Black box theory

Black box theory

Black box theories are things defined only in terms of their function.[1][2] The term black box theory is applied to any field, philosophy and science or otherwise where some inquiry or definition is made into the relations between the appearance of something (exterior/outside), i.e. here specifically the things black box state, related to its characteristics and behaviour within (interior/inner).[3][4] Specifically, the inquiry is focused upon a thing that has no immediately apparent characteristics and therefore has only factors for consideration held within itself hidden from immediate observation. The observer is assumed ignorant in the first instance as the majority of available data is held in an inner situation away from facile investigations. The black box element of the definition is shown as being characterised by a system where observable elements enter a perhaps imaginary box with a set of different outputs emerging which are also observable.[5]


  • Origin of term 1
  • Examples 2
  • Uses 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5

Origin of term

The term black box was first recorded used by the RAF of approximately 1947 to describe the sealed containment used for apparatus of navigation, this usage becoming more widely applied after 1964.[6] The identifier is therefore applied to objects known as the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR). These function to record the radio transmissions occurring within an airplane, and are particularly important to persons who engage into an inquiry into the cause of a plane crashing, where the plane is caused to become wreckage. These boxes are in fact coloured orange in order that they be more easily located.[7][8]


Scheme of a black box

Considering a black box that could not be opened to "look inside" and see how it worked, all that would be possible would be to guess how it worked based on what happened when something was done to it (input), and what occurred as a result of that (output). If after putting an orange in on one side, an orange fell out the other, it would be possible to make educated guesses or hypotheses on what was happening inside the black box. It could be filled with oranges; it could have a conveyor belt to move the orange from one side to the other; it could even go through an alternate universe. Without being able to investigate the workings of the box, ultimately all we can do is guess.

However, occasionally strange occurrences will take place that change our understanding of the black box. Consider putting an orange in and having a guava pop out. Now our "filled with oranges" and "conveyor belt" hypothesis no longer work, and we may have to change our educated guess as to how the black box works.


One of the black box theories uses is as a method to describe/understand psychological factors in fields such as marketing where applied to an analyses of consumer behaviour.[9][10][11]

The black box theory of consciousness, which states that the mind is fully understood once the inputs and outputs are well defined,[12] and generally couples this with a radical skepticism regarding the possibility of ever successfully describing the underlying structure, mechanism, and dynamics of the mind.

See also


  1. ^ Definition from
  2. ^ definition from highbeam
  3. ^ Black box theory applied briefly to Isaac Newton
  4. ^ Usage of term
  5. ^ Physics dept, Temple University, Philadelphia
  6. ^ online etymology dictionary
  7. ^ howstuffworks
  8. ^ cpaglobal
  9. ^ Institute for working futures part of Advanced Diploma in Logistics and Management. Retrieved 11/09/2011
  10. ^ Black-box theory used to understand Consumer behaviour Marketing By Richard L. Sandhusen. Retrieved 11/09/2011
  11. ^ designing of websites Retrieved 11/09/2011
  12. ^ the Professor network