# Where Rick's Chapter 7 on "Social Control" goes off track

Of course not. Just show me where "perceptions constructed within LCSs and projected by them into the environment as though ‘real’” are to be found in the PCT model. But it would be nice if you could find where Bill said something like this.

Oh, and it would be helpful if you showed why, when we’re modeling “collective control”, we are not “modeling physics or environmentally present living control systems.”

Hmm, thanks for interesting comments, but I am afraid you both somewhat misinterpreted my intentions. I wanted to stress that in different cases disturbances behave differently – or perhaps I should say that the environment disturbs control differently –regardless of the animacy of the sources of the disturbances. The position of a light stone is easy to control for a single controller but the position of a heavy stone may be impossible to control for a single controller but possible for multiple controllers together. And when they control together it is possible that even if their references for the position were not identical they can reach a lower error level together that they would individually. And similarly very different kind of variables can be more or less heavy or stiff or recalcitrant and hard or even impossible to control individually but possible to control collectively.

In Rick’s demo one controller reach very low error level when controlling alone, but five times higher when controlling in a conflict with another controller. Is it possible to make a model which behaves according to the lines described above and where the disturbance were overwhelming for one controller but a collective of two more or less conflicting controllers could control with lower error level?

I think this is dealt with in PCT by distinguishing between the source of the disturbance, q.d, and its effect on the controlled varilable, h(q.d) (using the notation in Powers, 1978). I’ll use your example to show what this means:

In this example, q.d is the force of gravity, which increases with increasing mass of the stone being lifted. The controlled variable, q.i, is the height of the stone above the earth. The reference state of this variable, q.i* is something like “waist high”. To bring q.i to the state q.i* the controller must produce an upward force output, q.o, greater than the downward force exerted by the force of gravity, h(q.d) on q.i. So the state of q.i (the position of the stone to be lifted) can be written as:

q.i = g(q.o) + h(q.d) (1)

where g() is the feedback function relating output to input. This equation is equivalent to equation (2) in Powers (1978). Assume for now that g() and h() are multipliers of 1.0. So

q.i = q.o + q.d (1a)

For a small stone, the effect of gravity, q.d, on the stones position, q.i, is small so the controller can generate a force, q.o, that is nearly equal to q.d and q.i is easily brought to and held in the reference state, q.i*. But for a large stone q.d is much larger and the controller is unable to generate an output force, q.o, sufficient to lift it – bring it to the reference state, q.i*.

When other controllers help to lift the heavy stone, the controller is now able to lift it because the effect of gravity, h(q.d), on the position of the stone, q.i, has been reduced by the upward force exerted on the stone by the other controller(s). So from the point of view of of the controller who had easily lifted the light stone, the force of gravity on the heavy stone has been reduced.

The other controllers have effectively changed the disturbance function, h() – the function that determines how the source of the disturbance, q.d, affects the controlled variable, q.i – from a multiplier of 1 to a fractional multiplier, say .5. So now the state of the controlled variable is determined by an equation like this:

q.i = q.o + .5* q.d (1b)

I think it is generally the case that the effect of a disturbance on a controlled variable is mitigated like this by another control system, either one that is in the organism controlling q.i or ones that are in other organisms, as in your example.

I think you can show something like this with that “Virtual Control” demo by simply making the references of the two control system equal. In that case you will see that the single control system experiences much more error when it contorls alone than it does when the other system is cooperating rather than conflicting with it.

I think the most important distinction between different types of disturbances that is made by PCT is that between disturbances produced by inanimate (cause-effect) systems and those produced by animate (control) systems. We often mistake inanimate sources of disturbance – like the wind blowing something into your eye – for animate ones. You know you are doing that when you get mad at the inanimate source – the wind in this case – for disturbing you, as though it were an intentional affront. But the difference between inanimate and animate sources of disturbance is important because inanimate sources don’t cause conflict; animate sources do!

Construction of higher level perceptions from lower level perceptions is pervasive in the model. There’s no particular “where it is in the model”.

Subjective experience of intensities, sensations, configurations, transitions, relationships, etc. as ‘real’ phenomena in the environment is not in the model. The model explains subjective experience. No model contains that which it explains.

Sure it is. It’s in the part of the model that shows many lower level perceptual signals entering higher level input functions. I had no problem with this part of what you said.

