reorganization. The
rate of cultural evolution seems to be accelerating and my best guess about
how that could possibly be is that we're getting ever more effective means
of localized reorganization.

Another strange idea. How could that be? Remember that the human brain is
very immature at birth. Thus it is possible that much of the wiring is
guided by electrochemical gradients whose structure is influenced by
sensory input and motor behavior. We start with a primitive control system
which is capable of nursing, cooing, breathing, elimination, etc. and let
it run. We surround it with a mass of tissue which is immature and which
receives "trickle-up" electrochemical activity from the system which is
running things and from all sensors. In this sort of set-up the difference
between raising an infant in a world where one is encouraged to read and
write as soon as one can focus on books and hold crayons and raising an
infant in a world without writing...that might turn out to be fundamental
in ways which are much deeper than the standard accounts of the importance
of language (external memory, more effective accumulation of knowledge,
etc.). I'm pursuing the idea that "imprinting" language on a young brain
allows for more effective local reorganization.

How could that work? Don't know. A good place to start would be with a
good account of the value of localized reorganization.

Consider the reciprocal connections that pass between layers of the cortex.
You see these as involving output signals in the perceptual functions, and
others have proposed similar interpretations. I don't have any basic problem
with that, since I've never tried to guess at the internal workings of the
higher perceptual systems. But considering the tangles of connections in
these layers of the brain, how can anyone tell that a given efferent signal
is not simply carrying signals from the output function of a higher system
to the reference input of a lower system? Nobody's even LOOKED at it
experimentally from that point of view. Various layers of the brain have
been conventionally divided into "sensory" and "motor" areas, but at the
higher levels there's no simple or direct relationship between output
signals and the signals that end up in the lower motor nuclei. The pathways
carry no labels saying what they do. You have to put the labels on, and you
do that according to the model that you're trying to fit to the observations.

Yes it's mess. And I guess I've decided that the most efficient way to get
better info is to make a whole pile of wild-ass-guesses and bundle them
together in one "theory" and see if you can begin imagining experiments and
observations which could falsify that theory in whole or in part. We
aren't going to get there by waiting for more data, better methods, and
piling up all this little bits and pieces, etc. But you already know this.
That's why you spend your time elaborating a model which is interesting
enough that it's truth or falsity matters rather than gathering little bits
& pieces of evidence unrelated to any worthwhile model.

Yes, when it comes to language I do say "it's up there at level N" at least
with regard to its more abstract aspects. I'm happy to leave the sorting-out
to linguists, except where like any enthusiastic amateur I just have to tell
someone about my wonderful insight. Basically I know that only a serious and
systematic study of language will lead to believable answers.

But what I do want to keep saying is "Hey, you linguists, you're USING
perceptual capabilities that you're not putting into your model." And I want
to keep saying "Don't forget that when you're talking about language
_production_, the only way you or anyone else can know about it is to
perceive it:

You know, figuring out why/how a 2-year old would utter "doggie" in the
presence of a dog is a very difficult job. What does uttering the word
contribute to the child's ability to control its perceptions? What does it
add that isn't there without the word. And just what perception is the
child trying to control? Clues on that would the intonation pattern
(whether that of a question or declaration), whether the child is looking
and/or pointing at the dog or looking at the caregiver, moving toward the
dog, etc.

Bill B

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William L. Benzon 518.272.4733
161 2nd Street bbenzon@global2000.net
Troy, NY 12180 http://www.newsavanna.com/wlb/
USA
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What color would you be if you didn't know what you was?
That's what color I am.
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