Model flattening

Before we move on from our discovery of the inner OODA loop, I want to talk about a phenomenon that plays a significant role in our lives and in the amount of jank we produce. I struggled to capture it succinctly, and here’s my current best effort. I call this phenomenon model flattening.

If we look into the strategies that the inner OODA loop applies in its Decide step, we can loosely identify three, each of non-linearly increasing severity, neatly following that expectation gradient tangent curve.

At the lower end of the curve, the inner OODA loop yields all of the resources to whatever else might need them. 

As the gradient approaches the kink in the curve, the belt begins to tighten. Sensing the approach of the asymptote, the strategy shifts to mobilization. Cutting down anything that might consume resources, our body acts as a ruthless bureaucrat. using a set of powerful tools to make that happen. When this strategy is employed, it almost feels like we are taken over by something else. We know this sensation as the amygdala hijack. “Yeah, buddy. I saw you drive, and that was cool, but it’s time for the pros to intervene. Moooove!” 

Further beyond, the body recognizes that the asymptote territory was reached and shifts into the “freeze” mode, flopping onto the ground and basically waiting for danger to pass. There’s no way to create infinite output to overcome impossible challenges, so we cleverly evolved a shutdown function.

If you know me, you were probably expecting me to inevitably stir Adult Development Theory (ADT) concepts into this stew. You were right.

Very briefly, ADT postulates that through our lives, we all traverse a stair-step like progression of stages. With each stage including and transcending the previous one, we become capable of seeing more and creating and holding more subtle models of the environment. In the context of this narrative, fallback is the short-term reversal of this process, where we rapidly lose access to the full complexity of our models. 

Fallback might be a great way to express how our inner OODA loop achieves resource mobilization. Like that thermal control system for microprocessors, it has first dibs on throttling resources. However,  while the microprocessor is just getting its clock speed reduced, the human system does something a little more interesting: it flattens our model of the environment.

With each progressive strategy, the bureaucrat in charge closes more doors in the metaphorical house of our mind, smashing the delicate filigree of our models into a flatland. As we experience it, this flattening feels like a simplification of our environment. Our surroundings become more cartoon-like, having fewer details and moving parts. Only things that the inner OODA loop judged to have our immediate survival at stake are left within the model. Those connections are strengthened and drawn with thicker lines, and the others are ignored. As a result, the number of imaginable alternatives shrinks. Our OODA loops collapse into OO or DA. You already know what happens next.

The effect on jank is somewhat different from the one we’ve seen in overheating phones. Sometimes, this flattening will result in Action that we need. Sometimes, it will do the opposite. The flattening can save my butt in a tiger encounter, and it can also ruin a delicate conversation. Model flattening is a blunt instrument and in fluid, ambiguous environments, it is probably the most significant source of prediction error rate, and subsequently – jank. Unless your job involves evading actual tigers, model flattening is likely working against you.

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