What you had said is that constructed perceptions are projected into the environment as though ‘real’. This is not a part of the model and it is not something that the model explains. The intensities, sensations, configurations, transitions, relationships, etc. are not explanations of subjective experience. They are hypotheses about the aspects of the environment that organisms control.The model explains the observed fact that organisms control various aspects of their environment. The idea that PCT explains subjective experience completely misses the point of PCT, which is to explain the controlling done by organisms.

Yes, I think we all have a high degree of faith that our perceptions are truthful. You once expressed your faith with this excellent credo:

Rick Marken (2004.07.16.1130)

So that’s the rock (the one that Sam Johnson kicked), but this is the hard place: your only source of knowledge is your perceptions. We understand two senses of the word ‘perception’. Perceptual signals are theoretical entities in the model which have some considerable confirmation as CVs in neuroscience. The experience of perceptions is not theoretical, but it is necessarily subjective.

The work of science is to make the subjective objective, to identify perceptions that we justify calling observed facts. But however factual and real we judge them to be they are still perceptions, subjective experiences.

Hypotheses are subjectively experienced perceptions. To test hypotheses we act as though what is hypothesized is a fact. You have often quoted Bill’s example of the taste of lemonade. We know there are sensors for specific tastes and textures, and the taste of lemonade is a mixture of some of these. Another is the color purple. We know there are cone cells sensitive to green, red, and blue (in a human who is not color blind), and purple is a mixture of stimulation to blue- and red-sensitive cells. To illustrate this, you have created diagrams with variables {v1, v2, …, v3} in the environment, combinations of which correspond to the taste of lemonade, the color purple, etc.

But the variables {v1, v2, …, v3} are controlled variables in the physical sciences. On the authority that we assign to science we assume that these variables are actually present in the environment. But ultimately they are subjective experiences of perceptions by individual scientists.

We perceive that some perceptions are objective, rather than subjective, to the extent that we successfully control them. More so when we agree with one another that we are controlling the same variables. Sciences do this in a disciplined way. Everybody does this informally. “Mmm! Doesn’t this lemonade taste good!” “Look at the chiaroscuro effect here, shading into such a rich, deep purple.”

What makes observed facts objective is the observed fact that the environment is in relevant ways the same for all relevant observers.

Not at all. To say that the model explains subjective experience (which is all that we ultimately have) in no way denies that the model explains other things as well.

The observation of control still has its basis in the subjective experience of the person who projects the hypothesis that their own perception of an aspect of the environment has a reference value to which, when they disturb that variable, it consistently returns as a consequence of what the observed organism does. This is a fascinatingly more complex situation than the color purple or the taste of lemonade, or any other interaction with something that does not control, but it involves the same phenomenon of experiencing a unitary perception (lemonade, purple, control) which theory (a construct of perceptions) tells us depends upon combinations of variables. An important purpose for constructing such theories (the physical basis of the color purple or the taste of lemonade or control) is so that we can justify a claim that these subjective experiences are experiences of realities in the environment. Closer to home, so to speak, these theoretical understandings can help us control better.

A virtual controller is ‘environmentally present’ in the same way. The color purple has a fairly simple relation to CVs controlled by physicists. To observe control requires a much more complex interaction with physical phenomena, projecting the PCT model into the environment on the hypothesis-testing assumption that it is real. Collective control is a yet more demanding hypothesis, but the process of testing it is fundamentally the same. All three cases of scientific explanation are ultimately grounded in individuals’ perceptions—their subjective experiences. In all three cases a scientific model explains those subjective experiences, as well as explaining any perceptual constructs at intermediate levels of CVs (rod and cone cells, wavelengths or photon energetics, levels and interconnections in a PCT model of the behavior, etc.).

You’re just unwilling to look because you deny it’s possible. This 2007 exchange with Richard Kennaway is one place among many. An excerpt:

Bill Powers (2007.02.14.0750 MST)

‘Invention’ or ‘projection’, same thing. We act as if our subjective experiences of the environment are realities in the environment because we have to. Or to turn that around, to be convinced that our perceptions are not veridical would be profoundly disturbing.

To keep this on topic, collective control is an important way of testing and confirming the veridicality of our individual, subjective perceptions. It may be the only way out of solipsism. Johnson had to demonstrate his argumentum ad lapidum to Boswell. Logically, that argument is (informally) fallacious. (See Appeal to the stone in Wikipedia.) That’s why agreement alone is not sufficient. But science rests on replication, in principle if not always in practice, and whether or not something is a replication is a matter for agreement.

