Posts Tagged ‘sociology’

Cross-Disciplinary Pariahs

August 9, 2012 6 comments

The figure below shows a simplified version of the classic engineering Feedback Control System (FCS). There are two significant features that distinguish an FCS from a typical engineering system. First, the input is not a raw signal to be manipulated in order to produce a derived output of added informational value. It is a “desiredsetpoint (or goal, or reference) to be “achieved” by the system’s design.

The second feature is the feedback loop which taps off the output signal and provides real-time evidence to the comparator of how well the output is converging to (or diverging from) the desired setpoint. For a given application, the system’s innards are designed such that the output tracks its input with hi fidelity – even in the presence of “disturbances” (e.g. noise) that infiltrate the system.

In purely technical systems (as opposed to socio-technical systems), the FCS system output would typically be connected to an “actuator” device like a motor,  a switch, a valve,  a furnace, etc that affects an important measurable quantity in the external environment. The desired setpoints for these type of systems would be motor speed, switch position, valve position, and temperature, respectively. The mathematics of how engineering FCSs behave been known since the 1930s.

In defiance of mainstream psychology and sociology pedagogy, Bill Powers and Rudy Starkermann spent much of their careers applying control theory concepts to their own innovative theories of human behavior. Their heretical, cross-disciplinary approaches to psychology and sociology have kept them oppressed and out of the mainstream much like Deming, Ackoff, Argyris in management “science”.

The figure below shows (big simplifications of) the Powers and Starkermann models side by side. Note the similarities between them and also between them and the classic engineering FCS.

  • Engineering FCS: Setpoint/Comparator/Feedback Loop
  • Powers: Reference/Comparator/Feedback Loop
  • Starkermann: Goal/Summing Node/Feedback Loop

The big (and it’s huge) difference between the Starkermann/Powers models and the engineering FCS model  is that Starkermann’s goal and Powers’ reference signal originate from within the system whereas the dumb-ass engineering FCS must “be told” what the desired setpoint is by something outside of itself (a human or another mechanistic system designed by a human). In the Starkermann/Powers FCS models of human behavior, “being told” is processed as a disturbance.

If you delve deeper into the “obscure” work of Starkermann and Powers, your world view of the behavior of individuals and groups of individuals just may change – for the better or the worse.

Amity and Enmity I

January 1, 2012 2 comments

If you’re looking to tax your mind to the fullest and explore a novel and rigorous approach to sociological science, check out Dr. Rudolf Starkermann’s new web site, “Amity and Enmity”. The site was recently placed online by e-colleague Byron Davies and the wonderful story behind the site’s creation deserves its own separate, forthcoming blog post (Amity and Enmity II).

By syntegrating social concepts (e.g. willpower, consciousness, attitude, the unconscious, goal-seeking) with the concepts and mathematics from the engineering discipline of automatic control theory (e.g. amplification, error signal, feedback, transfer functions, stability, homeostasis, PID control), Dr. Starkermann models a living social “unit” as a self-realization seeking loop that is influenced by other social units via conscious observations/actions and subconscious “attitudes“. A social unit can represent a person, group, institution, or even a nation.

The first figure below shows a simplified first order model of the Starkermann social dualism. The second figure exposes the model’s intricately dense complexity. If you painstakingly trace out and count the number of loops in the socially coupled system, you’ll find that there are 12 of them. D’oh!

Did you have trouble finding the loops in the dualism? Well, don’t fret because here they are:

Double D’oh!

Even if you’re not an engineer who’s taken a course in automatic controls theory, you may get something out of “Amity And Enmity“. Dr. Starkermann valiantly tries to make his work accessible to the non-mathematical layman via many careful and empathic explanations throughout the treatise.

By fixing some parameters and varying others, Rudy has “calculated the behavior” of the dualism in a multitude of scenarios in order to discover what his models reveal about amity and enmity. Here’s a sample list of his “stark” conclusions:

  • Nature favors enmity and sets amity second.
  • Hostility is fast, consent is slow.
  • The faster a “unit” thinks, acts, the larger its willpower can be before it runs into instability and the better and faster it reaches its goal.
  • The probability is almost non-existent that a hate-relation changes into a friendship.
  • Hostility is solid. Friendship is fragile.

While sloowly making my way through the dense thicket that is “Amity And Enmity“, the following quote keeps coming to mind:

All models are wrong, but some are useful – George Box

%d bloggers like this: