Getting your act together on behavior control

High on the list of things to be good at in getting your act together (GYAT), is to understand the essence of “control,” a purposeful activity. If you’re not good at “controlling” the disturbing issues impacting your life, the instant subconscious-mind recognition of this deficiency by others will keep you off the GYAT list and that no one can control.

Some veterans consider this is the most valuable page on the website. When you gain skill and confidence in behavioral control, everything else in life gets easier. What a bargain! And, we have lived it, still.

There is no such thing as control without a target goal – the purpose and reference standard of the control system itself. However, the matter of establishing the goal of control has been so corrupted by the Establishment, its media, and academia, it is covered in its own page. There’s no reason to make understanding control by mathematical physics more complicated than it has to be, by introducing the disastrous maltreatment of setting control objectives by business as usual. Clearly, controlling to the wrong benchmark gives control a bad name.

The laws of control, a process driven by mathematical physics, are fundamental to life for any entity that’s alive. The behavior of living creatures is regulated by the creatures themselves in response to their operational reality. The natural laws of control that apply to industrial processes are the same laws that apply to animal behavior. That’s why social species have so much social behavior in common. Every control strategy of the human subconscious mind over the variety of systems in the human body it controls has a parallel in industrial control systems that, by necessity, employ the same control theory.

To get a satellite into orbit and functioning takes a mind-boggling complex of control systems. Each control system in the complex includes instrumentation, information processing means to do the mathematical physics, and actuators embedded in the process being controlled, responding to commands delivered by the “brains” of the control system.

The controls of animal behavior are completely within the physical envelope of the animal with I/O communicated by entanglement with other subconscious minds that cannot be directly observed. You subconscious mind operates your sensors, a powerful information processor, and your physical means, such as your endocrine system, for interacting with your environment. These elements common to all control are onboard every living creature. Even the invisible facility of entanglement is on board, wherever that is.

To understand how an animal chooses to behave requires some knowledge about its behavioral control system. Any other approach to controlling species behavior will be considerably inferior. The behavioral control system of a human is centered around its subconscious mind and central nervous system. On occasion, the conscious mind may get involved in gatekeeping task actions, but in reality, nearly all observable human behavior is on subconscious mind autopilot. The only thing your conscious mind really can control is your efforts, but you have to consciously use triage. Leaving control to your intuition, avoiding the labor of thinking, is flying blind. This regrettable practice earned a record of misery that reflects that fact.

Unfortunately, how the subconscious mind actually fills its control role is unknowable. Not only does it have zillions of networked components, it physically reconfigures itself while you sleep. Accordingly, the apparatus you used to make choices yesterday is not the one you used to make choices today.  Furthermore, as mentioned above, its I/O menu includes subconscious information exchanges with the entangled minds of others that is far beyond control in a world of its own, a world that will forever be unknowable. Industrial controls systems can have an equivalent and it’s a feature of Starkermann’s dynamic simulations of human social behavior.

The customary way people think about control, as a concept, is to not think about the functionality of control at all or, at best, as an impersonal process done by engineers producing beer cans in a factory. Control of a material variable is accomplished by adjusting environmental factors thought to influence the behavior of the target variable.

The “who” in the control process doesn’t matter. Only the variable to be controlled matters. How it’s measured does not. Anybody can operate the control by following the operators manual. The reference standard is defined in the manual by measurables that are explicit and fixed.

Campbell’s law: The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.


There is another perspective on “control” that includes the operator/observer and excludes all else, called “Perceptual Control Theory” (PCT). In this perspective on control, the operator’s reference standard is the perception of status produced by his subconscious mind. Using his sensors, controlled by his subconscious mind and central nervous system, he “recognizes” target system status, compares it to his control goals, also set by his subconscious mind, and takes appropriate action depending on the deviation, if any. And all this in a centisecond. Wow!

PCT can be a helpful way to understand the mechanisms of action involved in the control process without getting bogged down in its complex mathematics. There is nothing in PCT or the orthodox view of control that attempts to defy the mathematical physics of control (James Maxwell, 1868). Whatever the perspective, the same natural laws apply.

There is very little, if any, in modern industrial control that has no counterpart in the envelope where your subconscious mind and central nervous system, Stone-Age version, reside. At last count, the number of separate control systems run by your subconscious brain on nobrainer automatic exceeds one thousand. If you count the number of control systems you carry around on and within your person, each microscopic creature controlling itself, the total is in the trillions. All organisms are built in such a way that what they do affects what they sense. Organisms that control perceptions are control systems.

