Implicit guidance and control

Most discussion of this topic focuses on how orientation controls action when our purpose is to use our existing repertoire rather than to build new repertoire. Think about being in the middle of a fight as compared to being in training. I go into this in some detail in “Boyd’s real OODA ‘loop'” available from the Articles page.

The other IG&C link, the one from orientation to observation, however, plays a critical role in the operation of the OODA “loop” because it controls what we see, that is, what new information comes into the loop. This sets up a feedback loop where we often see what we want to see, not what we need to see. The result is a phenomenon called “incestuous amplification,” where our orientation locks on what we want to believe because, well, we have the data to support it. Chuck Spinney has a nice description on his blog.

The process of observing and understanding is fascinating because we don’t actually see anything. The retinas in our eyes receive photons from the environment. All the rest happens inside our heads and so is influenced by what is already there. Because orientation plays a central role in the OODA “loop” (“Orientation is the Schwerpunkt,” as Boyd put it on chart 16 of Organic Design), the more we understand about how it works, the better we can use Boyd’s framework.

Science is making progress in unraveling this process. Here’s a recent piece on the subject, “How a mild zap can improve attention,” by Melanie Moran reporting research out of Vanderbilt University:

Researchers have long known that attention could be tuned, like a radio dial, to hone in on specific features, but how and where in the brain this tuning occurs has remained an open question.

It turns out that our long-term memories are more important in the process than we thought:

“Existing theories of visual attention propose that working memory representations, also known as short-term memory, typically control how attention is focused on targets in our visual field,” says coauthor Geoffrey Woodman, assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.

“These new findings provide evidence that long-term memory representations can also underlie our ability to rapidly configure attention to focus on certain objects, and that long-term memory performance can be sharply accelerated using electrical stimulation.”

This suggests to me — purely a conjecture — that the phenomenon of incestuous amplification has deep roots in the brain and so may require considerable time and effort to overcome.  In particular (warning: wild speculation), it may help explain why presenting facts & data to people with deeply held contrary biases actually reinforces those biases.

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One thought on “Implicit guidance and control

  1. “In particular (warning: wild speculation), it may help explain why presenting facts & data to people with deeply held contrary biases actually reinforces those biases.” Reinforces or does it transfer more of the potential for action, such beliefs represent, into decision making? In other words it is converting entropy (energy unavailable to the system) to energy available to the system. All balancing is done on a knife’s edge, so it could be that it is the knife’s edge that is moving off center, even as those biases are being reinforced, and the decision created out of the facts & data presented could actually tip against those biases.
    So all one can say, in this context and under wild speculation, is that the chance that something is going to happen increases (if facts and data are actually reaching decision) and act gets closer, even as the system slows down due to the reinforcement of ideas.
    It is probably much like what happens to mass as it reaches the speed of light. It gets so huge from the influx of entropied energy, that it is just as likely to tip forward as backward in time so you will never “see” the act (because it happens so fast), but what you can say is that something is going to happen (bang).

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