Monday, May 20, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole

Had a fifteen minute conversation with Edwin.  Which always leaves me 1) wishing I had taken notes and 2) fairly certain that I didn't understand most of it.
I'm entirely cool with having a wide circle of friends who are much smarter than I am.  It makes me work harder and it's comforting in a weird way.  Sometimes I have an over-developed sense of responsibility and it is good to know that there are better people taking the load.

It was the kind of conversation that started with affordances (which I still don't feel I grasp the nuances of-- it's not exactly the same as the gifts I tell people to exploit in a fight) and touched on Aristotle's "Metaphysics" and the orient aspect of Boyd's OODA loop and Mac's contention that observation affects physical reality and...

I like a human sized world with human-sized problems.  But I know the universe is both very large and very tiny and that my human perceptions and needs and desires are completely unimportant.  The universe is what it is, not what I want it to be and there is no rule that says the universe needs to make sense-- and certainly no rule that gives me the right to define what sense is.  But it does make sense, so far, and it's actually kind of odd (and maybe a little suspicious) how consistent the universe is.  But that's a long talk for narghila and scotch.

In the conversation with Edwin-- you can look at things at the human sized level and see stuff.  Good stuff and important stuff.  Then you get the metaphorical microscope out and you see entirely different things.  And here's the weird part: Not everything you see is microscope size.  Some of it opens up back to human sized applications.

Affordances: Do you learn to see them?  Or do you learn to NOT see alternatives?  Does a child learn that a chair is for sitting in?  Or does the child unlearn all the other cool things that can be done with a chair?  Is seeing possibility a passive or an active function?  Can it be both?  Is that why I find rolling relaxing instead of exhausting?

Do you see more when you let stuff in or when you actively look?  And does seeing more inhibit interpreting? And is interpreting an act of seeing possibilities or an act of discounting potential so that only a limited number of possibilities are clarified?

Can you train both possibilities?  Is it possible that I am trying to train people for passive observation but active interpretation and exploitation?  And unknown to me, the students may be reversing the active and inactive parts?  None of which make either of us wrong, mind you.  Or right, either.

It's a big rabbit hole, and there isn't a bottom.

So a thanks to the people who can get me thinking like this-- Edwin, Marc, Kai, Mac, Maija, Erik.
Thanks, damn you.


Josh Kruschke said...

Thank You!

I'm sure the readers of your blog & books feel the same way about you; at least I do.

Randy said...
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Randy said...

Afforance theory is the "undiscovered country" of training, in my opinion. It's what we try to learn to do as students, and try to nudge students into seeing as teachers. Recognizing and manipulating affordances has been going on since organisms began to move, and to manipulate things. In terms of fighting, it is the fundamental motor cognition process that allows us to efficiently make use of trained skills or improvise on the spot. The tricky part, for me, is how we develop it. Some people seem to "have it" while others seem almost incapable of moving past the simple ones (walking surfaces, etc.). My hunch is that the key is in how much a person relies on the pre motor cortex vs the motor and cerebellar cortices when they move, train, learn and function. The developmental pathway seems to be some combo of trial and error, curiosity, and importantly, making mistakes so that they can be used to inform future attempts with the same affordance using a different item, or vice versa.

You might find this useful- it's an update on the way that the concept of affordances has been revised since it's inception in the 70's by Gibson:
This approach is from an interface POV, but the nuances of affordance theory of perception are broadly applicable.

Randy said...

I started digging back through some of my research and notes on this topic as it relates to training, playing and fighting. I came across this note that relates to some of the questions you've posed:

Affordances are recognized when the properties of something in an environment allow an individual to achieve a goal that he or she is motivated to accomplish, and they are exploited when the individual is physically capable of manipulating the item, which may be divergent from the item's usual or intended use. The affordance is not necessarily learned as much as it is recognized, and recognition requires perception of an object relative to one's ability to manipulate it towards the goal. In the case of fighting skills, the affordance is perceived when there is an opportunity for a potential offered by the opponent to be exploited. by a certain capability. Ex: An opponent's body part offers strike-ability and I am in a position to utilize my capability to strike it; what I hit with will depend on the opportunity presented by range, positions and environmental context. I take advantage of it instead of waiting for a familiar setup to occur (i.e., hooking you in the side of the knee from a kneeling position, instead of waiting to right myself and go for a jab/cross to the face combo). Recognition and exploitation of affordances can be top down or bottom up processes.

In the case of top down affordance recognition, an individual observes and waits for a specific affordance that permits an intended capability (the jab/cross example above). This is cognitively very costly (in terms of attention and anticipation), and not reliable unless conditions permit it and the individual has a high level of the requisite capability to act with minimal response time once the opportunity for the affordance arises.

