Intuition and Safety
Most human decision making is intuitive or tacit, this makes for fast and efficient decision making. Polanyi describes tacit knowledge as knowing ‘more than we can tell’. (The Tacit Dimension (1966) ).
In safety we sometimes refer to tacit knowing as heuristics, micro-rules or habits for decision making. Whilst we refer to habits, it is important to draw distinctions between all three: heuristics, habits and tacit knowing.
Tacit knowing refers to things we know and skills we have but cannot articulate clearly how or why we know them, mostly this knowing is just ‘felt’. Most importantly, implicit knowing should never be associated with the mythology of common sense. Implicit knowing is particularly unique to you and is made up from the sum of your unique experiences, history and background. There is nothing about tacit knowing, which is common, particularly as none of our history is shared identically, even though there are similarities.
We ought to be careful too not to confuse implicit knowledge with ‘automaticity’ (Bargh) nor the nonsense of ‘machine learning’. Tacit knowledge is nothing like the repetition and adjustment of algorithms. The reason why machines don’t learn is ‘feelings’ (what computers don’t have). People are emotionally hard wired into the process of tacit knowing, of ‘feeling’ into decision making. It is mostly through our feelings and emotions that we adjust and adapt in what we tacitly know. And even then, we cannot tell someone how or why we ‘know’ it. Except to say, that all tacit knowing that is felt, is embodied (what Polanyi called ‘indwelling’). This is what we mean when we say we make decisions by the gut or heart. We discuss this in detail when we study One Brain and Three Minds (1B3M) in SPoR (https://vimeo.com/156926212). The next free online Introductory Module will be offered in April. You can register now if you want at: https://cllr.com.au/product/an-introduction-to-the-social-psychology-of-risk-unit-1-free-online-module/
The study of implicit knowing is rejected by science because it seeks to establish a strict, detached and objective way of knowing that only accepts a tightly defined understanding of evidence. Implicit knowing stands in contrast to the seeking of such knowledge and when asked about why and how you know something and how to do things, there is no rational or scientific explanation and yet, you know what to do and how to do it unconsciously.
Implicit knowledge is often revealed in the work of composers who can’t tell you where their Poetics came from. Inspiration seems to come from nowhere but the evidence of presence is in the creation. This is the tacit dimension.
As I research for my latest book Envisioning Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/) I researched every single song in the top ten in History and then top 500, and in every song there is reference to transcedence and vision for humanity in: fallibility, love, soul, spirit and non- material experience. Moreso, the evidence is overwhelming that; inspiration, imagination, creativity, discovery, insight and vision come from this non-material source, tacit knowing. This following example from Tommy Emmanuel’s social media site is indicative. See Figure 1. Tommy Emmanuels’s Note.
Figure 1. Tommy Emmanuels’s Note.
Music composition is felt intuitively and even though a computer can be fed algorithms to compose a song, it cannot ‘feel’ the Poetics of the song. Similarly, you might try to explain why you like a song, group or musician, but you will be grasping at straws to explain the inexplicable that is felt in the heart and gut.
There is no surprise that there is nothing in the AIHS BoK or safety curriculum on implicit knowledge. Engineering and Science have no idea what tacit
knowledge is indeed, they marshal their forces against it because, implicit knowing cannot be measured (https://safetyrisk.net/measurement-anxiety-in-safety/ ).
Plato outlined the problem in Meno when he stated that: ‘the search for the solution to a problem is an absurdity; for either you know what you are looking for, and then there is no problem; or you do not know what you are looking for, and then cannot expect to find anything’.
Plato knew that all knowledge was NOT explicit, that it could not be stated explicitly, so therefore when we look at a problem and solution we do so implicitly. And as Polanyi states: ‘and Meno shows that if problems nevertheless exist, and discoveries can be made solving them, we can know things, that we cannot tell’. Discovery, invention, creativity and adaptability, emerge out of implicit knowledge, that is why composers and musicians cannot tell where their ideas came from. Except in hindsight bias where they attribute such composition to a dream or premonition etc. True composition and invention is not a mechanical Technique (Ellul).
Most of the time workers have no idea why they work safely, but we know it wasn’t because they memorized paperwork (https://safetyrisk.net/its-always-about-paperwork/ ). Workers make most decisions in the field implicitly (https://vimeo.com/471823469).
Moreso, workers they cannot articulate what they know or how they know it and yet such knowledge has been acquired and is observable though not measurable. Behaviourist delusions of measurement are pure fiction. Well, if safety loves anything other than zero, its behaviourism (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/), the grand delusion of measurement attribution.
Then when something goes wrong, in come the engineers, auditors and scientists looking for explicit knowledge as if this was somehow reason or cause for decision making, how absurd. The Brady Review (https://safetyrisk.net/brady-review-nothing-new-no-way-forward/) and the Dreamworld fiasco (https://safetyrisk.net/an-engineering-dreamworld/) are classic examples of engineering bias looking for the solution they already know and the cause that fits their assumptions. This is the way Safety ensures that nothing changes except the balance of bank accounts.