Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Historic Breakthrough Promises Major Progress Throughout the Life Sciences

Historic Breakthrough Promises Major Progress Throughout the Life Sciences. ‘Book of Readings’ featuring the work of William T. Powers spells it out.

I just received a press release and that's what the headline said. Promotional B.S.? Not as far as I'm concerned.

Dag Forssell, the man behind Living Control Systems Publishing, has made an incredible offer— a free pdf download of Perceptual Control Theory: Science & Applications—A Book of Readings. Readers of this blog should take advantage of his offer.

In my book Dare to Inquire I wrote this about PCT.
Korzybski considered Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics , "a turning leaf in the history of human evolution and socio-cultural adjustment." [Qtd. by M. Kendig in "Book Comments" on Cybernetics, in General Semantics Bulletin 1 & 2: 46] The work of William Powers, Richard Marken and others in Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) has extended cybernetics (negative feedback control theory) into a detailed research program for human psychology [and the life sciences in general] which emphasizes human autonomy, a phenomenological perspective, and the rigorous modeling of behavior. PCT's multi-leveled theory of purposeful behavior as the control of perception (abstracting) offers new approaches for further research into the spiral mechanisms of time-binding that [Korzybski based his entire work upon.] PCT [provides] a way to study the relationships of language use to perception and other aspects of behavior at levels of detail not previously conceived of. [Korzybski faced limits in his work, by not having a scientific theory of psychology that went beyond stimulus-response viewpoints. Indeed, much of modern (2009) behavioral/social science still operates under the burden of the out-dated but still pervasive stimulus-response paradigm.] [The study of Korzybski's work] by PCT researchers (and vice versa) could open up new avenues of research and application in both fields.*
*N.B.- In a comment to this blogpost below, William T. Powers acknowledges the influence that Korzybski had on him when he was developing his work.

In 2001, I wrote this note to myself on the blank page after the title page (313) of Part VI "On The Foundation Of Psychophysiology" in my copy of the 5th Edition of Science and Sanity:
A.K. [Alfred Korzybski] got as far as he could, using the most up-to-date analyses of behavior he could find. But Korzybski's non-linear view of human behavior, expressed as early as his first 1921 book Manhood of Humanity [See Appendix II, p. 233 in the 2nd Edition] didn't jibe very well with the general stimulus-response paradigm under which the psychology of the time mainly operated. This paradigm, among other things, retains an underlying linear causation model and may imply an undue passivity of the organism. A new language (non-linear) and set of assumptions involving a more factual, 'circular' causation, feedback approach comes from William T. Powers' Behavior: The Control of Perception. PCT has more congruence with Korzybski's underlying vision than the stimulus-response view. Indeed, Powers as a young man studied Korzybski's work. Korzybski's analysis of human behavior needs to be updated with PCT. The core of his system remains intact. Indeed, much of the formulational bathwater he wanted to throw out can, I believe, be eliminated more easily by taking on the PCT viewpoint.
I can summarize what I've said in a sentence: For serious students of the korzybskian non-aristotelian system and applied epistemology (popularly known as 'general semantics'), I consider PCT very very important.

Get the free book and read it! Then buy a copy. And anything else about PCT that you can get your hands on! I'm very serious.

Now here's Dag's Press Release:
HAYWARD, Calif., Nov. 16, 2009 — Just as 400 years ago a correct explanation of the solar system set the stage for major progress in the physical sciences, so today a correct explanation of control is setting the stage for major progress in the life sciences.

Increasing numbers of scientists are saying that Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) may soon revolutionize the psychological and social sciences. Developed by William T. (Bill) Powers, PCT is a quantifiable, testable model based on both psychological observation and engineering principles; it promises to bring our understanding of living systems to the level of accuracy and reliability long expected of the physical sciences.

Bill Powers explains:
Control is a process of acting on the world we perceive to make it the way we want it to be,
and to keep it that way. Examples of control: standing upright; walking; steering a car;
scrambling eggs; scratching an itch; knitting socks; singing a tune. Extruding a pseudopod
to absorb a nanospeck of food (all organisms control, not only human beings).

The smallest organisms control by biochemical means, bigger ones by means of a nervous
system. Whole organisms control; the larger ones have brains that control; most have
organs that control; if they are composed of many cells, their cells control; the DNA which
directs their forms and functions controls; even some molecules, certain enzymes, control
by acting on the DNA to repair it when it’s damaged. Control is the most basic principle of
life and can be seen at every level of organization once you know what to look for.

…The problem is not that the life sciences got everything wrong; it’s just that they got the
most important things wrong: what behavior is, how behavior works, and what behavior
Dag Forssell, editor of the Book of Readings, elaborates on some implications:
PCT shows that each person acts for the sole purpose of controlling what matters to that person. When parents, teachers, administrators, managers, sales people, lovers, and friends grasp the simple concepts of PCT, they
will be able to reason out for themselves how to handle conflicts and misunderstandings with the
respect that all human beings consider their right. PCT shows why, for a peaceful society to exist,
each person must recognize that every other person works the same way.
Perceptual Control Theory: Science & Applications—A Book of Readings

Available as a paperback from bookstores, ISBN 097401558X, and free pdf download for personal use at
Perceptual Control Theory: Science & Applications—A Book of Readings, the recently updated 272-page book includes 21 papers and complete chapters from 12 books—five by Powers, seven by his colleagues. Subjects include: psychotherapy, management, emotions, baby brain development, computer simulations and tutorials, scientific revolutions, dogma in psychology, scientific method, reverse engineering, robots, cybernetics, and more.
Check out Dag's entire website Living Control Systems Publishing too! Full of interesting stuff and lots of it free. Dag is doing a service to humanity.


William said...

Hi, Bruce --

You'll be happy to know that when I was in high school, a hopeless SF addict, I read A. A. van Vogt's 'The world of null-A' and was intrigued to find that the chapter quotes were from a real book, 'Science and Sanity' by our mutual friend. I rushed to the library and read the whole thing, and from then (~1942) on the word was not the object and the map was not the territory. I took courses in General Semantics in college from Lee and Hayakawa. These experiences had a definite influence on my thinking when the development of PCT began, in around 1953.

Many thanks for the nice words about PCT and my books.

Bill Powers

Bruce I. Kodish said...

Thanks to you, Bill. Your comments provide the perfect footnote to my blogpost,

I have studied your work for years and consider it 'damned' important—damned for sure because it challenges such deeply entrenched views about human behavior.

If Korzybski provided a foundation for a science of 'Man', then you, Phil Runkel, and other colleagues of yours have placed more than a few bricks—indeed a substantial standing and growing structure on top of that. If I can do no more than serve as a brick-carrier to help keep the construction going, I don't consider my time wasted.