Concern about whether or not perceptions are “truthful” is irrelevant to PCT. Actually, it’s more than irrelevant; it’s misleading. It implies that our ability to control depends on having perceptions that are accurate representations of external reality. In fact, our ability to control depends only on having accurate analogs of the perceptual variables we control.

That was in a discussion about whether PCT was solipsistic. It’s not.

I would say that the work of science is to find explanations, preferably in the form of quantitative models, of why we perceive what we perceive. Those models are what we take to be the external reality that is the basis of what we perceive.

The third sentence (and everything after it) appears to be a non-sequiter. It has nothing to do with testing hypotheses about the types of perceptions people control. And I’m quite sure that scientists knew that color perceptions depended on the mixture of light of different wavelengths well before they knew about rods and cones in the retina.

They are simply physical variables. They are not controlled by scientists because they are theoretical entities. Like all other people, scientists control perceptions that are presumed to be functions of those theoretical entities.

Again, those physical variables are purely theoretical. We don’t treat them as actually present in the environment because of the authority we assign to scientists; we treat them as physical variables because they explain the results of experiments so well.

I personally don’t experience the world as a perception; it’s all reality to me. And I don’t have to control things to experience them as objectively real. For example. I can tell that the lamp on my desk is real just by looking at it; same with the books, the desk, etc. Even the after effects of staring at the stupid lamp look objectively real. My experience is of the real world. Intellectually I know that it is all perception but I certainly don’t experience it that way. And I bet everyone else experiences it that way too. Even you.

But the model doesn’t explain subjective experience. Thinking that it does is, as I said, missing the point. The model explains control (purposeful behavior) in terms of control of different types of perceptual variables. What the controller’s subjective experience is while controlling is completely irrelevant to the model. Once I’ve found that you are controlling the distance between cursor and target, for example, I know the perception you are controlling (c - t). I don’t know if you are experiencing this perception in the same way I am but that is irrelevant to the model (and me, for that matter).

This is simply not true There is no “projection” of a hypothesis when testing for controlled variables. It certainly isn’t happening when the computer does the test for the controlled variable in my MindReading demo. Unless you think computer programs “project” perceptions.

I’m sorry. This is just too complicated for me. I really can’t see how this explains your claim that "when we’re modeling “collective control”, we are not “modeling physics or environmentally present living control systems.” Aren’t there people involved in collective control? Aren’t we modeling the behavior of people? Aren’t people living control systems? Aren’t they present in the environment with other people when they are collectively controlling?

What I’m denying is that there is anying in PCT about living control systems projecting their perceptions into the environment. I don’t deny that it’s possible but I’ve never seen any evidence that it happens. But whether it happens or not, I know for sure that projection is not a part of the PCT model.

Bill was talking about a person who was trying to convince herself (and, possibly, others) that there is a reality behind our perceptions. He was not describing projection (or its new synonym, invention) of reality as a property of the PCT model.

I think the only people who need a way out of solipcism are philosophers, and among those, only the ones who want an out from solipsism; post-modernists seem to be quite comfortable with it;-) But solipcism is not a problem for PCT any more than it is for any scientist. Simply assuming that there is a reality behind our perceptions seems to work pretty well in termns of developing successful theories.

PCT can explain why a person (like the one Bill took the role of in his post) might want to invent (or, project) “proofs” that there is a reality behind our perception. But that is the only way that invention (or projection) would fit into PCT. But invention/projection is not part of the PCT model that explains the behavior of a person who does the inventing/projecting.

You search for ways to show that we do not agree, and then assert that I am wrong and you are right. Your persistence in this over many years, with many people, suggests that finding disagreements and then demonstrating that you are right is important to you. Possibly you now blink and say yeah, of course, doesn’t everybody? No, people sometimes make other choices.

To seize upon verbal differences and refute them piecemeal as they occur polarizes apparent contrasts at each point independently. This often has the effect of distorting the relationship of that bit to its context, and sometimes has the effect of changing or even reversing its intended meaning.

An example:

When was the last time you conducted an experiment in physics or chemistry or biophysics or biochemistry? Scientists routinely rely on the scientific consensus in other fields that are epistemically prior to theirs. That is what the words “the authority that we assign to science” mean. (In passing, note that a scientific consensus is a collectively controlled perceptual variable.)