Starkermann’s work on the dynamic simulation of social behavior, tightly and solely connected to control theory physics, was a critical factor in attaining Plan B success in 2013. It will remain as reference standard for PCT usefulness, forever. According to science, behavior is the final result of stimulus inputs and cognitive plans. This concept rarely aligns with actual behavior.

PCT is the psychological theory of animal and human behavior attributed to William T. Powers. All purposeful behavior involves the control of some perceptual aspect of the environment. This means that it should be possible to explain all purposeful behavior in terms of controlled variables. A variable, like a parameter, is anything that can be in different states at different times. PCT helps explain how an organism’s behavior becomes its means of controlling its perceptions.

Powers put forth ten arguments.

1: Perception is how our minds experience the outside world.

Your brain doesn’t experience the world directly – our senses are our brain’s connection to the universe around us. We use our sensors to examine our world.

2: Our brains compare what we perceive vs. internal preferred or desired “reference levels.”

For every perception we have, there’s a preferred level or state of that perception. This preference is called a Reference Level , and our minds are constantly comparing what we’re actually perceiving vs. what we’d prefer to perceive, so we wouldn’t have to think. We are not stimulus-response machines.

This comparison is constant and automatic – it takes no thought, no effort, and no willpower. Since our brain is primarily a survival tool, our reference levels at every level of perception are set to what our subconscious mind believes are best for our sustenance, safety, dignity, and comfort.

3: Behavior is the control of perception. The theme of PCT⇓

4: When a perception is “under control,” we do nothing.

5: When a perception is “out of control,” we act in ways to bring it back under control as quickly as possible. The action is to change the perspective the agent is experiencing to fit the goal reference.

6: Our actions to bring a perception under control depend on the environment in which they’re taking place.

7: There are control systems at every level of human action, from our cells all the way up to our highest values and ideals. Control is the strategy of producing consistent results in an inconsistent environment.

Our body is made up of control systems, and so is our mind. At the cellular level, your cells are manufacturing the molecules necessary for operation, and those processes are moderated by Feedback Loops that act as control systems.

Your bodily functions – respiration, heart rate, blood glucose level, insulin response, etc – are all moderated by control systems. Your physical behaviors – eating, sleeping, breathing, resting, acting – are all moderated by control systems. Your mental processes – data collection, contemplation, decision-making, etc – are all control systems.

8: Higher-level control systems average perceptions over time.

Your emotional state and self-concept are control systems as well. The truth of the statements “I am a productive person” or “I am a good person” can be seen as very high-level nested control systems, which are measuring perceptions over time. This general relationship applies for every self-conception, moral perception, and prediction we have.

9: Ideological systems conflict with each other by trying to control the same perception with mutually exclusive reference levels. Success criteria and value systems are very different.

Think of a common problem like procrastination, which is essentially a big bundle of control systems in conflict. If part of you wants to get things done and part of you feels overwhelmed and resists, you’ll experience a feeling of inner conflict, and you’ll neither really work or really rest until it’s resolved.

10: You can never control another person in a “control systems” sense – you can only act on their perceptions or negotiate a change in their reference levels.

Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people who are unskilled in some area wrongly believe their ability is higher than average; they don’t know enough about the subject to accurately measure their aptitude. People with well-above-average skills are acutely aware of how much they don’t know of the subject, but less aware of the general ineptitude of others, so tend to underestimate their relative ability.

Some details

Hierarchical levels of perceptions controlled by your subconscious mind and neural architecture:

  1. Intensity  ⇓
  2. Sensation
  3. Configuration
  4. Transition
  5. Event
  6. Relationship
  7. Category
  8. Sequence
  9. Program
  10. Principle
  11. System concept ⇑

Each lower level sends its output to a higher level. Higher levels “tell” the lower levels what to perceive. The setpoints of perception come from internal processing. The subconscious recognizes change by independently and materially reorganizing itself, typically while you sleep.

You can only resolve conflicts by shifting things to a higher level allowing for reorganization to take place in the subconscious mind (Einstein/Gödel). Setpoints for control by the subconscious mind are generated within the subconscious mind envelope. It is not an externally-accessible variable.