In the case of bottom up, an individual observes and acts according to the affordances that are presented, using the capability appropriate to the opportunity. In fighting, the bottom up approach is more common, and is a more reliable, efficient operating state. The individual that can exploit a wide range of affordances with the appropriate capabilities will be better prepared for conditions that don't permit the top-down approach, and also allow one to improvise when an affordance is recognized in an unfamiliar position. Strike-ability, twist-ability etc. may not have been trained in a novel context- but instead, they are recognized if the opponent's body and actions present them, and the individual has the opportunity (in space) to exploit them with a capability that can operate within both (the hook to the knee above).

Randy said...

It sounds more difficult than it is- think about being forced down in a clinch. What could you strike within immediate range? What takedowns could you effect? Maybe you hadn't specifically trained anything for this situation, but the mechanical properties of the situation can be perceived in relation to the goals that they offer. You are forced down close to the opponent's lead leg; the leg offers lever-ability; your hand can grasp the heel, your head can push into the hip; a modified ankle pick is possible. Your goal of escape from this position and/or hurt the opponent is achievable by the potential (lever-ability), opportunity (proximity to lever) and capability (familiar motor skills- grasping and pushing), so this is how you perceive the opponent's leg in that situation, although you might not have ever done it before. chances are good that you have trained similar things before, so capability is recognized alongside potential.

This does not mean that higher cognitive functions such as timing or strategy cannot be used. Rather, it means that one may choose to operate in a certain condition of range or tactics that create a preferred range of affordances, which can be exploited with high percentage capabilities while minimizing risk (when the constraints allow it to be possible). Controlling situational factors such as range or tempo, allows an individual to operate within a preferred set of affordances and capabilities, but recognition and exploitation are still essentially bottom up.

Josh Kruschke said...

I think this is a forest through the trees or trees for the forest kind of a situation.

What is the common denominators between the two concepts.

Both models, afordence & gifts, look to find and to organize the way we find solutions to perceived complex problems.

This deals with perception. The amazing thing about Humans is we can hold multiple thoughts, views and ideas at the same time.

"Affordances: Do you learn to see them?  Or do you learn to NOT see alternatives?  Does a child learn that a chair is for sitting in?  Or does the child unlearn all the other cool things that can be done with a chair?  Is seeing possibility a passive or an active function?  Can it be both?  Is that why I find rolling relaxing instead of exhausting?"

My answer to these questions are, Yes, No and All of the above! It's not a matter of or. Life is fluid and the answers change depending on the situation & individual.

To me Gifts is an active process of looking for and Identifing them, and Affordance more of a philisophical way of doing so. Passively? Both are an active process, if you are not looking you can not or will not see. I think at the beginning you will needed to consciously work at it, and over time move to and work unconsciously. So, Rory I guess the answer to that depends on what you ment by passively?

Just because a problem seems complex doesn't mean that the parts or not simple. Just as simple parts can be made into something complex. There is a reason that Big Picture & K.I.S.S. have become tropes. Some people can see the trees but needed to work at seeing the forest, and some need to work at seeing the trees.


To me it's not about Top down or bottom up you can do both,as you pointed out, some might prefer to focus on one over the other. Hell the lizard brain probably prefurs top down, this hasn't killed me yet, where the thinking brain might look for new solutions. How well you work in both complex & simple will effect the OODA loop and if you freeze or not.

Maybe what is needed is an understand of or to work on moving between the complex whole & the individual parts. A fluidity of thought and action of seeing the big picture (Reality) while also seeing the parts (possibilities) and how to use both to get what we want (goal).



Josh Kruschke said...


A fluidity of thought and action of seeing the big picture (Reality) while also seeing the parts (possibilities) and [actively working on] how to use both to get what we want (goal).

Unknown said...

Thanks a ton Really helpful..

QTP Training

Randy said...
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Randy said...

I think you sum it up well here, in a way that is similar to the motor control language- "A fluidity of thought and action of seeing the big picture (Reality) while also seeing the parts (possibilities) and how to use both to get what we want (goal)."

The larger motor control perspective might be useful- skilled performers of physical activities tend to show the same characteristics, specific to the activity that they are involved in. These can be distilled down to a group of perceptual-motor metaskills: recognizing the salient environmental constraints, superior anticipation of actions as they occur, accuracy in predicting outcomes, identification of priorities that need to be acted upon, and the ability to adapt familiar motor skills towards those ends.

