Vancouver chapter

[from Mary Powers 980329 and 980402]

Jeff Vancouver:

Some comments on your chapter "Self-Regulation in Occupational Psychology: A
Tale of Two Paradigms".

First I want to say that I really admire your patience and diligence in
doing the research for this chapter (and your other papers)- I would love to
see a lot of your references for myself but getting them and reading them
must have been a huge project, and is beyond me.

Now to the chapter:

To begin with, I believe that the tale you tell here of the development of
self-regulation theories seriously distorts the
position of PCT in relation to other theories.

Your first "paradigm" or category of theories, you call "cybernetic systems"
and the other, the "decision-making" paradigm.

[I'm not sure either are actually paradigms, but that's a subject for
another post or later in this one]

I'll take "cybernetic systems" first. Here you describe a history beginning
with von Bertalanffy's general systems theory in the 30's, which was
integrated with Wiener's cybernetics, Shannon's information theory, etc,
etc. winding up in a grand finale with Miller's Living Systems in 1978. You
say that Miller (and Boulding) talk about systems with interrelated parts,
composed of smaller, less complex sytems, which are in turn composed of yet
smaller, simpler ... etc, starting with organizations, then humans, then ...
down to cells, etc. ... Wonderful - but how does it WORK??

Eventually you get around to "the last great attempt to sell a variant on
cybernetic thinking, PCT, [which] suffers from narrowness in that humans are
the highest order considered."

Maybe "selling" is an ok word in the world of
occupational/industrial/organizational psychology, but it is something of a
pejorative to a scientist who wants his work judged on its merit rather than
its trendy appeal. And "narrowness" is pretty disparaging too.

The only thing "narrow" about PCT is that it covers living systems
and not social ones. And the reason for that is because it is about control
systems. Social systems, while they are systems, are not control systems.
"Only" all living systems! How narrow!

I do not believe that PCT is the last great variant on cybernetics. It is,
rather, the second (and not necessarily the last) attempt to apply control
theory to living systems. Wiener (or Rosenblueth, really) made the first
attempt. In my opinion neither Wiener nor anyone else in what came to be
called cybernetics, or in the so-called self-regulation and systems
theories that have proliferated since then, truly appreciated the
implications of control theory for the understanding of living systems.

Powers' PCT is the only theory (so far) of how living systems work that is
what physical scientists understand a theory to be. There are tons of
so-called theories in psychology that are not theories at all, and I would
include cybernetics among them. When in an earlier paper, Jeff, you cite
Hyland as integrating four key theories in psychology, and M.E. Ford as
integrating no less than 31 theories of motivation and personality, you've
got to admit that in psychology the concept of theory is seriously devalued
currency. Integrating PCT with what passes for theories in psychology gives
those theories spurious legitimacy and does PCT a serious disservice.

                * * *
[9804.02]

I guess that my big concern is that your purpose seems to be to integrate
self-regulation theories when integration may not be the appropriate move -
and that PCT is distorted in the process.

Purpose and self-regulation are not concepts unique to science. Many
psychologists are trying to make scientific sense of what a lot of ordinary
people take for granted, and control-theoretic ideas have seemed to provide
a handle for doing that.

What they mainly provide, it seems to me, is respectibility. Ideas about
self-regulation sound much more scientific using terminology like comparator
and reference. But in many cases it seems to me that there is little
appreciation of the organization that underlies the terminology of PCT.
Thus PCT is rather casually equated with systems of thought that do not have
any underlying, working organization at all. The similarities are more
apparent than real.

Not appreciating the solid technical basis of the structure underlying PCT
enables many scientists to go on believing what they've always believed,
primarily that control is the control of behavior. Which is not how control
systems work. Not appreciating what a model is, in the scientific sense to
which PCT is committed, enables psychologists to add implausible
embellishments that suit their agendas (decision-making mechanisms, etc).
Rather soon, the model is merely a metaphor: yet another of the numerous
psychological metaphors (called "theories") that people can choose according
to their fancy - since there is no particular scientific advantage to one
over any other.

You may not agree, Jeff, but the stance many of us have about PCT is that on
the one hand there are a lot of pre-scientific schools of psychology, based,
sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, on a vague causal model, and on the
other hand, there is PCT: an explicit paradigm based on control theory, the
control of input.
You can integrate the others with each other all you want, but PCT is sui
generis.

Of course there are lots of similarities between PCT and the others - mainly
because we are looking at the same phenomena, people doing stuff and having
consequences. But the interpretation is different: PCT proposes a structure
that generates what we see, and in so doing requires us to think about it a
different way. Conventional psychology may suggest a few mechanisms, but
they fall far short of working in the way that living systems appear to work
- or indeed of working at all.

PCT is not new in another sense, in that philosophers and poets and all
kinds of people have said things about control of perception, and purpose,
and so on. Everyone likes to quote William James about Romeo and Juliet.
But that quote, and others like it, only state the observation and the
problem. The explanation did not begin to emerge until the 30's, as control
theory.

