Behaviourist Neuroscience as Safety
It’s fascinating and entertaining to watch Safety manipulate the discipline of neuroscience to suit its own behaviourist worldview. Even more fascinating to watch Safety, with no expertise in neuroscience, bend this discipline to behaviourist outcomes then claim that it has moved on from behaviourism. Then further to claim that neuroscience understands the brain as the centre of the discipline and ‘use’ aspects of the discipline to manipulate for a controlling behaviourist outcome. Even more entertaining when those projecting behaviourism masked as neuroscience, come from mechanistic backgrounds in engineering and ‘safety science’. Then to package this as some ‘new frontier’ in safety is laughable.
In Safety’s quest for some thing new it always seeks solutions in what it knows, this is the bondage of the elevation of compliance as a raison d’etre. Even when Safety touts something as ‘new’, next generation or ‘two’ or ‘three’ it is most often new rhetoric for old mechanistic wineskins. Just follow the discourse trail and before long you are back in the field of ‘hazards, systems and controls’.
One cannot isolate the study of neuroscience from Neuropsychology, Socialphenomenology and Neurophilosophy. To do so totally misunderstands an holistic approach to humans as ‘embodied’ persons. The wacky effort at ‘using’ neuroscience for behaviourist ends totally warps what comprises a focus beyond the human brain to the real challenges in understanding the human ‘mind’ and consciousness. Nevermind Safety, when your lens is behaviourism and you are looking for robots to ‘control’, Safety is capable of any delusion.
The latest research in Neurophilosophy and Neurpsychology does NOT find the locus for human being in the brain. Humans are NOT computers on top of bodies and the brain is not some sophisticated computer. Learning is NOT about programming and the brain is NOT isolated from the ‘mind’ nor embodied personhood. Hey, but when you want to find ‘controls’ for dumb down safety, why research deeply into the matter? What an amazing revenue stream to fool cashed up organisations that the unconscious can be controlled and that it is seated in the brain. Hey presto, the magic of behaviourst safety, masked as neuroscience, will give you the ‘controls’ you are ready to pay for. Under this delusion habituation is just poor programming and twisted algorithms.
Of course, the latest research in Neurophilosophy, Socialphenomenology and Neuropsychology (Raaven, Damasio, Varela, Rosch, Thompson, Ginot, Noe, Claxton, Robinson, and many more) simply smash this simplistic silly nonsense paraded as some new frontier in safety. Until Safety moves away from behaviourism, there can be no ‘evolution’ in safety. Until Safety, suspends this crazy preoccupation with a mechanistic worldview and is prepared to tackle a transdisciplinary worldview there will only be false consciousness, delusion propaganda.
Rob Long says
Jason, one of the reasons is because in ignorance Safety loves everything black and white, and behaviourism is just that. Safety supposes that behaviours are the sum of inputs and outputs in a human as machine with a detached computer for a brain. This enables fundamentalist thinking in some quasi dependence commitment and so takes on religious significance so that all else is taboo. If you question the religion or break a toboo, you must be punished and so on it goes. All neatly wrapped in scientism and a curriculum that becomes compulsory mis-education conforming to a narrow body of knowledge that reinforces the assumptions of fundamentalist behavioursim. Add sunk cost and that makes it completer, just build a bigger fortress and imagine that the enemy is outside.
Great post. I’ve tried for years to get people to see the light. It’s so easy to prove just through layman’s logic that behaviorism doesn’t work, but they cling to it like life and death. By no means am a a neuroscience expert, but it baffles me why people can’t see through the BS.
Thanks Rob. What I find interesting is that “safety” has raced off with this, as it has raced after every other trend of the moment however the basic fundamentals, around risk, hazard perception, etc is not embedded in the minds and activity of a large amount of the employers and employees today, after all the years its been about.
Rob Long says
Ed, its just the next yo-yo till the next fad. No-one promoting or making money out of neuroscience-as-safety has done a sceric of in-depth research, it’s all just populist stuff that real neuroscientists would reject in a heart beat. Only dumb down Safety seems capable of twisting some fluffy duck and making it into a chicken, then worship its entrails.