You and I agree that these physical variables are theoretical entities in physics, chemistry, etc. We agree that we treat them as physical variables because they explain the results of experiments. These variables may help explain biophysical experiments into the generation of neural impulses by environmentally sensitive cells in sensory organs. Those are not our PCT experiments. Those are experiments by other scientists. PCT experiments have been consistently at higher levels of perception than perceptual intensities generated by sensors. We refer to intensity perceptions as being at the foundation of the perceptual hierarchy, but that is a gesture in principle, the practice is in prior sciences.

Rather than seeking out and magnifying our differences, I propose that we start by identifying our agreements before proceding to questions with less clear answers. A project of seeking out error in anyone’s understanding of PCT and correcting it is not the only difficulty before us. We know that understanding PCT takes time and persistence and depends upon prior understandings that may be in the way, differently in different people. For this, reiterating and emphasizing what we agree on is important. The difficulties before us in this topic are in questions to which PCT currently does not have clear answers.

Here are some things that I think we agree on:

1. That it’s all perception, we have no privileged access to what’s going on other than our perceptions.
2. That higher-level perceptions are functions of lower-level perceptions.
3. That at the lowest level biophysical stimulations of sensors are functions of we-know-not-what in the environment.
4. That various sciences have models of what is in the environment, which help to explain how our sensors and nervous systems construct our perceptions.
5. That those models are themselves high-level perceptions.
6. That the physical variables {v1 … vn} to which we refer to account for intensity perceptions at the lowest level are theoretical entities within explanatory models controlled in the practice of the physical sciences.

I will be surprised if you disagree with any of this. If you find some words to carp about then we can drill down to the intentions.

Now let’s consider some matters that are less clear.

Perceptual signals are theoretical variables in the model. Our actual perceptions are subjective experiences. Subjectively experienced perceptions are the only reality we know. As Bill put it in his post “PCT is about experience” (the origin of the ‘taste of lemonade’ example):

Experiences are not in the PCT model. What is in the model are quantitative relationships. Quantitative relationships are theoretical (e.g. the loop reduces error asymptotically to within a tolerance range corresponding to loop gain). Specific quantities are not in the model either. Specific quantities are experimental data and data displayed by working simulations of experimental results. None of this escapes the fundamental condition that it’s all perception.

We talk as if perceptual signals in neurons were our perceptions, as if theoretical entities in the PCT model were our experiences which are being modeled, but we know better. Or we should. This does lead to unfortunate confusions for students, as when people talk of experiencing or feeling error, when what they usually mean is (according to Bill’s model of emotion) that they experience perceptions of somatic conditions that result from unreduced error, which may feel distressing, and they experience higher-level perceptions which we call emotions, which include the somatic states and feelings of distress among their inputs.

Perceptual signals and all the other objects and relations in the PCT model are also in the universe of subjectively experienced perceptions. It’s all perception, and the only perceptions we know are subjective experiences, not perceptual signals. The PCT model tells us they are perceptual signals. Experiment tends to confirm the PCT model. Experimental confirmation in the epistemically prior sciences of neurology and neurobiology still lags.

You object to the phrase ‘projected into the environment’. The 1992 quote above is fairly early in the ‘mirror world’ discussions of how the experienced world is the perceptions constructed in the perceptual hierarchy, but experienced as intensities, edges, objects, relations, etc. present in the environment. That is what the phrase ‘projected into the environment’ meant then and that is what it means here. PCT is about experience. It explains experience.

‘Projecting’ is experiencing internally constructed perceptions as though they are present in the environment. The computer program has no experiences. Living control systems do. PCT currently has no explanation for the difference. ‘Projecting’ experienced perceptions as though perceived environmental phenomena is not necessary for control (viz. various kinds of automata).

Yes, I agree. My subjectively experienced perceptions are the only reality I know. Among my subjectively experienced perceptions are system concepts, principles, and procedures of various kinds that make a distinction between more objective (the lamp) and more subjective perceptions (the lingering perceptions of light intensity and form after looking away). Importantly here, theoretical and experimental work in science are ways of controlling subjective perceptions on the basis of which we perceive more confidence that they are objective. That kind of difference is the distinction I was making.

That last sentence seems backward. Our ability to control tells us that the perceptual variables that we control are sufficiently analogous to the environmental sources of those perceptual variables, whatever those environmental sources may be. But we experience the taste of lemonade, the color purple, and someone saying something wrong about PCT, as though these were actually present entities in the environment.

(We do act in ways that appear to make environmental realities more closely analogous to perceptual variables that we control, but that’s the negentropic nature of control. Not the point under consideration here.)

