What gloating gets you

[From Bill Powers (920924.0900)]
Greg & Pat Williams (920923) --

We agree that you're controlling your own perceptions, on purpose.
We disagree that your kids are acting differently because of your
controlling for nutritional value of the food.

OK, now we understand your point that, from the KIDS' standpoint,
they are acting the same regardless of Pat. It's only from PAT'S
standpoint that they are acting differently because of her

You don't understand yet. From Pat's point of view they are also not
acting differently. They are still putting their spoons into the mush
and lifting it into their mouths and swallowing it. They are still
controlling for good taste and sufficient quantity. From Pat's point
of view, something different is HAPPENING because she has changed the
composition of the food. But that has nothing to do with the kids'
actions. "Action" means what they are doing with their muscles. She
hasn't changed that. She's only changed an effect of the actions in a
dimension that leaves the control systems undisturbed, doing exactly
what they were doing before. If Pat believes she can see something
different in their actions, she is mistaken. She may see a difference
in consequences of their actions and in the appearance of the
environment, but that is not a difference in the kids' actions. I hope
you are keeping in mind that we use "action" to mean "output," to
distinguish it from its consequences after passing through
environmental functions.

With Pat controlling for seeing them eat "healthy" (to her) food,
the kids are controlling for (some) DIFFERENT lower-level
perceptions than if she wasn't controlling thusly. Aren't they?

They are not. They are controlling for taste and quantity just as
before. They can "control for" only what they perceive and have
reference levels for. They do not control for the nutritional value of
the food. You're assuming that because they're GETTING something
different by way of nutrition that they're CONTROLLING for it. That's
like saying that when you swerve your car to avoid hitting a dog, and
run into a lamppost as a result, you're controlling for running into
the lamppost.

Surely the same lower-level controlled perceptions aren't involved
when the kids eat what is set in front of them, rather than going
to the store to buy food.

You're introducing a whole batch of new controlled perceptions when
you talk about Pat not setting ANY food down, so the kids have forage
elsewhere for oral input. The kids were controlling for being seated
at a table in order to eat; now they have to control for a lot of
other things before they can even think of eating, such as how to get
to the store and how to get the money and how to get Mom to stop
acting so weird, and so on. When they finally get all that
straightened out, they will get to the store and control for (a)
taste, and (b) quantity. They might end up ordering oatmeal porridge,
because evidently they think that tastes fine. Or they might order
popsicles, if not having popsicles has been an error signal for them.
The popsicles, however, would pose a quantity problem as well as a
cost problem. Easier to eat at home.

My point was that the kids are NOT, according to hypothesis at least,
controlling for nutritional content, so Pat can vary that as she
pleases without disturbing them, as long as bad tastes are avoided.

What they're getting is different because of that [change in
nutritional content], but what they're controlling for isn't.

Yep. Analogous to somebody subjected to disturbances so he/she
writes his/her name in the rubber-banding demo, right?

No, not analogous at all. Varying the nutritional content of the food
disturbs NOTHING that the kids are controlling for, and so elicits NO
change in action. Rubber-banding works ONLY when you are explicitly
and directly disturbing the variable that the other person IS
perceiving and controlling, the position of the knot. In the case of
the kids, you would have to disturb the taste and quantity of the

Their actions would remain the same no matter what you served
them, if they ate it.

So the actions of the rubber-bander would remain the same whether
he/she was signing his/her name, or John Hancock's, or writing
nonsense syllables?

No, you're following a false trail from the false analogy. By serving
any kind of food that the kids will eat, you leave their controlled
variables UNDISTURBED, so there is no way you can influence the
actions by which they control those variables. Rubber-banding requires
applying a disturbance to the controlled variable that would change it
if no corrective action occurred.

Certainly, in all cases, the controlled perception of keeping the
knot over the dot is the same. But it sure looks like different
hand motions when the person writes a "JUC" instead of an "FUC"

But you can only get the person to move the hand by deliberately
disturbing the controlled variable, not by avoiding disturbing it. We
don't need to follow the rest out, do we? Your argument is based on a
sloppy use of PCT principles. I wish you weren't so eager to prove
you're right; it makes you careless. Your conclusions are running way
ahead of your argument.



Now wait a minute. What's this "they adjust their actions"
business? Didn't you just say above that their actions were the
same with or without a disturbance?

I most certainly did not. If you disturb a controlled variable, the
person's actions that are used for affecting it will change, or they
will have no control. You're talking about disturbing a variable that
is NOT controlled. Of course if you mean that their actions in
controlling one variable will remain the same when you disturb a
different variable, then you're right, that's what I mean. You can
disturb nutritional content all you like, without altering the kids'
actions, as long as the result is not a disturbance of taste or
quantity, the variables the kids are controlling.

I think I'll skip the rest, because I want to see your response to my
last post. I hope you now agree that Pat's varying the nutritional
content of the food while not disturbing the kids' controlled
variables is NOT an example of purposive influence in the rubber-
banding sense, precisely because the controlled variables are NOT
Greg Williams (920924) --

Clearly you can cause another -- even a chimpanzee -- to write any
name in the rubber-band situation by applying a suitable pattern
of disturbances.

See, Chuck?

A behaviorist would have a hard time explaining why this
chimpanzee does NOT know how to write his name.

You and I think that the offered explanation is, to be charitable,
incomplete, but Skinner wouldn't have had a hard time either
spewing it off or accepting it himself.

But a control theorist could do so easily.

Yeah, it only took a month for you to agree with me that purposive
influence is as I've been saying it is. Chuck is still thinking
about it.

Your glee at concluding that you've been right all along and that
you've finally persuaded me of it (and are WAY ahead of Chuck) is
noted. Evidently some extremely important reference level, having
little to do with PCT and a lot to do with winning a competition, has
been satisfied. Unfortunately, you have satisfied it the way Skinner
would have done, not as I would have done. You haven't had much
trouble spewing off explanations of why you are right, or accepting
them yourself, despite the fact that your argument has been shot
through with errors, some of which are discussed above.

Let's look at the prize that you've awarded yourself. You have shown
that it's possible for one person to control the actions of another
person by disturbing the variable that the action is involved in
controlling. You have cited, as a way of overriding my objections to
your argument, the rubber-band experiment and the particular use of it
that shows how one person can control another person's finger position
-- both of which demonstrations I invented and used to illustrate
exactly the same point.

Unfortunately, you chose as an example a case in which this
demonstration doesn't apply. This suggests that you believed in the
conclusion, but didn't understand how it was reached. Of course I know
that you DO understand how it was reached. I can only conclude that
you thought it more important to prove that you were right than to do
so by a rigorous argument.

Practically all of my objections to your arguments in the past month
or two have been aimed at showing errors in the way you were applying
PCT. You took those objections as arguments against your conclusion,
and simply shifted, each time, to a different argument instead of
examining what I said and realizing that your previous argument was
invalid in PCT terms. The outcome was that you have slipped and
shifted and misstated, flailing around with the sole apparent purpose
of convincing me that situations analogous to the rubber-band
experiment work exactly as I say they do. I agree. You win. These
relationships work exactly as I believe, and have believed for a long
time, that they do.
In my post last night, I finally got around to saying why I didn't
consider the rubber-band type of relationship to be of great
importance in human interactions. When it's used successfully, it does
nothing to frustrate or aid the control processes of the other person,
it leaves the other person unchanged, and its only purpose is to
satisfy a desire or need on the part of one person to involve
another's behavior in control of the first person's perceptions. It is
therefore a trivial interaction, hardly amounting even to an
interaction because it's important only to one of the parties. To the
other person, it's just another disturbance, easily and even
automatically counteracted.

Interactions that matter far more can be seen only when we ask WHY a
person might specifically want to involve another person's actions in
his or her own control processes. This consideration leads me to see
your discussions of Pat's feeding the kids as disingenuous (even if
you think it has something to do with rubber-banding, which it
doesn't). The way the development turned out, Pat was just controlling
for her own perceptions of a certain type of food going into the kids'
mouths. She was not trying to control anything internal to the kids.

Nope, say both Pat and Greg. The purposive influencer doesn't want
to change others' wants, only their actions to control those wants.

Aside from the sloppiness of saying that actions control wants
(instead of perceptions), this statement says that Pat has no higher-
level motives. If the kids shovel her food into themselves, that's all
she wants. She isn't trying to influence anything inside the kids,
like their state of health or their food preferences. For all she
cares, they can eat Big Macs and popsicles now and for the rest of
their lives, as long as she can see them putting the food she prefers
into their mouths any time she wants to see it there.

Balderdash. Pat wants to keep her kids healthy and she hopes that they
will develop a preference for healthy food that will last outside the
home and after they have left home. She wants to control their bodies
and even their preferences and beliefs about food. I would conclude
something similar if Pat were a mad killer, explaining "Oh, I just
like to perceive arsenic sprinkled on people's food; I'm not trying to
poison anybody." Pat is a mad child-nurturer. You can't fool me by
trying to keep my attention on the lower levels of control.

If they say anything has changed, they are ignorant of history.
What you speak of is not change; it's just coping.

That's a big "just," isn't it? I thought "coping" (that is,
attempting to control one's perceptions) meant EVERYTHING to you >(or

at least all else besides "coping" was trivial).

When have I said or hinted that reorganizing is trivial? I use
"coping" to mean the way people interact when their control systems
are fixed in organization. I'm willing to discuss other forms of
learning (mentioned in BCP), but I define coping as how systems act
when they're not learning.

The kind of change I meant is to be found in the enriched or
shattered lives of those who have been purposively influenced by
others, some for better and some for worse -- in THEIR OWN

If those lives are enriched or shattered without any learning being
involved, it's just the luck of the draw. Next time, they'll get
enriched or shattered again in just the same way. Play the record
again. HOW many abortions did you say you've had, little girl?

Guided reorganization aside ...

Yes, far aside. You'd better explain how you can guide a random
process first.

