Re: [pcp-discuss:] Goal-directedness, control and freedom

From: Gavin Ritz (garritz@XTRA.CO.NZ)
Date: Fri Mar 02 2001 - 09:09:30 GMT

  • Next message: Francis Heylighen: "[pcp-discuss:] Fwd: New Paper: Definitions"

    Dear Shann and Francis (still unable to download your file, seems that all other
    files down load okay!!)

    This issue has perplexed me too because their are heuristic type goals or
    objectives (like values they are internal and invisible) which do seem to drive
    individuals and nations and organisations. At first glance it seems like their
    is no feedback back because the feedback loops are invisible. (but definitely
    there- I call it an invisible tensegrity structure). I have been trying to
    measure this for years by designing an algedonic measuring instrument. To say
    there is control or even regulation here is a very contentious issue. I have
    been measuring the algedonic signal anecdotally and physically of a particular
    organisation for three years and they have no conscious knowledge of how it
    effects them at all. The more I measure and observe the more incredible I find
    this force or tension. It seems to have a life of its own.(it is reflected how
    they do business, how and what their mission statement is, how and who they
    employ, how they behave, and even the type of structures they put in place- and
    often to the detriment of their business)

    If one has algorithmic type goals then their is some cognition of some sorts and
    there is better control (or at least visible control, sometimes out of control)
    like a missile.

    If you want to read my article on heuristic "goal directiveness" you may go to
    my web site and down load the paper just above my name in pdf format. I have
    been looking at this issue for years now and it effects corporate governance in
    a big way.


    Francis Heylighen wrote:

