Terminology nitpicking (was: Positive feedback...)

Subject: Terminology nitpicking (was: Positive feedback...)
From: Sandy Harris <sharris -at- dkl -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1999 14:38:03 -0400

Anne Nonymous wrote quite a good post, but titled it:

"Positive feedback from supervisors"

This triggers a pet peeve of mine. If you mean "encouragement" or
"praise" from supervisors, say that. Using "positive feedback" in this
way sounds pretentious, since it is, and makes you look foolish since
it is immediately clear you don't understand the term. Or at least,
don't understand its use in cybernetics where it originated.

Positive feedback is any result of an output that tends to increase the
output. The classic example is spontaneous combustion: chemical reaction
generates heat, makes reaction go faster, generates more heat, ... and
eventually the whole thing catches fire.

The opposite is negative feedback: e.g. furnace makes house warmer,
thermostat turns furnace off, temperature tends to remain stable.

Two examples of positive feedback twixt me and supervisor:

I screw up. Supervisor tells me off. I screw up more, perhaps because
I'm nervous or because I decide I dislike supervisor and start doing
things just to irritate the twit.

I do well. Supervisor praises my work. I do even better.

Two of negative feedback:

I screw up. Supervisor tells me off. I screw up less.

I do good work and it is ignored, so I work less hard.

Note that the same 1st two steps (I screw up; S tells me off.) can be
part of a positive or negative feedback loop depending on my reaction.
No action by S counts as feedback in the technical sense if it doesn't
change my behaviour, unless we want to invent "null feedback".

Oh well, at least you didn't call it "positive reinforcement". That
gets misused in much the same way.

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