View Single Post
Old 11-30-2007, 06:52 AM   #6
Tom Fetter
Member Tom Fetter is offline
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Fredericton  New Brunswick
Posts: 657
Re: Why is Black Box called Black Box?

People argue over whether the term "black box" was first used in engineering or behavioural psych. Describes a discrete place where processing occurs, where it's not truly necessary to the overall design of the system to know what kind of processing that is. The inputs and outputs are the important bit. Hence it's a "box" because the processing is discrete, and "black" (i.e. in-the-dark) because you don't need to understand how it happens ... just that it happens.

B.F. Skinner popularized the term in the 1950s talking about behavioural psychology, though it was maybe used by someone called Neumann in papers from a psych conference in 1948. It was being used at about the same time in industrial engineering.

Must have been something in the air - Kenneth Waltz used the very same concept (though with a different name) in a 1954 book that is arguably the most important work in 20th Century international relations theory. To understand workings of power in the system of states, he said, it doesn't matter what the domestic political setup is of any state. It's interesting in itself and important to a state's citizens, but is essentially irrelevant to the workings of international power politics. Waltz' ideas are the modern underpinning of "realism," the orientation that's guided foreign policy made by virtually all states (of whatever political stripe) ever since.
  Reply With Quote