Now I do not think that everyone working in psychology, especially in
applications, need to know every technical detail of PCT. But they do need
to know that the detail is there, and that it is at that level that any
embellishments or corrections to the theory belong. If someone can't see
how something like decision-making works in PCT , the solution is not to
start drawing an arbitrary arrow from here to there on what is essentially a
circuit diagram, not a metaphoric representation. Instead, it is to either
learn more about PCT or ASK someone who does know.

But as you have said, the path to tenure and promotion in psychology is to
invent one's very own theory ("paradigm"), not to study and extend a theory
developed by someone else. And so the schools proliferate, and a few brave
souls try to integrate them, and so on. And a real paradigm, which is
something completely different, is taken up in bits and pieces and crammed
into this theory and that, and ends up looking like all the others. And
people who fight to preserve the integrity of PCT, and its distinction from
other ideas, are looked upon as fanatics making a fuss over nothing.

Mary P.

Phil Runkel replying to Mary Powers's of 29 March, who was replying to
Jeff Vancouver:

        You said it, pal. Sui generis, indeed. It has always been
customary for psychologists to find differences between theories to be
"interesting." But it is now possible, once one understands the
requirements of theory (models, not metaphors), to find the
differences that are _fatal_.

[From Tim Carey (980403.0600)]

[from Mary Powers 980329 and 980402]

Hi Mary,

This was a great post .... I'd like to butt in if I may. I've just started
my PhD in clinical psychology this year and I've been amazed at the stuff
I've been taught. I will admit that, at times, I used to think that you
guys (e.g., Tom, Rick, Bill and yourself) used to perhaps highlight the
inadequacies just to emphasise your point. I didn't doubt that your points
were all valid I just didn't think the problem was as bad as you were
reporting.

May I now say that if anything I think you're _understating_ your case. I'm
amazed at how glibly people will propose models of one kind or another for
anything that comes to mind. Essentially the models are just a bunch of
words and there seems to be very little criteria for how you assemble the
words.

One part of a model we've been taught recently looks like this:

critical incident ------> assumptions activated ------> negative automatic
thoughts

What does it mean? And even more importantly, what does it explain? Lately,
I've been taken to asking "how". For example, the other day I asked "Has
there been any research looking at _how_ a critical incident might activate
an assumption?" It's worth it just to see the looks on the faces of the
lecturers. My assumption is that it's something that's just not thought of.

In my more cynical moments I call the particular paradigm that I'm learning
about the "fairy tale paradigm" and I collectively label all the "models"
and "theories" as "HCA explanations". The HCA stands for Hans Christian
Andersen.

Thanks again for the post ... I promise to never doubt again :wink:

Cheers,

Tim

[from Jeff Vancouver 980402.15:44 EST]

Forgive my ignorance, but what does Sui generis mean?

···

At 10:42 AM 4/2/1998 -0800, you wrote:

Phil Runkel replying to Mary Powers's of 29 March, who was replying to
Jeff Vancouver:

       You said it, pal. Sui generis, indeed. It has always been
customary for psychologists to find differences between theories to be
"interesting." But it is now possible, once one understands the
requirements of theory (models, not metaphors), to find the
differences that are _fatal_.

Sincerely,

Jeff

[From Bruce Gregory (980402.1750 EST)]

Mary Powers 980329 and 980402

I'll take "cybernetic systems" first. Here you describe a history beginning
with von Bertalanffy's general systems theory in the 30's, which was
integrated with Wiener's cybernetics, Shannon's information theory, etc,
etc. winding up in a grand finale with Miller's Living Systems in 1978. You
say that Miller (and Boulding) talk about systems with interrelated parts,
composed of smaller, less complex sytems, which are in turn composed of yet
smaller, simpler ... etc, starting with organizations, then humans, then ...
down to cells, etc. ... Wonderful - but how does it WORK??

Excellent question! Perhaps _you_ can explain to me exactly how
consciousness steps in and resets reference levels in the HPCT
system. And how consciousness manages to have goals that do
not involve control loops? Or don't you buy Rick's miracles?

Bruce

[from Jeff Vancouver 980403 0912 EST]

I had posted a response to Mary's comments directly to her, but given that
others on the net seem to actually care, I suppose I should repost it here.
So is most of it (I deleted a Mary-specific comment).

[from Jeff Vancouver 980402 1300 EST]

Mary,

Thanks for your comments on my chapter. I was somewhat relieved to see

that my expectations regarding what you might say matched what I perceive
that you said. Nonetheless, that left some errors in my systems.

I wanted to respond to some of what you said.

[from Mary Powers 980329 and 980402]

Your first "paradigm" or category of theories, you call "cybernetic systems"
and the other, the "decision-making" paradigm.

[I'm not sure either are actually paradigms, but that's a subject for
another post or later in this one]

Yes, the meaning of "paradigm" and "theory" deserve much space in their

own right. Likewise, I believe one could debate the term paradigm for the
categories of "theories" I talk about in each, as well as the inclusion (or
exclusion) of certain "theories." But I think your main point is that PCT
ought not be categorized with many of the theories I also include in the
cybernetics category. This is clearly a main point of disagreement between
us. What distresses me somewhat is that I apparently did not make clear
the uniqueness of PCT in that category. I will say more about that in a
moment.