Rob Long says
Very much so John. I find the way Safety scratches for straws and fads part of its own impoverished position. There is a great deal of value for Safety that could come out of an holistic focus on neuroscience but the disdain for academics from the sector and its anchoring to behaviourism is the source for much distortion of many things that could help Safety mature . I am hoping my involvement at the University might make a difference in that respect.
John Culvenor says
The premise of my (fake) abstract (re BEANIE) was to suggest tongue-in-cheek that any safety article that contains neuroscience in the abstract could probably be ignored. This neuroscience theme crept into the field several years ago. There may be odd times when safety papers with neuroscience tags feature something sensible but in the main – just ignore anything that mentions the word. It has been hijacked. That’s a shame because their are probably genuine science practitioners with neuroscience qualifications and experience that can contribute to the space.
Rob Long says
Hi John, very aware of the beanie but such a narrow understanding of ‘being’. Much more interested in holistic approaches to mind and personhood. Especially research from the three disciplines explained in the blog.
John Culvenor says
Perhaps Rob you have not experienced the power of BEANIE. I think living in Canberra you’d find it very useful.
Rob Long says
Hey Dyno, unfortunately when the paradigm is unknown to oneself and one has no thirst or capability to step outside of that paradigm, any other discipline can be just ‘used’ to endorse the original worldview. This is how safety talks about neuroscience, just as some form of utility to serve a hidden safety ideology.
Bandura’s work while foundational is a long way from SPoR, as are many of the foundational figures in social psychology in the 60s and 70s. We did bandura’s learning theory in my first degree in the early 70s, times have moved on since then in understanding learning theory.
Unfortunately, Safety uses the cognitivism of Bandura to seek out Cognitvist rather than social approaches to understand human being. What could one expect from a group that was once known as safety engineers, now branded ‘professional’, especially when they don’t understand helping as part of their identity.
What is even more entertaining are people pushing this cogntivist and neuroscience stuff with no expertise in these disciplines. Indeed, Safety is so undiscerning it just falls hook line and sinker for an engineer selling himself off as a neuroscientist. I came across a group recently running a psych diagnostic developed by an MBA who had no expertise in psychology. The company adopted the diagnostic and never once explored the background of the safety person, who was just a slick salesperson. Similarly, people in safety who think a safety qual justifies some expertise in education and learning is astounding. What a strange situation. I wonder how a qual that is 80% regulation and legislation makes one expert in learning?
And despite all this spruiking about neuroscience still no mention of critical aspects in Neuropsychology, Socialphenomenology and Neurophilosophy. Most of the readings paraded as neuroscience too at conferences and in safety blogs about this stuff is just pop-psych. One certainly doesn’t learn research skills in a Safety diploma. If you asked them who Thomas Fuchs, Dan Bruiger or Yuri Lotman are, they’d have no idea. I have put some of their stuff in the SPoR students shared dropbox FYI. Poor old Safety, trying to condition the human brain with no idea of the conscious mind.
I find it so entertaining when I read these bodies of knowledge (eg SIA) etc on ‘safety culture’ that are again simply behaviourist understandings of organisations hence the classic non-definition ‘what we do around here’ (all about behaviours). The gaps in definition are astounding, even by those who reject the idea of safety culture. So, it sounds like the article to which you refer is probably just more behaviourism.
It is funny you wrote the blog Rob because it was just last week when I read an article in the monthly magazine put our by the American Society of Safety Professionals (and I know that term is an oxymoron but that is the name of the organization) in an article entitled “New Employees & Safety Culture; A Social Cognitive Theory Perspective”. This caught my eye because I saw references to Bandura’s work on social cognitive theory and talked about how we are social learners. There were some concepts we learn in SPoR but in the end the trajectory was one of behaviorism and controls; and it is because that is the lens that they are seeing the world. By the way, I got my copy of “The Skilled Helper” by Egan and Reese in today. I have read through parts of it and looks very , very good. I love the way it is arranged. Thanks for that tip.