OODA-PISRR, Part II: The PISRR Cognition Loop

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


But PISRR is a mirror of the OODA loop, so it should look like this:


If that chart looks a lot like the OODA loop

that’s on purpose. As the previous post quoted Larry as saying

There are many similarities, almost mirror images, to the OODA loop and the PISRR loop.

Until now, however, a solid visual representation of this has not been available. The “five arrows from a circle” description of PISRR hardly does it justice, while my naive charts from the first part of this serious were also deceptive.

In the last post I charted John Boyd’s PISRR cycle as:


But what really goes on is:


Likewise, the last post displayed the Social Cognition Cycle as:


when really it is:


In the PISRR loop, there is no forward feed between Isolate and Subvert.

One grows smarter in two ways: learning and development. Learning is the acquisition of new facts. It is a quantitative change in knowledge. Learning is the attainment of ever more precise models of the world. It is normal science, the de-fuzzy-ification of knowledge.

Development is a qualitative change in knowledge. It is the destruction and creation of mental categories. It is revolutionary science.

Learning can happen without development, but development requires learning. Another to say this is that new information

Consider a recent Slashdot story on struggle among mice. To quote from the article:

To find out, they first subjected mice to a different dominant mouse daily for 10 days. Even 4 weeks later, the “socially defeated” animals vigorously avoided former aggressors or unfamiliar mice. BDNF and an indicator of gene expression increased markedly in their social memory circuit. Yet, the social avoidance behavior was reversible by giving the animals antidepressants.

He and his colleagues also discovered that social defeat triggered an upheaval in gene expression in the target area of the circuit, the nucleus accumbens, located deep in the front part of the brain — 309 genes increased in expression while 17 decreased. This pattern persisted even 4 weeks later, with 127 genes still increased and 9 decreased, paralleling the changes seen in social behavior. The researchers suggest that this alteration in gene expression encodes the motivational changes induced by aggression. When BDNF was deleted, or the animals were given antidepressants, most of the changes in gene expression reversed.

In Boydian times, the dominant mouse first subdued the victim mouse. This was an immediate quantitative change in the behavior of the victim mouse. This “mouse system perturbation” then triggered a horizontal change to the genetic factors of the mouse.

By first subduing the victim mouse, the dominant mouse was actually able to subvert it by effecting a qualitative change in the victim mouse — to get inside the victim mouse’s brain (literally) and change what it wanted.

A theoretical, and less mousey, example of how one can subdue to subvert is my hypothetical description of . I mentioned a way to attack a State without letting the government know that it is being attacked. This also is composed of attempts to subdue the state (change its quantitative characteristics) in a manner designed to subvert the state (change its qualitative characteristics).

Both OODA and PISRR are Cognition Loops. OODA describes how one moves from inaction to action, while PISRR describes the mental shift from action to inaction. OODA is how one thinks, while PISRR is how one teaches.

Both can be used to win — and force another to lose.

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

5 thoughts on “OODA-PISRR, Part II: The PISRR Cognition Loop”

  1. Dan,

    As always, excellent post. Love the graphics. Fascinating subject. My capabilities for abstraction are not as developed as yours, but I sort of get the essence of what you are trying to convey. I always tended to look at the OODA loop in military terms. In the Air Force we have some variations of the OODA loop; one of them is “the kill chain”: Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, Assess or F2T2EA. The kill chain is roughly equivalent of the OODA loop with the Find and Assess portions being the Observe, the Fix, Track being the Orient, the Target portion being the Decide and the Engage being the Act. Of course, this is a very simplified explanation, but that’s roughly how we apply it, mainly to prosecute high-value time sensitive targets. F2T2EA also roughly equals Detect, Locate, Identify, Decide, Strike, Assess. We prefer F2T2EA because the acronym is easier to memorize. Keep up the good work.

  2. Sonny,

    Thank you for the kind words. They mean a lot to me.

    Have you run across COODA [1], DOODA [2], or MOODA [3] ? It's interesting to compare different models of cognition (such as SOAR, and especially with Larry's application of PISRR to OODA I'm wondering what else is out there.

    [1] http://www.dodccrp.org/events/2005/10th/CD/papers/280.pdf
    [2] http://www.dodccrp.org/events/2005/10th/CD/papers/365.pdf
    [3] http://www.dodccrp.org/events/2004/CCRTS_San_Diego/CD/papers/175.pdf
    [4] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/12/02/soar-automating-human-thought-with-contradiction-and-analogy.html

  3. Dan,

    Thanks for the cranium's up on those documents. I had heard about some of the variations to the OODA loop but had not actually seen such detailed discussions.

    When you say that the PISSR loop is a mirror image to the OODA loop, do you mean that the Penetrate/Isolate correlates to Observe, and so on? I don't think that's how it works, but maybe you can clarify. Maybe I am reading it wrong. In military terms, you can Observe an adversary (for that you need some degree of Penetration, so to speak) without Isolating him. Consenquently, you can Orient without Subduing. The PISSR loop looks to me more like the stages of victory. Maybe in a later post you can include a real-world example, preferably from warfare.

    I posted some practical OODA loop observations in the FX-Based blog based on my experience. From C2 perspective, we need to improve our Decision stage. The good news is, in my view, potential adversary nation states are likely to have an even more cumbersome “D”. This does not necessarily apply to non-state adversaries, whose Decision process tends to be more decentralized and elusive to us.

    Check out MCDP 6 (USMC), where they use the OODA loop as a point of departure for C2 theory.


    Take care dude.

  4. Sonny,

    Think of how a mirrow distorts an image. Audience left becomes stage right. In the same way, OODA is a mirror of PISRR because the first stages of OODA correspond to the last stages of PISRR (and vice versa).

    The OODA loop ends with Action. But PISRR begins with an action (Penetration).

    Likewise, PISRR goes from high-tempo to low-tempo (ending with the SysAdmin-like Reharmonization, after the Leviathan-like Penetration), while OODA goes from low-tempo to high-tempo (Observation to Action).

    The revised social cognition loop [1] is an attempt to show how this mirroring works.

    I took a look at the Command and Control paper, though it seems to make a mistake that is extremely common in analysis of the OODA loop. Take a look at the chart under “Point of Departure: The OODA Loop” [2], or the following text:

    “Based on our orientation, we decide what to do—whether that decision takes the form of an immediate reaction or a deliberate plan. Then we put the decision into action. “

    The author may be referring to the direct Orientation-Action link, implicit guidance & control, when he says “immediate reaction,” but the point of fast OODA cycling is to /bypass/ decision as much as possible. Likewise the chart ignores Orient->Observe feed-back or Decision->Observe feed-back.

    As I said, this is is extremely common. It was even brought up in the first part of this series! 🙂

    Nice post [4], btw.

    [1] http://static.flickr.com/40/99758766_e9cb7e179b_o.jpg
    [2] http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/mcdp6/ch2.htm
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/02/13/ooda-pisrr-part-i-the-social-cognition-loop.html#c560632
    [4] http://fx-based.blogspot.com/2006/02/net-centric-discussion-todays-wars.html

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