I'll take "cybernetic systems" first. Here you describe a history beginning
with von Bertalanffy's general systems theory in the 30's, which was
integrated with Wiener's cybernetics, Shannon's information theory, etc,
etc. winding up in a grand finale with Miller's Living Systems in 1978. You
say that Miller (and Boulding) talk about systems with interrelated parts,
composed of smaller, less complex sytems, which are in turn composed of yet
smaller, simpler ... etc, starting with organizations, then humans, then ...
down to cells, etc. ... Wonderful - but how does it WORK??

Clearly this is problem with these theories, and again, part of the

uniqueness of PCT that I am trying to stress.

Eventually you get around to "the last great attempt to sell a variant on
cybernetic thinking, PCT, [which] suffers from narrowness in that humans are
the highest order considered."

Maybe "selling" is an ok word in the world of
occupational/industrial/organizational psychology, but it is something of a
pejorative to a scientist who wants his work judged on its merit rather than
its trendy appeal. And "narrowness" is pretty disparaging too.

I used the word "sell" there because of the attitude I currently perceive

from you and Bill and others on the net. That is, work continues, but
there is very little attempt to communicate that work to "conventional
psychologists" anymore. (I know why this is the case as Bill has said it
many times, and I am not evaluating that.) Thus, one of the points of that
word is that unlike say Bandura's theory, which is widely sold by him and
his followers, PCT theorists have not attempted to remain in the spotlight.
Meanwhile, science is not about simply the merits of the work. We might
wish it were, but it is not. But if it is pejorative, it is not to the
scientist, but to the scientific community. What I am seeking to be here
is descriptive, not evaluative.

The only thing "narrow" about PCT is that it covers living systems
and not social ones. And the reason for that is because it is about control
systems. Social systems, while they are systems, are not control systems.
"Only" all living systems! How narrow!

I struggled with this word a bit. I feared the interpretation you gave

and I tried to make clear that I meant narrow purely in the sense of
relative to the systems theories (i.e., not including social systems). I
was apparently not clear enough. It is clearly far broader than any of the
decision making theories (except maybe ACT). (PS. your adding the word
"which" partially explains your interpretation. The word does not belong
in the sentence. But I will rework it anyway, so no matter.)

Meanwhile, it is true that I do not agree with the exclusion of social

systems. I have tried to stay out of the current thread on the topic. And
I will not discuss it here.

I do not believe that PCT is the last great variant on cybernetics. It is,
rather, the second (and not necessarily the last) attempt to apply control
theory to living systems. Wiener (or Rosenblueth, really) made the first
attempt. In my opinion neither Wiener nor anyone else in what came to be
called cybernetics, or in the so-called self-regulation and systems
theories that have proliferated since then, truly appreciated the
implications of control theory for the understanding of living systems.

I should have used the word latest, not last. Latest is what I meant.

Powers' PCT is the only theory (so far) of how living systems work that is
what physical scientists understand a theory to be. There are tons of
so-called theories in psychology that are not theories at all, and I would
include cybernetics among them. When in an earlier paper, Jeff, you cite
Hyland as integrating four key theories in psychology, and M.E. Ford as
integrating no less than 31 theories of motivation and personality, you've
got to admit that in psychology the concept of theory is seriously devalued
currency. Integrating PCT with what passes for theories in psychology gives
those theories spurious legitimacy and does PCT a serious disservice.

I agree that "theories" is a seriously devalued currency (thanks largely

to arguments Bill has made). Although it is probably more accurate to say
it is an ambiguous word. But it is the word used by these people, so what
can I do?

What is also ambiguous is integrate. It is like a small computer

manufacturing company "integrating" with IBM. After the process is done,
the small computer manufacturing company no longer exists, only IBM exists.
In this case, only PCT exists (except that Hyland's and Ford's models are
not really PCT, they too need to be "integrated" into PCT).

I guess that my big concern is that your purpose seems to be to integrate
self-regulation theories when integration may not be the appropriate move -
and that PCT is distorted in the process.

The most distressing aspect of your comments is that you did not perceive

my meaning of integration. I tried to be clear about the advantage of PCT
as a structural model. How that quality made it a different animal then
the other theories discussed in that chapter. How the other theorists must
pay attention to PCT because they owe the heritage of their "theories" to
cybernetics and systems, and PCT is the current, best operationalization of
cybernetics. Apparently, I did not make that clear.

I also believe that PCT could benefit from the decision making theories.

Yet, I mostly argued that we might be able to greatly enhance our
understanding of decision making if we get to the structural level. I try
to use my work on Mastermind as an example of how that might look.

I am clearly not communicating this to you. Part of the problem may be my

lack in technical proficiency. I do not include the kind of equation talk
I see between Martin, Bill, Rick and others using. Another part of the
problem is that I am trying to be inclusive and "fair." That is, I am
trying to avoid evaluating other "theories" by instead arguing that they
are similar in kind. Probably for the reason you mention: they come from
the observation of the same phenomenon.

However, the walk away message I am trying to communicate is that PCT

should be taken seriously (not as simply a metaphor). I guess I need to do
more work to communicate that.

Sincerely,

Jeff