Gray sky thinking: John Boyd’s entropy machine

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Smithsonian Channel. “The Intense Dogfight Between a U.S. Pilot and an Iraqi MiG” (2018). Screenshot altered.

In his “Destruction and Creation” (1976), the military strategic theorist John Boyd describes what he calls a dialectic engine. He begins by noting that, as decisional agents, we develop and use concepts and models in order to navigate our environments better, but which nevertheless change as rapidly as we navigate them. (One of Boyd’s paradigm cases for this situation is provided by the dynamics of aerial dogfighting, and he himself was a well-respected fighter pilot and instructor for the USAF.)

In general, the goal of conceptually modeling navigation in this way is “to improve our capacity for independent action.” Put differently, it is intended to help us exercise and retain agency in complex decisional environments, rather than being outmaneuvered and overwhelmed (either by competitors, or by the sheer weight of…

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