Thursday, June 15

SimWord of the Day: Dead Reckoning

If ever there was a single term that, for me anyway, captures why this thread is so important, it is dead reckoning. Read the definition (especially the last paragraph of the definition), and I hope you will realize two things. First, it is essential for any professional, and second, it is not taught anywhere because it is a doing skill, not a knowing skill.

Whether you agree or disagree, I would love to hear your comments.

dead reckoning:

Navigating by

  • first, creating a vector based on understanding of current and destination location, and
  • then making a series of short term decisions based on reconciling the vector against real options available on a map.

It is often contrasted by navigating based on milestones.

The term comes from aviation, animal research and orienteering. But it also describes what all professionals do all of the time. In most professionals' cases, the map is conceptual, the destination is a goal (the creation of a product, the closing of a sale, the solving of a complex problem) and the options and barriers are procedural not physical, but the model, much more adaptive and dynamic that the milestone approach, is almost exactly the same.


Clark Aldrich said...

P.S. Some researches think that males use dead reckoning more than females when driving. Females, the thinking goes, use milestones more. This partially explaining why males never think they are lost.

Peter Isackson said...

I think you'll agree that cognitive psychology itself has a long way to go before reaching conclusions about how living beings endowed with the faculty of imagination relate to space. I believe this is one of the fundamental challenges in future research on online communication and learning. You're certainly right to see a parallel between driving and simulation, because they both partake of an experience that is seen through a glass (windshield) darkly (at night, at least). What intrigues me is how the much more fundamental bases of orientation, proprioception and perspectival self-consciousness(not based only on visual clues) may be brought into play. Or perhaps it can't, in which case we may be able to see one of the limits of simulation and quite possibly the one that prevents it from teaching wisdom! -- that is, if we accept that wisdom is not just having elevated thoughts (or engaging in effective risk analysis)!

Alva Noe's work has focused on these questions. Here's one excerpt:

"A second implication of the enactive approach is that we ought to reject the idea—widespread in both philosophy and science—that perception is a process in the
brain whereby the perceptual system constructs an internal representation of the world. No doubt perception depends on what takes place in the brain, and very likely there are internal representations in the brain (e.g. content-bearing internal states). What perception is, however, is not a process in the brain, but a kind of skillful activity on the part of the animal as a whole. The enactive view challenges neuroscience to devise new ways of understanding the neural basis of perception and consciousness."

Clark Aldrich said...

Hi Peter,

I am curious. Are you saying:

1. Conceptual Dead Reckoning is flawed because humans don't create internal representations.


2. Conceptual Dead Reckoning aside, the notion that humans create internal representations is over-rated and maybe completely falase?

Peter Isackson said...

Hi Clark,
I have a totally open mind about these things and believe that those who spend all their time and their whole lives investigating them haven't yet found a basis for consensus.

But if you put the question as a binary choice, I guess I'd have to show some sympathy for the second one, "the notion that humans create internal representations is over-rated" though certainly not "completely false". In other words, it's more than representations and, I suspect, has to do with a bundle of complex feelings and judgements about the environment, based on a mix of instinct and experience. To simulate anything we have to choose a limited number of parameters that may themselves interact, producing an intersting level of complexity. Cognitive scientists are incapable of telling us how many of these recognized (or not yet recognized) parameters are in play to form continuous perception and judgement of "reality" (which are two phases, but rather than thought of as successive, they should be seen as simultaneous, complementary and structurally linked).

There will always be something arbitrary about the choices we make as, say, instructional designers, concering learning strategies. The question of the representation of space, which is raised even in 2D environments, is one that fascinates me, but I remain extremely humble about it for two reasons:

1) it's incredibly complex,
2) it hasn't attracted enough serious attention from cognitive scientists (as Alva Noe has shown) to provide any real guidelines to instructional designers.

And as a complementary point, I don't think instructional designers (including simulation specialists) are yet in a position to offer productive insight to the cognitive scientists, though there's no reason why they shouldn't be (I've never believed in waiting for the academics to provide us with the principles that we should then dutifully employ).

Even in the world of cinema, where the psychological status of perceived space has been explored from numerous complex angles, there is no clear view of how it works (partly because most professionals are concerned simply with creating workable illusion and satisfied with immediate impact alone, remaining incurious about the relationship between perception and illusion. David Lynch is a notable exception, and I would suggest that "Mulholland Drive" provides the deepest reflection on the problem I know of).

In no way am I denying the validity of dead reckoning, just saying that it seems to belong to a specifically superficial level of perceptual behavior concerned with conceptual mapping of acquired spatial experience. Wouldn't it be nice if we could go beyond this and take into account the fullness of perception?

Clark Aldrich said...

1. I do believe that we create maps, and I also believe that other stuff influences how we navigate those maps. Emotions, for example, puts "weights" on our environment. Bear = bad. Berries = good, etc, which is just one part of any internal representation, and not part of dead reckoning at all.

2. I completely disagree that those of us in the formal learning biz should hang around and wait for insights from cognitive scientists (my degree is in cognitive science, by the way).

3. The question of "is conceptual dead reckoning superficial?" is an academic construct. The real question is, do great leaders use conceptual dead reckoning?"
Those leaders that I have know are very good at conceptual dead reckoning. They think a bit, understand their intellectual territory, come out with a grand vision, and then work to get the group there. This can be around hybrid cars, or computer outsourcing, or railroads.

4. Noting that something is very complex as a reason not to push ahead seems self defeating if the value is there. I can't imagine a movie director saying, "special effects are too hard," or an oil executive saying, "building an oil rig is too hard." The bar is so low and the opportunity so big that we don't have to be perfect to have incredibly high ROI's.

Peter Isackson said...

Just to clarify a few points:

1. We DO agree that there's no need to wait for cognitive scientists to give us a roadmap. That was one of my points... but it shouldn't prevent us from remaining aware of what's going on in the field and using it to clarify ideas.

2. Nothing that I said amounted to a recommendation of not pushing ahead because of complexity. My position is that if we recognize complexity, we should do everything necessary to take it into account, rather than proceeding according to a simpler and "more rational" plan. I felt the same way in early 2003 about the situation in Iraq. We went ahead and discovered, to our chagrin, the complexity most observers knew was there.

3. Reducing the question to "do great leaders use dead reckoning?" sems to me off-base for two very simple reasons. First, I too believe they do, but -- and this is significant -- it isn't the ONLY thing they use and it may not be determinant. Second, this kind of question is meaningless because we could also ask "do great leaders use toilet paper?". What would the answer tell us about leadership? If, however, you asked, "what do great leaders do that other people don't do?" and the answer was "use dead reckoning", the question might be a little more worthwhile. But you've already told us that men tend to use it and women don't. Are we to conclude from that that women are less likely to be great leaders?

Clark, I hope I'm not sounding too contentious, but I'm convinced that with a bit of nuance and less jumping to conclusions we might discover that our analyses are not that far apart and that it is valuable to tease out the meaning of concepts we think are good and promising.

Clark Aldrich said...

1. Agreed.

2. Agreed.

3. Agreed.

The intellectual age that is upon us is to look at "doing" skills (like conceptual dead reckoning), not just "knowing" skills. The first wave of excitement is to re-look at people at the top of their game through this lens (not just the lense of story telling or processes), identify some promising areas, and then, and this is critical, not sit back and study the issue using last generation's tools, but to build/prototype/realize our ideas as much as possible (this is where "training" adapts faster than "higher ed") and then measure the heck out of it.