Socrates Cafe Online, each Tue, Fri, Sat, 1st. Sun, 6:30 pm Denver MDT (303)861-1447 Socrates Cafe Dialogue Groups: Watch1 Lead1 Start1. Meeting ID and password emailed to members 30 minutes before each meeting. For free membership write

Friday, October 06, 2023

Just discovered story, "How John Boyd Discovered the Linchpin To The OODA Loop." Topic for Socrates Cafe?

Online with John Wren. Call (303)861-1447

The year was 1953, and John Boyd, a young and ambitious Air Force fighter pilot, had just embarked on a journey that would eventually change the way the world thought about combat

strategy. Stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, he was known for his relentless pursuit of understanding the dynamics of aerial combat.

One crisp autumn morning, Boyd was going through a stack of books in the base's modest library. He had a reputation for being an avid reader and a relentless learner, always seeking new insights to gain an edge in the skies. As he perused the shelves, a worn and yellowed book caught his eye. It was an English translation of a book titled "Reflexes of the Brain" by Ivan Sechenov, originally published in Russian in 1863.

Intrigued, Boyd pulled the book from the shelf and began to read. Sechenov's work that delved into the intricate workings of the brain and the body's responses to various stimuli. As Boyd flipped through the pages, he stumbled upon a section that discussed the Orienting Response, which a translator’s note said was originally  named by Sechenov as the Orienting Reflex.

The concept fascinated Boyd. The idea that organisms had an immediate and innate response to changes in their environment resonated deeply with his understanding of combat. He believed that the key to success in dogfights was the ability to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances, to orient oneself swiftly to the evolving situation. This Orienting Response, as described by Sechenov, seemed to be the missing piece to the puzzle he had been working on.

Boyd began to research further into the Orienting Response, looking into the work of Ivan Pavlov. The Russian physiologist had coined the term "ориентировочный рефлекс" (Orienting Reflex) and had even referred to it as the "What is it?" reflex, highlighting its role in responding to novel or significant stimuli.

Boyd's fascination with the Orienting Response grew into an obsession. He started to incorporate the concept into his studies on aerial combat tactics. He believed that the ability to rapidly orient oneself to the ever-changing battlefield was the key to gaining a decisive advantage over the enemy.

As he delved deeper into his research, Boyd realized that his insights could be synthesized into a comprehensive framework for decision-making and action in high-stakes situations. He began to develop what would later be known as the OODA Loop - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. The Orient phase, inspired by Sechenov's and Pavlov's work, became the linchpin of his theory.

Boyd's journey of discovery didn't end there. He was not content with theory alone. He wanted to apply his ideas in the real world. In the decades that followed, he not only became an accomplished pilot but also a dedicated teacher. He found himself in a classroom, imparting his knowledge and insights to the next generation of fighter pilots.

One day, during a training session with a class of new pilots, something unexpected happened. A young cadet made a decision that seemed contrary to everything Boyd had taught. It led to a critical error in a simulated combat scenario. Boyd watched as the situation unfolded and realized that there was a flaw in his OODA Loop framework. The Orient phase needed refinement to address this specific type of challenge.

That evening, Boyd locked himself in his study, poring over his notes and diagrams. He was determined to find a solution that would prevent a recurrence of the error he had witnessed. It was a long and grueling night, but by morning, he had a breakthrough.

The following day, Boyd returned to the classroom with a new insight, a modification to the Orient phase that would address the problem. He shared it with his students, explaining how this change in the OODA Loop could make a significant difference in their decision-making process.

As the class progressed, Boyd saw the impact of the modification. The cadets applied it effectively in their simulations, and the error that had occurred the previous day was avoided. It was a moment of validation for Boyd, a testament to the power of continuous learning and improvement.

With a sense of fulfillment, Boyd looked ahead to the next class. He knew that the evolution of the OODA Loop was far from over, and he was eager to see how his students would fare with this new knowledge. The journey that had started with an old book in a library had become an ongoing mission to refine and perfect the art of decision-making in the high-stakes world of aerial combat. Boyd's legacy would continue to shape the future of warfare and strategy for generations to come.


  1. Socrates Cafe Online

    Online with John Wren. Questions? Suggestions? Call (303)861-1447 Socrates Cafe Society, sponsored by SBCC, Online each Tue (tonight), Fri, Sat, 1st Sun. Free to you.

    Check the code now (see below) and then join us to help us develop a topic for the dialogue that will start here at 6:30 p.m. Denver time,

    Now the code is wxr-iiwr-cms, it may change at any time, even during meeting.

    To join by phone, dial +1 978-386-4265 and enter this PIN: 913 018 709#

  2. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Hi John, thought I'd join Socrates tonight but don't see the link or what platform the meeting is on. Only see the code. Guess I'll try some other time. Denise

  3. Anonymous5:53 PM

    What is the link today? Zoom? Jitsi?? Google ???

  4. Same as above. Any change, should there be one, will be posted on, that's the first place to look when this stops working, which it eventually will.


Your comment or question here is very welcome! Or to keep it confidential email me at After you post or send it is very helpful if you then call me at (303)861-1447 to make sure I take a look at your comment here or your email. Thanks!