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In a discrepancy- reducing loop, the output function is aimed at diminishing or eliminating discrepancies between input and reference value. Schematic depiction of a feedback loop. In such a loop, a sensed value is compared to a reference value, or standard, and adjustments are made in an output function if necessary to shift the sensed value in the direction of the standard. The goal can be a relatively constant one e.

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In either case, a discrepancy-reducing system tries to make reality match the goal value. This isn't behavior for the sake of behavior, but behavior to create and maintain conformity between input and standard. That is, the value sensed by the input function depends on more than the output see Figure 2. Disturbances from outside can change conditions adversely increasing a discrepancy from the reference value or favorably diminishing a discrep- ancy.

In the first case, recognition of a discrepancy prompts a change in output, as always. In the second case, though, the disturbance preempts the need for an adjustment in output, because the system sees no discrepancy. The second kind of feedback loop is a discrepancy-enlarging loop.

The interdisciplinary decision problem: Popperian optimism and Kuhnian pessimism in forestry

The value here isn't one to approach, but one to avoid. It's an anti-goal. Psychological examples of anti-goals are receiving traffic tickets, being sub- jected to public ridicule, and being fired from your job. A discrepancy- enlarging loop senses present conditions, compares them to the anti-goal, and tries to enlarge the discrepancy between the two.

To use another example, a rebellious adolescent who wants to be different from his or her parents thus treating the parents' values as an anti-goal senses his or her own behavior, compares it to the parents' behavior, and tries to make his or her behavior as different from theirs as possible.

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To put it differently, avoidance behaviors often lead into approach behaviors. An avoidance loop creates pressure to increase distance from the anti-goal. The movement away occurs until the tendency to move away falls within the sphere of influence of an approach loop.


This loop then serves to pull the sensed input into its orbit. Rebellious adolescents, trying to be different from their parents, soon find a group of other adolescents to conform to, all of whom are remaining different from their parents. Feedback Loops and Goals The view we take on behavior may be viewed by some as somewhat esoteric in its reliance on the feedback loop as the essential building block of behavior.

In its reliance on the goal concept, however, this view is very much in accord with contemporary personality—social psychology. That is, the reference value functions very much as a goal or anti-goal for the operation of that feedback process, and today's personality—social psychological theory and research incorporates a great many discussions of goal constructs e. A variety of labels are used in the literature of goals, reflecting differ- ences in emphasis among various writers. All the theories include the idea that goals energize and direct activities Pervin, They implicitly and sometimes explicitly convey the sense that goals give meaning to people's lives.

Each theory places an emphasis on the idea that to understand a person means understanding the person's goals. Indeed, in the view represented by these theories, it's often implicit that the self consists partly of the person's goals and the organization among them. Hierarchical Organization An issue to be addressed in this context stems from the obvious fact that some goals are broader in scope than others.

How to think about the difference in breadth isn't always easy to put your finger on. Sometimes it's a difference in how much time is involved in the pursuit of the goal. Sometimes, though, it's more than that. It's a difference in the goal's level of abstraction. The notion that goals differ in their levels of abstraction is easy to illustrate.

The Case for Pessimism

For example, you might have the goal, at a relatively high level of abstraction, of being a self-sufficient person. You may also have the goal, at a lower level of abstraction, of preparing dinner for yourself, or of replacing the spark plugs in your car. The first goal is to be a particular kind of person, the second set concerns completing particular kinds of action.

You could also think of goals that are even more concrete than the latter ones, such as the goal of slicing vegetables into a pan, or the goal of turning a wrench to a particular degree of tightness. These goals which some theorists would call strategies are closer to specifications of individual acts than were the second set, which were more summary statements about the desired outcomes of intended action patterns.

You may have noticed that the examples we used to illustrate concrete goals relate directly to our example of an abstract goal. We did this to point out that abstract goals connect to concrete goals. In , William Powers argued that the self-regulation of behavior occurs by way of a hierarchical organization of feedback loops. Because feedback loops imply goals, Powers's argument also constituted a model of hierarchical structuring among the goals involved in creating action.

To put it differently, higher order or superordinate systems "behave" by providing goals to the systems just below them. The reference values are more concrete and restricted as one moves from higher to lower levels. Control at each level regulates a quality that contributes to the quality controlled at the next higher level.

Studies in Pessimism: The Essays

Each level monitors input at the level of abstraction of its own functioning, and each level adjusts output to minimize its discrepancies. One processor is not presumed to handle functions at various levels of abstraction. Rather, structures at various levels handle their concerns simultaneously. This hierarchical model per se has not been tested empirically.

How- ever, Vallacher and Wegner's action-identification theory strongly resembles the Powers hierarchy in some respects, and their theory has been tested. The Vallacher and Wegner model is framed in terms of how people think about the actions they're taking, but it also conveys the sense that how people think about their actions is informative about the goals by which they're guiding the actions.

Work done within the framework of action-identification theory has developed considerable support for the no- tion of hierarchicality as proposed by Powers.

Overcoming Pessimism with Faith

Implicit here is that goals at any given level can often be achieved by a variety of means at lower levels. This permits one to address the fact that people sometimes shift radically the manner in which they try to reach a goal, when the goal itself has not changed. This is common when the quality that constitutes the higher order goal is implied in several different kinds of lower order activities.

For example, you can be helpful fulfilling an abstract goal by writing a donation check, picking up discards for a recycling center, volunteering at charity, or holding a door open for someone else.

Just as a given goal can be obtained by way of multiple pathways, so can a specific act be performed in the service of diverse goals. For example, you could buy someone a gift to make him feel good, to repay a kindness, to put him in your debt, or to satisfy a perceived holiday-season role. Thus, a given act can have strikingly different meanings, depending on the purpose it's intended to serve.

This is an important subtheme of this view on behavior: Behavior can be understood only by identifying the goals to which it is addressed. A related point made by the notion of hierarchical organization con- cerns the fact that goals are not equal in their importance.


Pessimistic information gathering

Thus, goal qualities at higher levels appear to be intrinsically more important than those at lower levels. Even two goals at a lower level aren't necessarily equivalent in impor- tance. In a hierarchical system there are two ways for importance to accrue to a concrete lower level goal. The more directly the attainment of a concrete goal contributes to the attainment of a valued abstract goal, the more important is the concrete goal. Second, a concrete act that contributes to attaining several higher level goals at once is more important than an act that contributes to the attainment of only one such goal.

With respect to the value aspect of the expectancy—value approach, then, value accrues a as one considers goals higher in a person's hierarchy of goals, b as a concrete goal relates more directly to the attainment of a higher level goal, or c as a concrete goal represents a step to satisfying multiple higher order goals simultaneously. Feelings The model described in the preceding sections addresses control of action.

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This process operates along with the behavior-guiding one and in parallel to it. One way to describe what this system does is to say it's checking on how well the behavior loop is doing at reducing its discrepancies. Thus, the perceptual input for the affect-creating loop is a representation of the rate of discrepancy reduction in the action system over time.