... I claim that purposive influence is intended (by the
influencer) to have ONE effect, namely enabling the influencer to
control some of his/her perceptions which depend on some of the
influencee's actions.

And again I say balderdash. If that's all that purposive influence
amounted to, we wouldn't even need a name for it. In fact, purposive
influence even in the rubber band experiment is specifically aimed at
controlling _a perception of the other person's action_. The point is
not just to control some other perception that's dependent on those
actions; the point is to make those actions, as perceived, be exactly
what you want them to be. I tried to point out the difference in your
passing-the-salt example. If all I want is to control a perception
that depends on some of your actions -- in other words, if all I want
is to perceive the salt shaker in my hand -- then I don't care who
passes me the salt or how. I am not controlling the action by which
you pass me the salt. It can vary all over the place and I will do
nothing to restore it to any particular form of passing the salt. What
I'm controlling for is the salt, and perception of your action in
passing it to me is not part of my controlled variable.

This is a BIG difference. If I say "Please pass me the salt," you not
only are free to comply or not, but you can achieve the result of
passing the salt in any way that's convenient to you, including asking
someone closer to me to do it instead. But if I want to have a
PURPOSEFUL influence on your ACTION, I will say "Please move your hand
to the salt shaker, grasp it, lift it six inches, move it in a
straight line to a point over my hand, lower it, and let go." That is
purposeful influence of your ACTION, if it works. If it's an
upperclassman talking to a plebe at a military academy, it might well
work, because of the TREMENDOUS threat of physical force that lies
behind it. In any normal situation, the other person would look at you
as if you were crazy and pass you the salt as he or she pleased to do
it -- or tell you to buzz off.

The influencer controls by disturbing what the influencee is
controlling for (or however you want to name the "rubber- banding
interaction" discussed above), without force or threat of force,
and without trying to intentionally change what the influencee is
controlling for. Is that "control of others"?

Yes. It's control of an action by another. No controlled variable in
the other person is disturbed significantly, meaning to an extent that
the other can't easily oppose without inconvenient effort.

Is it, whether "control of others" or not, always "bad" in some

It's not "bad" or "good" when it works as intended. It has no effect
on any controlled variable in the other.

If so, in what sense?

When the action you're making the other perform has a side-effect of
disturbing some other variable that's under control, the other will
resist the side-effect. If that resistance is successful, there's no
problem. If, however, a very large effort is required in order to
counteract the side-effect (for example, performing the action may
result in fatigue), then the purposive influence will most likely
fail. If the purposive influencer doesn't change the purpose, he or
she will simply try harder. This will lead to conflict. If the
purposive influencer considers conflict "bad", the only solution is to
change the purpose.

Why isn't teaching somebody to do something a kind of purposive

The "teaching" part is: you have complete control over your methods of
teaching. What you have no control over is their effects -- that is,
on whether learning takes place, and if it does, what will in fact be
learned. If the learner intends to learn what you have to teach, the
learner can try things, ask questions, ask you to show it again, and
do all sorts of things that can result in learning. This may please
you as a teacher; it may be what you wanted to happen. But you have no
control over its happening. You have an influence, to be sure, but it
can't be purposive. Purposive influence requires a complete control

Why isn't Ed Ford's counselling a kind of purposive influence?

Ed will tell you. You're drifting away from your original definition
of purposive influence again. I remind you of it:

The influencer controls by disturbing what the influencee is
controlling for without force or threat of force,
and without trying to intentionally change what the influencee is
controlling for.

To this should be added WHAT the influencer controls: the influencee's
ACTION. That isn't what Ed does.

Skinner thought that teaching and psychotherapy amounted to nothing
more than getting organisms to produce particular ACTIONS.

Why isn't your arguing a kind of purposive influence?

Because I have no control over your actions, your perceptions, or your
reorganizing processes. My aim now and for the past month has been to
correct what I perceive as errors in the application of PCT
principles. I state my corrections. What you do with them is up to
you. The nearest I have come to a direct attempt to control your
actions was in saying "I wish you weren't so eager to prove you're
right." And even then, I marked it as a wish, not something over which
I have any control.

Do you think PCT can say ANYTHING about interactions among people
other than that they are (a) nonexistent, (b) virtually impossible,
(c) trivial, (d) unimportant, and/or (e) always bad?


Should sociologists look elsewhere for explanations of the nature
and limits of such interactions, as Chuck Tucker suggests?

Yes, in addition to using the principles of PCT. Interactions among
organisms do not follow the rules of PCT because the elements
interacting are separate organisms. You can have negative feedback,
positive feedback, and no feedback in relationships among organisms.
The individual organisms continue to obey the rules of HPCT, but their
interactions bring in new considerations. The arcs and rings that
develop in the crowd program can't be deduced from examination of any
one organism in the crowd; those are outcomes, but not intended or
controlled outcomes. In themselves, they have no significance to the
individuals. But they may have consequences that influence variables
that the individuals are controlling.
I am very tired of this argument. I'm beginning to understand why
people will confess to crimes they didn't commit.

Bill P.