Unless it is willfully made otherwise, everything in life, left to itself, goes from a state of order to disorder (Wiener, 1964). When a machine is put into motion, it is not requisite that the machine should be expected to perform the same function, with the same precision, forever. Eventually, the machine will begin to decrease in precision with greater and greater oscillations. To insure that the machine can maintain accuracy, the machine needs to be equipped with the ability utilize feedback (Wiener, 1964).
“The control of a machine on the basis of its actual performance rather than its expected performance is known as feedback” (Wiener, 1964, p. 24). To equip a machine with feedback capability, the machine needs to be able to 1) perform a function, 2) have a sensor that measures the actual performance of the function, and 3) have the sensor connected to motor members that can correct the function when it has missed the intended mark (Wiener, 1964).
Feedback with People
Wiener (1964) believed that machines and humans both operate using feedback. “In both of them, their performed action on the outer world, and not merely their intended action, is reported back to the central regulatory apparatus” (Wierner, 1964, p. 27). Feedback with humans, as with machines, is imperative in daily functioning. A person who is born deaf has difficulty adjusting their pitch when speaking because of their impairment in receiving feedback (McGarr & Osberger, 1978). Likewise, a person who is blindfolded has difficulty walking in a straight line, due to their inability to register visual feedback ( Souman, Frissen, Sreenivasa, & Ernst, 2009).
The feedback process with people can also be divided into three parts: 1) a message being sent, 2) sensory messages returning to the sender that let the sender know what message was actually received, 3) correction made by the sender to adjust for the difference in intended message received and actual message received. Despite its corrective function, feedback does not ensure that adjusted accuracy will be performed perfectly. When messages are sent and received there is always a degree of information that is lost (Wiener, 1964; Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967). The loss of information decreases the ability of perfect adjustment.
Not all sensory mechanisms are equal in performance. Some have a greater ability to receive and interpret messages than others. Some people have a greater ability to hear tones in speech and music than others. This inhibits or enhances their ability to recognize feedback nuances in pitch changes (Patel, Foxton, & Griffiths; 2005). Differences in visual perception inhibits or increases a person’s ability to utilize feedback in playing sports, such as basketball, where perceptual discrimination is needed (Laurent, Ward, Williams, & Ripoll, 2006).
Postformal and Reflective Thinking
Differences in reception and interpretation of feedback increase or decrease the ability of a person to utilize the information. Some of the feedback a person receives will be lost in transmission. Despite the loss in transmission, the person will still be required to interpret the information.
“Every stable system has the property that if displaced from a state of equilibrium and released, the subsequent movement is so matched to the initial displacement that the system is brought back into the state of equilibrium. A variety of disturbances will therefore evoke a variety of matched reactions (Ashby, 1960, p. 54).” Such actions are not thought to be determined by chance but by determinism on the part of the organism (Ahsby, 1960; Wiener, 1964).
A stable state of equilibrium can be defined as “one from which the representative point does not move. When the primary operation is applied, the transition from that state can be described as ‘to itself’” (Ashby, 1960, p. 46). This means that as behaviors occur they continue to converge around a central point and are maintained within bounds. When behaviors merge away from a certain point and exceed bounds, they are no longer in a state of a stable equilibrium. The ability of an organism to match its displacement and maintain a stable equilibrium within its essential bounds is known as adaptation (Ashby, 1960).
When one person receives feedback from another, there are multiple messages being conveyed through verbal and nonverbal messaging (Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 196). There is also a myriad of environmental factors that are associated with the context in which the message is being received (Ashby, 1960; Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967). The message by itself must be considered within the context that it is presented for it to be understood appropriately (Watzlawick, Bavelas, & Jackson, 1967).
A person that is able to interpret feedback adequately must be able to identify which of the variables being presented in the message and context are non-essential and which are essential. Ashby (1960) identified the essential variables as the ones that are necessary to maintain the stability of the system. The non-essential variables may be present but have a small impact on the system and will not readily affect the stable equilibrium if changed (Ashby, 1960). Rokeach (1960) gave a detailed description of the process of identifying essential variables. " We assume that, in any situation in which a person must act, there are certain characteristics of the situation that point to the appropriate action to be taken. If the person reacts in terms of such relevant characteristics, his response should be correct, or appropriate. The same situation also contains irrelevant factors, not related to the inner structure or requirements of the situation. To the extent that response depends on such irrelevant factors, it should be unintelligent or inappropriate. Every person, then, must be able to evaluate adequately both the relevant and irrelevant information he receives from every situation. This leads us to suggest a basic characteristic that defines the extent to which a person’s system is open or closed; namely, the extent to which a person can receive, evaluate, and act on relevant information received from the outside on its own intrinsic merits, unencumbered by irrelevant factors in the situation arising from within the person or from the outside (p. 57) ."
A person that maintains a stable equilibrium must be able to be adaptive to any changes that take place so as to match any displacement to the equilibrium and maintain the essential variables within the bounds of a central area (Ashby, 1960). Every time the person attempts to correct any displacement, the actual result will not match the intended result. The person will know the difference between the intended result and the actual result through the process of feedback (Wiener, 1964). The interpretation of the feedback and the subsequent action to be taken will be determined by the person’s belief system that he operates on (Rokeach, 1960). The more open the belief system, the more accurate the person will be interpreting and utilizing the feedback.
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