As the unseen negative feedback process within the brain is unknowable, it calls for Black Box testing. There is negative feedback in a closed-loop when the sensory input to the loop causes responses that reduce the tendency for that input to cause further responses; responses suppress (have a negative effect on) the cause of responses.

Miller’s law, in communication: To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of. POSIWID

Three takes on control

  • The stimulus – response view. This view of control sees behavior as a direct or indirect result of input stimulation
  • The reinforcement view. This view of control sees behavior as an output that is shaped by contingencies of reinforcement. Contingencies shape (redistribute) responses (activities).
  • The cognitive view. This view of control sees behavior as a reflection or result of mental plans or programs. there is often no visible stimulus or reinforcement contingency that can be seen as the cause of this behavior.

Those three very different ways of describing behavior are legitimate ways of describing different aspects of one phenomenon  –  control. Each is describing what an organism must do to keep its sensory inputs at their reference values in a different way.

The purpose of task action is to keep perceptions matching reference states. To understand the behavior of a control system one must determine what perceptions are being controlled. Although we cannot see what a system perceives, we can measure physical variables in the system’s environment for Black Box/POE testing.

Hypotheses about controlled variables are tested by applying disturbances to these variables and looking for lack of an effect of these disturbances. A disturbance is any change in the environment or the organism’s relationship to the environment that would change the value of the hypothesized controlled variable if that variable were not under control. Controlled variables can be viewed as perceptual “maps” of the environment in which behavior takes place. Living control systems resist disturbances to the variables they control. Black Box testing is the only way to identify, with any confidence, the perceptions that these systems are controlling.

Control systems act to resist disturbances to a controlled variable. If the disturbances produce less than the expected effect (expected on physical grounds) and this lack of effect can be traced to the actions of the organism, then the variable (actually, the perception of the variable) is under control.

Alder’s razor: What cannot be settled by experiment is not worth debating.

Livingston’s Law of Social System Thermodynamics: The perversity of a hierarchical social system tends towards a maximum.


Since “gain” is a primary variable in sending a stable social system into chaos, it begs objective discussion. Gain is a crucial variable in control theory that nobody understands but everyone exhibits. Your gain is recognized by subconscious minds in a centisecond. People in high authority have more gain in their toolkit than the lower classes. What the authoritarians don’t know is that pushing gain too high destabilizes the social systems they’re trying to control. It’s the heckler’s weapon against the speaker.

Starkermann used gain to measure the resiliency of a social system. Low gain is powerlessness. High gain is playing with fire. The amount of gain that destabilized the test social system, thus ending the simulation run, is how organizations are classified. Plan A social systems in OD are intrinsically stable until they run out of money and then implode. Plan B social systems flourish and are proactively stabilized by endless productivity improvements, performance.

Papert’s principle: Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows.

The hierarchy influence

Evidence of hierarchical organization in behavior is also evidence of hierarchical organization in perception.

Control is the means by which agents keep perceived aspects of their external environment in goal states. The hierarchy of control systems is a working model of purposeful behavior. Opposing forces come from disturbances created by the environment as well as interfering effects caused by the actions of other control systems. The existence of disturbances means that a control system cannot reliably produce an intended result by selecting a particular action. Actions must vary to compensate for varying disturbances. (Ashby’s Law)

Control systems solve this problem by specifying what results are to be perceived not how these results are to be achieved. Control systems control perceptions, not actions. When set up correctly, the control systems in the hierarchy vary their actions as necessary, compensating for unpredictable (and, often, undetectable) disturbances, in order to produce intended perceptions. Indeed, the term “control” refers to this process of producing intended perceptions in a disturbance-prone environment.

The hierarchical nature of the processes that generate behavior are invisible to the observer of a hierarchical control system. You can tell that the system is controlling many variables simultaneously but it’s difficult to demonstrate that some of these variables are being controlled in order to control others.

Hierarchical production of behavior implies that the commands required to produce a lower level behavior are nested within the commands required to produce a higher level behavior. This is seldom operationally effective.

The hierarchical invariance properties of the control hierarchy provide a basis for determining whether its behavior is actually generated by hierarchical processes. Hierarchical control can be seen in the relative timing of control actions. In a control hierarchy, lower level systems must operate faster than higher level systems. Higher level systems cannot produce a complex perceptual result before the lower level systems have produced the component perceptions on which it depends. This nesting of control actions can be seen in the differential speed of operation of control systems at different levels of the control hierarchy. Lower level systems not only correct for disturbances faster than higher level ones; they carry out this correction process during the higher-level correction process. The lower level control process is temporally nested within the higher-level control process.

