Diseases of orientation

In Boyd’s grand scheme of things, Orientation drives action. The easiest and most reliable way to defeat opponents is to mess with their orientations so that the resulting actions are ineffective, late, or missing altogether.

It’s an ancient idea, all the way back to Sun Tzu (“All warfare is based upon deception.”), and that’s just what we have in writing. We can be sure the idea itself dates way before Sun Tzu.

In any case, a few thousand years later, Boyd added the idea of operating inside the OODA loop:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. Strategic Game, 47

The core idea is that you have to execute your nefarious plan before your victim can understand what’s happening, which includes clearing up the ambiguity and seeing through your deceptions. And just as the picture is becoming clear, it isn’t the right picture. That’s how pickpockets and many stage magicians work. As Caroline Williams wrote recently for BBC Future,

According to neuroscientists our brains come pretty much hard-wired to be tricked, thanks to the vagaries of our attention and perception systems. In fact, the key requirement for a successful pickpocket isn’t having nifty fingers, it’s having a working knowledge of the loopholes in our brains. “How pickpockets trick your mind

As we’ve pointed out before, the side with the most accurate orientation wins, or at least that’s the way to bet. Often, just good enough will do:

“A street thief will avoid like the plague people who are demonstrating a very open awareness of their environment. The man on the tube who is looking around, being very aware, they won’t go anywhere near,” quoting “stage pickpocket” James Brown.

If you read Williams’s article carefully, you can see that pickpockets play on the assumptions of their victims. For all practical purposes, “assumptions” might be considered as the static component of “orientation.” You might think of “orientation” as the mental model, based upon our assumptions, that we can use to make predictions about what will happen if …

Mistaken assumptions, then, often lead to mistaken conclusions, and this can happen even in the pristine world of physics, as another recent article, this time on PBS, illustrated:

Einstein was “one of the most accomplished scientists ever—he took part in the process of discovering quantum mechanics,” says [Harvard astrophysicist Avi] Loeb, and yet “he had a prejudice that turned out to be wrong.” Kate Becker, “The Mistaken Assumptions That Changed Physics History

Another article worth reading carefully.

We read these, and our reactions might swing between “This is terrible; people should be more careful,” to “Idiots! I’d never do anything that stupid.”  Boyd’s approach might be more like: These are indeed terrible. Wonder how we can inflict more of them on our opponents?

3 thoughts on “Diseases of orientation

  1. Working inside another’s OODA loop we do have to, in a way, become a disease, either working as a bacteria or a virus, depending, I imagine, on how one enterers the loop.

    But as scientist tells us, the human body contains mostly bacteria or viruses that are not us, so the fact that there is a bacteria or a virus within our loop is not of consequence.

    It is how they Act or if they are not there at all that is important.

    Some scientist believe that we are killing those things that make us a working organism (bacteria and viruses) and that this is what is making us humans sick, as a whole.

    I also believe this is true, and also is a scenario (those within our loop dying) that is happening to our soil, which is also needed to keep life on our planet on a continuing bases.

    As humans, I don’t believe we can stop ourselves from working inside another’s loop, so we just need to become good instead of bad bacteria and viruses.

    Any suggestions on how?

    • Larry —

      Thanks! I had a chart I’d use when briefing about Boyd. It was something like “Boydian heroes of the natural world” and had pictures of the HIV, a cockroach, a bacterium (I don’t remember which – Yersinia pestis?) and Rattus norvegicus.

      For my prototypical hero of the human world, I’d show Noomi Rapace as Lisabeth Salander.

      By count, you’re right — we’re largely bacteria and viruses. By weight, though, we’re mainly human tissue.

      As for your last question — I don’t know, and I don’t have a good feeling about our chances.


  2. ” By weight, though, we’re mainly human tissue.”

    It seems like I read somewhere that we are around 90% water, so my guess, by weight, we are mostly water. 🙂

    I think the statistic I actually read was that most of the DNA in our bodies are of some other organism. But I have not heard of a case where, when a DNA sample was taken at the crime scene, the scientist came out and said it was an amoeba that was the suspect in the murder. Even with evaporation, my guess is that volume wise most of the volume is us.

    Which doesn’t mean, even at 100% us, that it is all good.

    Cancer cells are us too. Which, if I remember correctly, Lisbeth Salander definitely cleaned up some cancers.

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