OODA-PISRR, Part I: The Social Cognition Loop

The late Air Force Colonel John Boyd’s five stages of victory, his , are often shown like this:


But once one looks at it like a loop


all sorts of things become apparent.

First, one might try to change the existing OODA loop:

To look “more like” the PISRR loop


but the differences, such as the Decide->Observe loop-back, mean that PISRR is not the same as OODA..

More profitable is to follow Larry Dunbar’s realization

While I now understand the strategy of OODA (as well as any non-expert could), PISRR should be give equal time. OODA is going from Potential Energy (Observe) to Kinetic energy (ACT). PISRR is going from Kinetic energy (Penetrate) to Potential Energy (Reharmonize).

Harmony can be considered non-destructive waves of changing potential energy. To reharmonize would be to reunite these non-destructive waves of energy into a society.

There are many similarities, almost mirror images, to the OODA loop and the PISRR loop. Both rely explicitly on trust, this must have been where Col. North screwed up the PISRR loop. Both are powerful strategies in war. While OODA can be considered an organizational loop from Special Operations forces to a Leviathan force, PISRR can be considered an organizational loop going from Leviathan force to a System Administration force.

That is, OODA describes escalation and PISRR describes de-escalation


(Compare also to normal and revolutionary change.)

This implies that one can replace the “external world” in the OODA loop with the PISRR loop, and vice verse, so:


Yet here “Act” is redundent, because the first step of the PISRR loop — Penetrate — is itself an action.


We may call it a day, if not for a red flag. A clue in John Boyd’s language tells us we are missing something profound


If “Penetration” is a form of “Action,” then should Reorientation not be a style of Orientation?

The red flag alertts us to another similarity in PISRR and OODA — Decide and Subdue


In a comment I made to Dr. Dan Nexon, I mentioned

The difference between 3GW and 4GW difference is that 4GW tries to force a qualitative change, while 3GW tries to force a quantitative reevaluations. As I mentioned in another post [1], 4GW focuses on Orientation while 3GW focuses on Decision.

For example, we can simplify the British public’s thought process as

“While the cost of war is not too high, fight bad guys”

Strategic bombing tries to change the value of the quantitative value “the cost of the war” past the fuzzy value “too high.” The bombings themselves increase the cost of the war, while propaganda decreased “too high” (by saying “a Berlin-centered England wouldn’t be so bad…” ).

4GW would have tried to change the identity of the British public itself. It would have tried to shift the British public, not just into neutral observers, but allies. It would have convinced the public in the 1940s, in a way that many Marxists were able to do by the 1970s, that Britannia herself was the evil empire.

In other words, Orientation and Subversion all focus by changing qualitative characteristics of a person. It alters whether or not a person would do something, all other things being equal. Subdue and Decide focus on quantitative change, whether or not a man can practically achieve his goal.

This implies that Subvert is part of Orient…


which means we can simplify the model to:


We now have a realized model of the “cloudy” OODA-PISRR model we started out with




This combined loop may be called a Social Cognition Loop, because it reflects the subject’s OODA loop and the object’s PISRR loop as part one one cycle. Like a sine wave.

Yet this Social Cognition Loop is wrong, and Boyd is incomplete. A wise fighter will try to break it anyway. He can’t, but he can destroy something else.

OODA-PISRR, a tdaxp series in four parts
Part I: The Social Cognition Loop
Part II: The PISRR Cognition Loop
Part III: Formless Fast Transients
Part IV: System Perturbations

6 thoughts on “OODA-PISRR, Part I: The Social Cognition Loop”

  1. Dan, I may have missed a lesson somewhere, but I'm having a difficult time understanding the direct move to Act from Orient in the OODA loop. If the process of orienting is a kind of act, then I could understand it; but otherwise, some sort of decision would have to be made which would lead to action from orient (So I understand the arrow from Orient-Decide-Act.)

    That is to say, if the arrow between Orient and Act were removed altogether, the diagram would make more sense to me. Alternatively, if Orientation is sometimes a kind of Act, then the looping could be something like:

    Observe — Orient/Act — External World

    …..Orient — Decide — Act — External World

  2. Curtis,

    The Orient-Act link (called “implicit guidance and control” [1] ) is the hardest part of the OODA loop to get. My first post on 5GW,for instance, contained a misleading depiction of the OODA loop [2] that I later corrected [3]. To quote myself from that article

    “That is, the flow from Observe to Act is the primary link out of Observe. Most actions are not “decided” upon, so the Observe-Decide flow is a secondary link.”

    Or to quote Chet Richards [4]

    “In a real-time operation, the “Implicit guidance and control” link from Orientation to Action should control, most of the time (95-99%). Important to recognize, though that this is not a reflex, not a direct Observation – Action link. It goes through Orientation, which is where previous experience and intuitive analyses/synthesis come into play.

    The key to the Decision box is the subtitle, “Hypothesis.” The Decision block is the learning phase, where you try things out and learn from the result. It is part of how the loop shapes future Orientation. What you learn becomes a part of your (previous) experiences as well as affecting the types of analyses and syntheses you are able to perform. It is still operating even in the middle of a fight, although at a reduced level, since you will learn somethings about your opponent in the contest. However, it is most active in training, where you can try new things and learn without getting killed. All the hours of training that the martial artists go through is to program their Orientations so that the vast majority of the time, effective actions flow smoothly and rapidly from Orientation. A formal decision mechanism would be too slow. In fact, one thing you would like to do is force your opponent to make explicit decisions, i.e., force him out of what he can handle intuitively. Operating inside his/her OODA loops is one way to do just that.”

    I hope this helps.

    I saw the little arrows going down in the email notification of your comment, so I'm not sure why they're not displaying other than a blogspirit bug.

    [1] http://www.mindsim.com/MindSim/Corporate/OODA.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/07/18/go-deep-ooda-and-the-rainbow-of-generational-warfare.html
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/07/20/ooda-loop-as-flowchart-try-2.html
    [4] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/02/08/chet-richards-on-formlessness-and-orientation.html#c545319

  3. Ah, thanks. I remember reading that now. I recently read an article about a study that revealed how rats learn in a new maze — it seems quite relevant. Cells in their brain fired one direction until they paused, then fired in reverse order as if to etch the memory. In a familiar maze, this process did not occur nearly as often. So Chet Richards meant the familiar maze for the Orientation-Action link (broadly speaking.) But in a new maze, rats must orient themselves before they act and may pause to learn…not sure if that could be called “deciding,” because the article only stressed the learning process — where they've been — and not how they determine where to go. (Still, if they go the wrong way, I suppose they can recall that path, go back down it, and try another: a system of eliminating the wrong choices? Anyhoo…)

  4. Curtis,

    I also read that Slashdot [1] article on rat memory. I got your comment while I was finishing up the second part of this series, which used another study of rodents as part of its argument.

    Interesting comment “fired in reverse order as if to etch the memory.” PISRR is something like OODA in reverse order.

    I'm not sure if rats can reason enough to “decide,” but I'm pretty sure slime mold can't [2]. Then again, what about a purely logical predator… [3]

    Coast to Coast AM had a guest [4] on this recently that's worth checking out, if you're a subscriber.

    [1] http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/02/13/0614258
    [2] http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8718
    [3] http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg18324642.800
    [4] http://www.coasttocoastam.com/shows/2006/02/05.html

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