These processes occur in parallel and in hierarchy, and are typically pre-verbal- that is, they appear to be almost reflexive. It's important to keep in mind that these are research observations of people who have a high skill level (most martial artists tend to begin objecting at this point). This is the result of superior perception-action coupling, in which this set of metaskills is processed in motor areas of the brain. Without getting too far into it, there are two competing theories of how it is that these decisions render the actions that follow. My hunch is that affordance recognition is the missing link in the metaskills chain (maybe more accurate to call it a wheel with spokes). We all recognize and use affordances all the time, very day since we first began to grasp things and crawl. This is the perception-action linking step that drives or informs all the others.

Randy said...

I also have a hunch that the concept of gifts describes someone who understands the physical properties of fighting (in terms of actions and environment) well enough to exploit factors like momentum and objects of opportunity along with factors like leverage and target availability. This might make it more of a strategic ability than a purely tactical one, which is where affordances might fall in most cases.

Anonymous said...

We all move between multiple levels of understanding all the time. Most people do not take advantage of the entire range of this. Too small ...perspective is exclusive, selfish and antisocial. Too broad ...its functionally useless in day-to-day life.

It is work to always be figuring out what is outside that purview, What we are missing in a moment. Meanining is complex and self fulfilling. In practice, having to understand anything comes down to an efficiency and practicality cost benefit analysis. Defining truths versus solving for acute needs.

And, we are always restricted in our efforts by the language structure we each use to filter and organize our descriptions of the world. This dictates how we further understand everything in our envirnoment. How we structure the messages we send.

Language, all of it is metaphorical by its very nature. Mere descriptions we created. It is the tool by which we both succesfully reason, as well as the source of all confusion. "Fighting" is just one example where one can be good or poor in our personal interaction with the world.

Good post. Thanks as usual, again.
Billy G.

Josh Kruschke said...

I have four questions.

The first, Why does improvisation and adaption (Not to be confused with Rory's Gifts or Affordances. Inside the box vs. outside the box.) usually fall later in a martial arts learning curriculum?

This is a Generalization Alert!!! The Following will be a Generalization!!!

The progression, as I see from the out side, within the Marshal Arts on how they train or pass on knowledge.

A beginner comes in knowing nothing and possibly with some cultural baggage of what he will learn. This student will then be taught basics of that style, that being what ever that instructor thinks is the best way of doing things. Along with some basic tactic, if he does this you should do this training. Katas and the like. If the student is lucky, the student will be taught why the instructor thinks the way he does it is correct. The principles and physics of it, but probably not.
Then the student moves into the more advanced Techniques/Tactics/ Katas. This point were the toolbox comes in, and all the habits (Good & Bad) and patterns of response come in. Operant Conditioning is in effect here too. You're going do build up all these conditioned response good or bad.
When the instructor thinks the student is ready they then move on to improvisation and adaption? With the end result being possible a better understanding of the principles or even having to come up with or discover the principles for yourself.

Basics —> Conditioning —> Improvisation —> Understanding of Principles.

Second is, With all the conditioning in the middle, why are we even surprised that students have a hard time with Rory's Gifts or Affordances or any other out side of the box thinking?

Third is, Can or should this be flipped?

The above model of training seems backwards to me, because if the principles; like power generation, finding space, the physics of leverage, Kinesiology, law, ethics, real world assault dynamics, timing... Rory and others are better able to give a more complete list, are the foundation, why is it at the end? I would think you would want a strong foundation to build everything else on. Why is it not something like this:

Principles —> Experimentation (Play time for Rory) —> The development tactics & Implementation of what works for the student/Individual

I, also, would think that the experimentation/playtime would naturally promote lead to a development of an understanding of Affordances and the looking for Rory's gifts.
I understand certain skills like timing and control would need to take precedence, so everyone can play safely together. I see Rory's drills a a good place to start moving onto groups like Rory's VPPG.

Fourth is, is this realistic?

Some bonus questions and the first has to do with Operant Conditioning as it relates to violent ambush type assaults.

Rory do you think it's possible too push/train/condition the principle to that level of unconscious action?

Or, did I just enter Fantasy Mumbo Jumbo land?

Just wondering?


Josh Kruschke said...


Or maybe....

A fluidity of thought and action of seeing the big picture (Principles) while also seeing the parts (possibilities) and [actively working on] how to use both to get what we want (goal).


Josh Kruschke said...


[Focus on learning & discovering] Principles —> Experimentation (Play time for Rory) —> The development tactics & Implementation of what works for the student/Individual


Also, I believe part of Experimentation is see what is already out there. I don't believe we need to reinvent the wheel, just make sure it fits the individual and individual situation.

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Valeria said...

This is cool!