What is collective control?

I think I figured out what you might mean by “PCT is a functionalist framework, which … suggests that it cannot be constrained to one ‘level’ in any explanatory framework”. I think you mean that “virtual control” is a functional characteristic of collectives that exists at another “level” of explanation – a level above the individuals that make up the collective that is doing the virtual controlling. If this is what you mean then I agree – virtual control is an example of a higher level functional capability of collectives. I would call it an emergent capability of collectives.

What I take issue with is the the idea that virtual control is the only (or the main or the fundamental) example of such an emergent capability of collectives that deserves to be called “collective control”. Another example of such an emergent capability is cooperative control, which can be either intentional (as when 2 or more individuals agree to synchronize their efforts to lift a heavy piece of furniture that none could life on their own) or unintentional (like the rolling waves of some honey bees or the flocking of birds).

So, I see at least three kinds of emergent functional capabilities of collectives: virtual control, intended cooperative control and unintended cooperative control. What is needed now is more empirical tests of PCT models of these phenomena. So far as I know there have been some empirical tests of PCT explanations of both intended and unintended cooperative control (Tom Bourbon’s models of the former, Reynolds’ and others’ models of the latter) but none of virtual control (except, perhaps, my tests described in my talk at IAPCT 2023). So there is a lot more testing to do to see how these different kinds of real-world emergent collective phenomena emerge.

That’s wonderful to hear. I absolutely agree.

Great. So you agree that all the examples of social control described in Chapter 7 of The Study of Living Control Systems can be called “collective control” and that the virtual control touted as the preeminent example of “collective control” is the least tested example and the type of collective control that is least likely to have much to do with any real world collective behavior, other than arm wrestling and tug of war.

I agree that the ‘virtual controller’ idea is just one manifestation of the emergent properties of interactions between multiple control systems who share an environment and that ‘collective control’ should be an umbrella term that covers all of these.