    > Shann:
    > >Thank you and Cliff for your paper which I found most informative.
    > >On the first page you define the word "control" as "maintenance of a
    > >goal by active compensation of perturbations".
    > >
    > >This definition means that control is dependent upon a goal being
    > >known and the need for feedback communication. In social
    > >organisations a goal may not be known or agreed upon and feedback
    > >can be problematical or non existent. It is possible to direct,
    > >command or order action on personal whims without an operational
    > >goal or without the need to obtain immediate feedback on the
    > >outcome. Regulation on the other hand requires feedback to allow
    > >"active compensation of perturbations".
    > >
    > >From my reading of Ashby's introduction to cybernetics your
    > >definition of control is how he uses the word "regulate".
    > >
    > >From your text your definition of control would also seem to mean regulate?
    > >Do you identify any difference between these two words?
    > >
    > >Might it be useful, at least in the social sciences, to make a
    > >distinction between the two words? That is between when a goal is
    > >not known and/or feedback is not required and when feedback is
    > >required?
    > You are pointing out some very important issues, that are easily
    > confused because the terms used are ambiguous. You note correctly
    > that in our paper we use "regulation" and "control" more or less
    > interchangeably. We tend to prefer the term "control", while Ashby
    > tends to call the same phenomenon "regulation". Neither term is
    > really ideal, since they both have connotations different from the
    > phenomenon we try to describe. The problem with "regulation" for me
    > is that it appears very conservative or static, merely suppressing
    > variations or fluctuations from whatever the "normal situation" is,
    > without positive aim or objective. The problem with "control" is that
    > most people understand it as domineering, subjecting, having power
    > over, again not necessarily with any positive aim or goal. The
    > advantage of "control" is that it is more dynamic than "regulation"
    > since you can also exert control by making somebody do something very
    > "irregular". Moreover, "control" as a term tends to be more common in
    > the cybernetics-related literature.
    > To make clear that you also need a progressive force, aiming to
    > achieve as yet non-existent situations, I have liberally used the
    > term "goal-directedness". This has another disadvantage, though,
    > namely that people tend to see a goal as a specific end state:
    > Alexei:
    > >A goal is a preferred state of the system. But societies and biological
    > >populations have no preferred state. Nevertheless they can improve their
    > >performance (adaptation and adaptability) without setting goals.
    > For me "control" or "goal-directed behavior" CAN be aimed at
    > continuing improvement, without any fixed end-point. I have tried to
    > explain this in the paper by noting that a goal can be defined in
    > such a way that it encompasses continuing progress or change.
    > Originally, the passage explaining this was a little longer, but
    > because of space constraints Cliff shortened it. My point is that a
    > goal is indeed defined as a preferred state (or more generally set or
    > fuzzy set of states), but that a system's state is fundamentally a
    > distinction, and a distinction is a relation, not an independent
    > "state of the world". The fundamental distinction is between "better"
    > and "worse". Whenever a system can make a distinction between
    > "better" (a situation it prefers) and "worse" (a situation it would
    > rather avoid), you can say it is goal-directed in the most general
    > sense.
    > The heat-seeking missile is an elementary example, where the missile
    > will prefer any move that brings it closer to its target, while the
    > target itself may move in the most dynamic and irregular fashion. The
    > missile still has an "end-state" in that once it has reached the
    > target, its activity stops.
    > A perhaps better example is when you have the (relational) goal of
    > making ever more money on the stock exchange. This is a goal where
    > you will never reach an end-state where you can stop. Yet, activity
    > directed at this goal can be described by the basic cybernetic
    > control mechanisms of buffering (keeping safe investments as a
    > reserve in case things go wrong), feedforward (speculating on stocks
    > that you think will go up) and feedback (selling stocks that have
    > performed below your expectations).
    > Wouldn't you call such activity "goal-directed"? Although the goal
    > here is purely dynamic, and most people think spontaneously about
    > static goals when they hear the word "goal", I don't really see a
    > better term. Or does anybody know of a term that describes behavior
    > with an in-built preference for certain outcomes over others, but no
    > in-built end-state?
    > Note that such preference does not even assume that you "know" what
    > you prefer, as in the money-making example. Imagine that you are
    > browsing through a collection of pictures (e.g. on the web, in an
    > artbook or in a museum), and that there are some you like more,
    > others you like less. You will act so as to spend a lot of time
    > looking at the pictures you like, while you will quickly turn the
    > page on the pictures you don't like. This is goal-directed behavior
    > in my definition, although you would not in any way be able to
    > formulate which kind of pictures you would rather see. Your goal is
    > not so much "to see pictures A, B and C", but "to derive esthetic
    > pleasure from the material". Since you cannot a priori say which are
    > the pictures you will enjoy most, so that you could look them up in
    > the index and go straight to the corresponding page (feedforward),
    > your only control strategy is feedback: you go to the next page, and
    > if you don't like the picture, you turn the page again (negative
    > feedback), otherwise you stay and enjoy.
    > Shann also raises the issue of control without feedback. As we have
    > tried to make clear in the paper, thinking that you can control
    > something without feedback is a delusion. In the short term you can
    > establish some kind of a command or dominance merely by buffering and
