Skip to content

Re-envisioning Boyd’s OODA Loop as a Layered (Polycentric) Adaptive Control System

The figure below is an attempt to illustrate three important dimensions of any cognitive system as layers in a polycentric control system. The three layers are designed to reflect John Boyd’s dimensions of the strategic game: Physical, Mental, and Moral. Note that all three layers are closed loops (effectively OODA loops) that get feedback as a result of the consequences of acting on the ecology. Further, the outer layers set up constraints or determine the degrees of freedom available to inner layers. Finally, it is important to recognize that each layer is working continuously and simultaneously with the other layers, but at a different time scale (i.e., these are not sequential operations).

The inner most layer (green) in this diagram represents the direct coupling with the ecology that reflects perceptual-motor skills. This “represents the world of matter-energy-information all of us are a part of, live in and feed upon” (Osinga, 2007, p. 210). This type of coupling was the focus of J.J. Gibson’s research and constructs such as affordance and optical invariant play important roles. Much of the action at this level is ‘automatic’ requiring little conscious awareness.

The next outer layer (orange) in this diagram reflects conscious thinking related to problem solving and decision making. At this level an intention is formed that will frame subsequent actions in the layer below. This “represents the emotional/intellectual activity we generate to adjust to, or cope with, that physical world” (Osinga, 2007, p. 210). The functioning of this layer is the focus of researchers such as Gary Klein (Recognition-Primed Decision Making, Naturalistic Decision Making) and Gerd Gigerenzer (Ecological Rationality). Important constructs to consider at this level include abduction and heuristic. The intention provides the framing for attention, recognition, and the possible actions at the skill-based level.

The most outer layer (blue) in this diagram reflects the influence of long-term experience and learning. It “represents the cultural codes of conduct or standards of behavior that constrain, as well as sustain and focus, our emotional/intellectual responses” (Osinga, 2007, p. 210). This layer reflects the values, principles, assumptions, and beliefs that shape performance at the other layers. This layer reflects the largely ‘implicit knowledge’ that shapes analysis and synthesis at the conscious thought level below.

This system is a multilayered, adaptive control system that is continually tuning to achieve a stable relation with the ecology. This tuning is happening simultaneously at all three levels, but at different time scales. Ultimately, stability depends on coordinated interaction across the three levels. The general notion is consistent with C.S. Peirce's logic of abduction, Piaget's constructs of assimilation and accommodation, EJ Gibson's construct of attunement, and Friston's Free Energy Principle. Thus, the dynamic is essentially one of minimizing "surprise" (i.e., reducing uncertainty) relative to the continuously changing Ecology.

The unique feature of this model relative to other models is that most models envision the interactions between levels as sequential. That is, there is a precedence relation between the three layers so that the outer layers need to infer the 'ecology' based on cues provided by the inner layer. In contrast, the model presented here suggests that all three levels have direct feedback of the consequences of action - though this feedback is integrated over different time constants. In essence - each layer is tuned to different bandwidths (in terms of the patterns that matter most).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *