Masters of the Snowmobile: Musashi, Boyd, Musk

In 1645, as he was looking back at his long and successful career as a samurai, where a single loss often meant death, Miyamoto Musashi concluded that although rigorous sword practice was essential, it wasn’t enough. At the end of the first chapter of A Book of Five Rings, he also admonishes aspiring warriors to “Cultivate a wide variety of interests in the arts” and “Be knowledgable in a wide variety of occupations.”

Similarly, Boyd, who was was a keen student of Musashi, described his method as looking across a wide variety of fields — “domains” he called them — searching for underlying principles, “invariants.” He would then experiment with syntheses involving these principles until he evolved a solution to the problem he was working on. Because they involved bits and pieces from a variety of domains, he called these syntheses “snowmobiles” (skis, handlebar from a bicycle, etc.) Continue reading

Just one word for the new graduate

Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Neuroplasticity.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

This is another in a series of posts promoting, or at least complicating, our understanding of Orientation because Orientation is, after all, the Schwerpunkt.

In fact, if I had to boil Boyd’s philosophy down to one idea, it might be to ensure that your orientation makes more accurate forecasts than those of your opponents. If we’re talking business competition, substitute “customers” for “opponents.” Continue reading

Playing defense

One of the most powerful ideas in Boyd’s philosophy of conflict is that it doesn’t make any difference how potent adversaries’ weapons might be — or how brilliant their strategy — if they can’t use them.  Why might they not be able to use them?  Some reasons are simple, such as lack of proficiency. In other words, insufficient Fingerspitzengefühl or its organizational counterpart, Einheit. They know what to do but just don’t have the skills to do it.

There’s another possibility, one that Boyd especially liked, and it applies even if they’re well-trained: Get them confused, discombobulated, or better yet, infected with fear, uncertainty, doubt and mistrust.  He suggested many ways to do this, some of which are direct, such as agitprop and fifth columns, and others that fall under the category of “operating inside their OODA loops.” You can read more about this approach in Patterns, particularly around pages 121-125 and pages 46-47 of Strategic Game. Continue reading

Fear of planning

Another post on research into the physiology of orientation.

Planning may start in brain’s amygdala, study says,” reporting on research conducted at Cambridge University.  The amygdala is most commonly associated with emotions like fear and aggression, so its relationship to planning comes as somewhat of a surprise.

Perhaps this neural activity in the amygdala is related to the idea that much of the activity of the frontal lobe — our higher-order thinking apparatus — is justifying and implementing actions that we decided on somewhere else. “The mind follows where the heart leads,” in other words. Perhaps it’s the amygdala and not the heart.

Early in the process, neurons in the amygdala were activated in a pattern that reflected “several trials ahead” whether the monkey would save up towards specific goals, according to the study. “These activity patterns could be used by the frontal lobe to translate goal signals into concrete action plans,” [project lead Fabian] Grabenhorst told AFP by email.

What makes this most interesting from Boyd’s perspective is that this activity is taking place in one of our primary fear centers, and in particular, one activated by ambiguity.  A key thread in Boyd’s approach is to pump up fear, menace, and uncertainty (ambiguity), which juice the amygdala.

This was a small experiment, but it does suggest a physiological basis for Boyd’s contention that one can attack not only an opponent’s plans, as Sun Tzu insisted, but his very ability to plan.

Quantum entanglement, the arrow of time, and John Boyd?

Time, as every reader of this blog knows, plays a fundamental role in Boyd’s philosophy of conflict. The whole idea of fast transients, for example, which morphed into “operating inside the OODA loop,” depends on one side’s ability to change the environment more rapidly than the other side can comprehend, that is, within the time it takes them to reorient.

Does time exist? Not a question I’m going to go into here because even if it didn’t exist, what difference would it make to, say, operating inside the OODA loop? In either case, we can still imagine, and work with, an arrow of time: Just as you can tell whether Kill Bill (either part) is playing forward or backwards (hint — blood); in a business competition, you can generally tell who is operating inside whose OODA loop.
Continue reading

Seeing more ghosts

As the late, very great, Richard Feynman put it:

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFO’s, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth. And I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

No, and it seems, sometimes, to be moving the other way. We’ll be bleeding patients and burning witches any day now.

For example, just yesterday, “Does ESP Exist? 11 Premonitions That Came True,” appeared in The Epoch Times (in my Flipboard Science category, of all things).

We read,

Though some psychologists and natural scientists remain skeptical, many agree telepathic abilities and related phenomena exist.

Chris Carter, an Oxford University-educated author of “Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics,” cited two surveys in an article he published in Epoch Times last year that show a majority of scientists believe in such abilities.

One survey was conducted among more than 500 scientists; 56 percent said extra-sensory perception (ESP) is “an established fact” or a “likely possibility.” The other survey was conducted among more than 1,000 scientists; 67 percent said it is an established fact or likely possibility.

I rechecked the date on the article. It wasn’t April 1st.