Many of the higher level classes of perception in the control hierarchy depend on environmental events that vary over time. The neural signals that represent these variables must integrate several lower level perceptual signals that occur at different times. There is a computation time window for integrating perceptual signals. All perceptions of a particular type are controlled by systems at the same level in the hierarchy. This implies that the speed limit for a particular type of perception should be about the same for all perceptions of that type.

In the hierarchy, higher level systems achieve their purposes by adjusting the reference signals (and hence the purposes) of lower-level systems; the error signals of the higher level systems become the reference signals of the lower-level systems.

The behavior of a hierarchy of control systems is rather amazing. When set up properly, all systems in the hierarchy are able to achieve their purposes, virtually simultaneously. Human control systems also fit this pattern. Conflict is the worst thing that can happen to a hierarchy of control systems because it prevents the systems from doing control. In social systems, internal conflict (resulting from having purposes that work against each other) is recognized as a major cause of dysfunctional behavior.

Pournelle’s iron law of bureaucracy: In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

Coordinated control

Perception and behavior are typically treated as two completely different types of phenomena. Perception is a sensory phenomenon: behavior is a physical phenomenon. This separation is artificial. Perception and behavior are the same phenomenon seen from two different perspectives.

All tasks involve control. The operator doing a task is a controller trying to keep perceptual representations of physical variables in preferred or reference states. What the operator must do to achieve task objectives typically depends on the behavior of unpredictable external influences. Task objectives are the agent’s representation of the intended or goal states. He achieves task objectives by taking actions that bring the displayed variables to their goal states.

Rule-based behavior is not a description of the particular set of actions that the agent must take to achieve task objectives. Rather, it is a description of the range of actions that the agent must have available in order to achieve a task objective in the context of all possible external influences to the displayed variables. Ashby’s law of Requisite Variety.

The agent identifies external influences that might keep these variables from remaining in the state required to meet the task objective. Feedforward control provides a rationale for giving an agent the means for dealing with these problems.

The Premack principle states that more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.

General Remarks

  • What is called “behavior” is actually a visible side-effect of a process called “control.” Control is what organisms do to keep their own perceptual experiences in preferred states.
  • The variable controlled is an objective index of purpose and intention – the goal which his actions consistently work to attain despite disturbances. POSIWID
  • The stability factor is the ratio of expected to observed variance of a suspected controlled variable. When it is disturbed, expected variance will be considerably greater than observed variance; the organism’s actions tend to reduce variance created by the disturbance and the stability factor will be greater than 1.0. For an uncontrolled variable, expected and observed variance will be equal; the stability factor will be close to 1.0.
  • If you judge a system not to be controlled in behavior, and it is, something will get damaged. Once you know what an organism is controlling, you can develop models that reproduce the organism’s behavior and predict how the organism will behave in new situations. If you judge a system to be controlled in behavior and it is not, no harm will be done.
  • Methods adapted from control engineering can be used to discriminate intended from unintended consequences of an organism’s actions. By continuously monitoring a quantity called the stability factor it is possible to observe changes in intentions, which are not visible in overt behavior. POSIWID
  • There is negative feedback in a closed-loop when the sensory input to the loop causes responses that reduce the tendency for that input to cause further responses; responses suppress (have a negative effect on) the cause of responses.
  • How could a goal, a state that did not yet exist, like Plan B, be a cause of the behavior that led to it?
  • PCT is understanding what the “dance” of behavior looks like from the point of view of the behaving system itself on the dance floor. It is critically important to take the purpose of behavior into account when developing simulations of species specific behavior.
  • Behavior by causes (conventional) or by purposes (PCT). Scientists have viewed behavior as a cause effect process because it looks like a cause-effect process.
  • The environment is as likely to be a hindrance as a help in achieving desired results.
  • Romeo is an example of an actor who produces fixed results in an inconsistent and often unhelpful environment.
  • An observer who is watching the behavior of a living control system can see only the variables outside of the system. The observer cannot see what the system perceives.
  • Consciousness is part of the control system because it involves people. Consciousness monitors the status of existing control systems. and, if necessary, changes them (a process called reorganization). Consciousness is not likely to yield to coherent investigation until the nature of the purposive behavior generated by the control hierarchy is understood in some detail.

Shirky principle: Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.

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