An Escape from Clinical Depression

The picture serves as a visual metaphor for negative feedback control as it applies to communication. I   Introduction
II  Insight into clinical depression
         Negative feedback control
III  Summary of insight
IV Author

Links: a guide to clinical depression

Negative feedback control

A mechanism for understanding an origin of clinical depression
There is latent in Cybernetics [negative feedback control] the means of achieving a new and perhaps more human outlook, a means of changing our philosophy of control, and a means of seeing our own follies in wider perspective.

                             Gregory Bateson 

Negative feedback (NFB) control11 is the primary mechanism for maintaining stability in living (and non living) systems ranging from the smallest cell to the Gaia--the now accepted model of the Earth as a functioning organism. NFB control is how your blood pressure, blood sugar, and numerous other physiological parameters are maintained within their normal limits. It is how the balance is maintained among the various components of an ecological system.
11This idea had a number of independent births--Watt's steam engine governor,Wallace's theory of evolution, and Benard's homeostasis among others--before gathering up a name (cybernetics) and a place in our intellectual tool box via the Macy Foundation conferences in the late 1940's. For more on the intriguing history of this idea, see Bateson, Gregory, Mind and Nature:A Necessary Unity (Ballantine Books:New York, 1979)
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In the context of negative feedback control, NFB is not a pejorative but rather a signal for the up or down regulation of a process in order to return a variable in a system to some specified value or set point. The "negative" in NFB refers to the reversal of the variable's excursion away from that set point.
A familiar example is the home environmental control system. In this case, the variable to be controlled is the temperature. The set point is that temperature which the occupant "dials" into the thermostat. The NFB is the signaling from the thermostat to the heating & air conditioning system for either an up or down regulation of the amount of heat in the house--whichever is required to return the room temperature to its set point. See figure below.
This is a block diagram explaining the environmental control of a house. From the house block there is a loop--labeled up or down regulating negative feedback signals--pointing to the heating and air conditioning unit block. From the heating and air conditioning block, there is an arrow--indicating the flow of either warm or cold air--pointing toward the house block.

In the case of two people communicating, the variable is the psychological state of the party being spoken to (or acted upon). See figure below. The set point is the psychological state that this party desires at any given moment. The process which is being regulated (successfully or not) in the service of that goal is the output of the speaking or acting party.
This is a block diagram showing a flow of speech (or other action) from a speaking party to a listening party. The diagram also shows a flow of information--labeled up and down regulating negative feedback signals--from the listening party to the speaking party.

(None of the above is to argue that the person speaking or acting may not (or should not) have his or her own agenda and thus resist such regulation. It is though to argue that any relationship between persons (or groups of persons) in which this regulation is consistently abrogated is one characterized by an exercise of power and is potentially pathogenic--productive of clinical depression in the specific case at hand.)
Yet still more shims for clinical depression. Return to top

[ Introduction  |  Insight into clinical depression >NFB | Summary of insight | Author | Links ]

Last revision: December 7, 2001
Escape from Clinical Depression
This page � Copyright 2001, Jon Eden

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Photograph courtesy Philip Greenspun