    > feedforward, but neither mechanism is perfect, and the errors they
    > let slip through will accumulate until you end up with an "error
    > catastrophe", i.e. the system has deviated so far from its ideal
    > state that it gets destroyed.
    > As Val Turchin explains in his book "The Inertia of Fear", this is
    > the real reason why totalitarian systems such as Soviet communism
    > eventually fail: because they lack error-correcting feedback,
    > mistakes accumulate until the system is no longer viable. Of course
    > this is a simplification: the Soviet system did have some feedback
    > from the society back to the authorities (even the staunchest
    > bureaucrats would notice that the 5 year-plans did not achieve their
    > goals and therefore would attempt some corrections), otherwise it
    > wouldn't have survived as longs as it did. But this feedback was
    > severely deficient compared to the systematic feedback mechanism that
    > forms the heart of democracy (ineffectual politicians are voted out)
    > and of the market (products that are in demand increase in price,
    > thus stimulating producers to supply more of them).
    > In conclusion, the different cases that Shann and Alexei distinguish
    > (with/without feedback, with/without goal) are for me not really
    > distinct, but all part of the general phenomenon that I call control
    > or goal-directedness. Sometimes goals are more explicit or dynamic,
    > sometimes less, but in the phenomena we discussed there is always
    > some "preference function" that would rather achieve one situation
    > than another one. Feedback too can be more or less prominent, but any
    > system that wishes to survive in the long term needs some form of
    > feedback.
    > Shann:
    > >For example, Tannenbaum (1962: 5) defined 'control' as "any process
    > >in which a person or group of persons or organisation of persons
    > >determines, i.e. intentionally affects, what another person or group
    > >or organisation will do". This definition provides a word/concept
    > >to describe a situation where no standard of performance is required.
    > This doesn't look like a good definition to me. You can affect people
    > in all kinds of ways (e.g. I can kick somebody in the butt), but that
    > doesn't mean you control them (e.g. my victim can kick back twice as
    > hard). Control to me implies some kind of on-going state of
    > "affecting", relative to an enduring goal. Note that the goal is
    > anyway implicit in the word "intentionally" (what is an intention
    > other but a goal?). The advantage of this "short-term" view of
    > affecting, is that you might conceivably do it without feedback, but
    > I would anyway not call this "control".
    > >Can you or anybody else on this list provide references in the
    > >cybernetic literature which makes these distinctions, and defines
    > >the concepts and language, that I find useful to analyse the
    > >information and control systems (cybernetic architecture) of social
    > >organisations?
    > I would like to see such references myself. In my experience, the
    > literature is as confused in its terminology as our discussion here.
    > In the end I might get tempted to invent a new Latin or Greek term
    > (like "cybernetics" itself was invented, or more precisely
    > re-invented, by Wiener).
    > Alexei:
    > >I agree with Shann that control can exist without a goal (unless we
    > >stretch the meaning of a goal beyond its limits). I view control as
    > >an ability of an agent to change its behavior. Neither
    > >deterministic nor stochastic systems are agents because they have no
    > >control of their behavior. Watt's regulator is not an agent, and it has no
    > >control of its behavior. The pressure in the tank is regulated but there is
    > >no control here. It is an engineer who has control of Watt's regulator, and
    > >he has a goal of maintaining the pressure.
    > Implicit in your definition of control I do see some form of goal. If
    > you say that an agent can change its behavior, you implicitly assume
    > that the agent has some intention to change, since you a priori
    > exclude deterministic or stochastic systems, of which I can find many
    > examples that do change their behavior, although they may not "want"
    > to do it. Watt's regulator does not have control over its behavior, I
    > agree. But I would say that it has control over the behavior of the
    > steam engine that it is regulating, because it can change that
    > behavior guided by its in-built goal. It doesn't have control over
    > this goal, though, and therefore its behavior from the outside can be
    > seen as deterministic. But if you would perfectly know all the goals
    > that steer the engineer's behavior, you might claim that the engineer
    > too is behaving deterministically, and does not have any control.
    > I am starting to suspect that the whole discussion about "free will"
    > or "freedom" is so confused because these concepts only make sense
    > RELATIVE TO A GOAL, while this aspect is completely ignored in the
    > traditional discussions that merely oppose determinism and
    > indeterminism (stochasticity). I have always thought that
    > (in)determinism is a red herring, since the world in practice is
    > always partly predictable, partly unpredictable. "In principle"
    > predictability, like in Laplace's view of the universe, has no
    > meaning whatsoever in concrete situations.
    > When we speak about "freedom" in practice, we mean "control", and as
    > I have argued "control" means the ability to do what you WANT to do,
    > i.e. act upon things according to your own goals or intentions rather
    > than according to the constraints imposed by the environment. Without
    > goals, you wouldn't have any preferences, and therefore you will
    > merely drift along (stochastically or deterministically), following
    > the push and pull of your environment, without any directed
    > intervention.
    > _________________________________________________________________________
    > Francis Heylighen <> -- Center "Leo Apostel"
    > Free University of Brussels, Krijgskundestr. 33, 1160 Brussels, Belgium
    > tel +32-2-6442677; fax +32-2-6440744;
    > ========================================
    > Posting to from Francis Heylighen <>

    Posting to from Gavin Ritz <>

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