Your mentioning that context does not disqualify it from this discussion. It is true in any context, isn’t it?

No one is contesting the fundamentals of PCT. This is a discussion of questions to which PCT currently does not have clear answers. The model is necessary for explaining quantified data of behavior which are understood to be numerical analogs of perceptions. But people also look to PCT for understanding of what they experience. And not clinicians and their patients alone. The relevance of PCT to subjective experience is crucial to the spread and adoption of PCT. In that process of spread and adoption, to minimize and correct the distortions and misconceptions to which learners of PCT are so abundantly prone we must address those learners where their interests lie, and that means we need a coherent account of the relation of the quantitative theoretical objects and relations in the model to people’s subjective experience. The relation of perception as signal to perception as experience is right at the heart of the famous old mind-body problem. Some folks pretend that it’s a pseudo-problem, that it doesn’t exist because mind and consciousness are epiphenomena, nothing but matter all the way down (or up). Skinner headed that way. Thomas Huxley and William James fenced over this. Frankly I doubt that anyone really believes it. Like the determinists they just say dourly that’s what logic compels them to believe and are unable to reevaluate their assumptions.

You speak of facts. Facts are perceptions to which we give credence for good and sound reasons (and those reasons are also perceptions). Here’s a voice from 2014:

I agree that perceptions (including facts) can be of different levels of complexity. I indicated several levels of complexity or abstraction. [1] The color purple or the taste of lemonade are perceptions at a low level of complexity, and [2] the PCT model is a perception at a high level of complexity. (In PCT we can refer to their complexity e.g. according to their level in the hierarchy, but elsewhere this distinction is expressed by words like concrete or material vs. abstract, conceptual, theoretical.) In both cases these are perceptions closed by loops passing through one control hierarchy.

[3] The third degree of complexity is when control loops through several control hierarchies are closed through intersecting environmental feedback paths, so that they non-identically influence physical properties of the same aspects of the environment, of which they control their non-identical perceptions. Of this kind of complexity I gave as an example a virtual controller, a theoretical entity in modeling collective control.

[quote=“rsmarken, post:49, topic:16019”]

Yes. But when you model more than one individual interacting in a common environment, in addition to each potentially influencing variables that others are controlling (purposefully or not), each may control perceptions of some or all of the others, including perceptions (mistaken or not) of others’ purposes. One individual may have responsibility for actively controlling a variable. One may delegate responsibility for control of a variable to another. One may communicate to another that it is their responsibility or their turn or would you please. Such communication may be nonverbal, e.g. ostensive incapacity or unwillingness or non-perception. Importantly, one who delegates control to another has not necessarily stopped controlling the delegated CV. Possible situations among interacting control hierarchies can be quite complex.

Much too broad an interpretation. What I said, a bit more fully, was:

In part mentioning physics was nod to your objection to Eetu’s talk of lifting a heavy stone, but more immediately it led into discussion of a ‘virtual controller’. The theoretical entity ‘virtual controller’ does not exist in physical terms, but it is a useful concept for grappling with the complexities of collective control. Just testing and confirming that a variable is consistently restored to a reference value cannot distinguish between individual control and collective control. Determining where the control outputs come from is more complicated for collective control because the participating control hierarchies may exert control at different times. Verifying that each can perceive the CV, can exert outputs that affect the state of the CV, when doing so is in fact perceiving the CV (i.e. control stops when perceptual input is blocked), etc.—all those steps of the Test in addition to disturbing the CV are more difficult to carry out in an interactive collective control situation.

The part of the PCT model in which we model physics is the environmental feedback function. (We don’t do a whole lot with the psychophysics of peripheral, environment-facing input and output functions, and next to nothing with biophysics, neurochemistry, and neurophysiology within the hierarchy, but they also ground us in physical sciences.) The PCT model has been applied mostly to one individual control hierarchy at a time. In modeling collective control, the concept of a virtual controller models the observed fact that a collectively controlled variable is controlled at a reference level as though one control system were controlling it. Just as the PCT model is abstract, a virtual controller is an abstract part of the PCT model when we consider collective control. In principle, it is possible to resolve the inputs and outputs of the virtual controller to the inputs and outputs of the individual autonomous control hierarchies participating in that collective control, but in actual social situations it may often not be practicable. There are just too many potentially asynchronous variables for the experimenter to bring under control in an experimental design, or for the observer to bring under control in a program of naturalistic investigation.

That’s fine. Nothing compels you to have anything to say about it.