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Extrapolation, Abstraction, Modeling


In the beginning of his book, “Behavior: The Control Of Perception“, Bill Powers asserts that there are three ways of formulating a predictive theory of behavior: extrapolation, abstraction, and modeling.

Extrapolation and abstraction are premised on accumulating a collection observations of behaviors and ferreting out recurring patterns applicable under many contexts and input situations. Modeling goes one level deeper and is based on formulating an organizational structure of the internal mechanisms that cause the observed behaviors.

For 30 years prior to the discovery/development/refinement of control theory (and continuing on today because of entrenched mindsets), psychologists and sociologists formulated theories of behavior based on extrapolation and abstraction. Because the human nervous system and brain were (and still are) unfathomably complex, they didn’t even try to model any underlying mechanisms. They treated organisms as dumb-ass, purposeless, “black box” responders to stimuli.

Bill Powers didn’t accept the superficial approaches and black box conclusions of the social “sciences” crowd. He went deeper and turned opaque-black into transparent-white with the relentless modeling and testing of his control system hypothesis of behavior:

Note that in Bill’s model, there is an internal goal that determines the response to a given “disturbance“. Thus, given the same disturbance at two different points in time, the white box model can generate different responses whereas the black box model would always generate the same response.

For example, the white box model explains anomalies like why, on the 100th test run, a mouse won’t press a button to get a food pellet as it did on the 99 previous runs. In this case, the internal goal may be to “eat until satiated“. When the internal goal is achieved, the externally observed behavior changes because the stimulus is no longer important to the mouse.

Theories based on extrapolation and abstraction are useful for predicting short term actions and trends within a certain probability, but when a physical model of the underlying mechanisms of a phenomenon is discovered, it explains a lot of anomalies unaccounted for by extrapolation/abstraction.

For a taste of Mr. Powers’ control system-based theory of behavior, download and experiment with the software provided here: Living Control Systems III.

  1. July 29, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Thanks bulldozer. I just checked Powers in the Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, 15 entries ! quite extraordinary. I looked as his use of the concept of the white-/black-box is very close of my building a whitebox-transparent and backbox-opaque exhibit in 1990. http://weturn.org/pointers-to-possibilities.html Please check also here in the Encyclopedia: http://benking.de/systems/encyclopedia/newterms/#_Toc87362165 I just decided to write in my blog quergeist.info about this finding your nugget think-piece. Thank you very much ! When looking at your text teh KYBERNIAK of Herbert Stachowiak comes to mind ! You should check it out. Maybe jointly !? Herbert did the General Model Theory and the Systematic Neo-Pragmatism (5 volumes). enjoy: http://quergeist.net/Stachowiak/ & http://benking.de/Stachowiak/modelle.htm Cheers HEiner

    • July 30, 2012 at 5:33 am

      You’re welcome Heiner. I’m glad to have helped.

  1. July 29, 2012 at 7:30 am
  2. August 17, 2012 at 6:03 am
  3. March 18, 2013 at 5:49 am

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