What's good for the gander...

From Greg Williams (920927)

Before it gets damp here from Andrew's remains:

Martin Taylor 920826 1900

I'm afraid I don't see the paradox. What is the problem with controlled
agents themselves controlling others? Let us take the S-R position
that some pattern in the environment determines the behaviour of an agent
(I assume this is what "control" means in that context). Then why should
the actions of that agent not create a pattern in the environment that
determines the behaviour of another (sub)agent?

The "paradox" arises for PCTers who take "control" to mean ONLY stabilization
of variables subject to disturbances. Then they see the sort of claims you
describe as nonsensical -- see my reply to Bill Powers below.

(Incidentally, I'm still very uncomfortable with the conflation of
"behaviorist" and "S-R viewpoint."

I've railed about this for years. May your discomfort be heeded more than
mine! (Actually, I think there has been fair progress among PCTers over the
past couple of years in developing critiques of Skinnerians.)

As I like to use the word, any psychologist who is not a behaviourist should
be considered a mystic. PCTers are not mystics. They observe what happens in
the world and model it using plausible, possible mechanisms that are as
similar as possible to what is known from real observations of real people and
physically described machines. PCT is a thoroughgoing behavioural theory, in
my view. And I think you know by now that I do have a slight inkling of what
PCT is all about.)

So you would count virtually all of contemporary cognitive psychology as
"behavioristic"? Skinner wouldn't have, because he didn't think modeling the
CNS innards is worthwhile. Did that make him a SUBSPECIES of behaviorist? If
so, that SUBSPECIES is (at least one of) the foes of PCT. I myself prefer to
think of PCT (and especially HPCT) as "mechanistic," which (to my notions)
describes both behavioristic and cognitivistic methodologies -- and PCT in a
sense combines, and so extends, those methodologies.

Bill Powers (920826.2000)

There's one problem with the "self-consistent" behaviorist scheme that
you didn't mention: the reference signal. When a behaviorist trains a
rat to do something, what the rat is to do is already known to the
experimenter. As I've said before, a behaviorist who wants to
demonstrate the reality of stimulus control of behavior must state
BEFORE the demonstration what behavior is going to be brought about.
In other words, the experimenter must describe what will be perceived
when the process has finished.

I meant to include that problem in (1) not having predictive models.

When Skinner spoke about an experimenter controlling an animal's
behavior, his language always contained some way of saying that the
experimenter desired, specified, or intended that a certain behavior
come into being. In talking about the environment controlling
behavior, of course, he did not use such terms.

But Skinner was careful to say that ANY implication of "purpose" in his
writings is to be construed as historically determined by the organism's
history. That holds for experimenters as well as for subjects. The claim is
that "purpose" always can be unpacked to "the organism's past resulted in the
organism now doing..."

Only the experimenter was allowed to behave in a purposive way, knowing what
was to happen and doing whatever was required to make it happen.

No, Skinner (when being careful and not playing to the lay crowd) would have
been happy to dispense with "purpose" entirely, and say that ALL organisms
behave for the same (historically determined) kinds of reasons -- and even say
that purpose (no quotes) is an ILLUSION. (Ditto knowing and doing what is
required and intending and wanting.)

Therefore he attributed true control only to behavioristic experimenters, and
not to subjects or to environments.

No, he NEVER attributed "true [PCT!!!] control" to ANY organisms -- ONLY the
ability to alter the environments of other organisms. And the playing out of
that ability in any given case is set by the organism's history.

He [Skinner] was doing as he often did: he used a common word that to most
people implies intention or purpose, but with the understanding that only his
meaning was allowed. Something like the way certain politicians are now
talking about "family values."

Yes, he did do that. And you, as a PCTer, use the common word control with the
understanding that only YOUR meaning is allowed -- and don't tell me that it
is EXACTLY the same meaning as used by people-in-the-street! (It is closer
than Skinner's meaning, but not identical, I say.) So, never the twain shall
meet.

So I dispute use of the term "self-consistent" in reference to
behavioristic notions of control.

As I show above, Skinner IS self-consistent. At the expense of restricting his
meaning of "control" to something not acceptable to YOU. I think he (maybe)
could have seen that PCT is self-consistent at the expense of restricting ITS
meaning of "control" to its technical definition. The (contrasting) positions
are analogous. But PCTers must be as careful in their own way as Skinner had
to be careful in his -- sloppy talk about "autonomy," for instance, must be
grounded fully by going back to the definition of control. Remember our
discussion awhile back about the lack of traditional "free will" in PCT
systems?

Greg