Few people hold a working manual beside them as they learn a new process. They might consult that manual but the moment their eyes leave the paper/screen and they look at the action needed a host of critical factors come into play in enacting a decision. Many of these critical factors are embodied and are completely overlooked and disregarded by Safety.
In an instant we move from one mode of thinking to another and enact decisions in a dialectical process. I have discussed this before using the One Brain Three Minds (1B3M) semiotic (https://vimeo.com/106770292; https://vimeo.com/156926212).
The model uses the metaphor of a speedometer to convey the ways we enact decisions in time. Whilst not a perfect model it does seek to convey a semiotic for how we make decisions. Whilst the model uses icons of brains and colours to denote speed in decision, it also uses an embodied head, heart, gut model to convey how decisions are embodied.
The moment we seek to express in language what we think of ‘thinking’ we cannot avoid a metaphorical way of expressing it. This 1B3M models breaks away from orthodox approaches to decision making that privilege: disembodied reasoning, black and white binaries, brain-centredness, behavior-centredness and logico-centrism. The 1B3M model seeks to capture the human decision making dialectic.
The idea that thinking and decision making are a brain-only process is one of the problems concocted by the Safety industry as an outcome of the science-engineering worldview. The idea that decision making is a logical connected process was smashed by all the research by Kahneman and Tversky some years ago (https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-two-friends-who-changed-how-we-think-about-how-we-think ). Similarly a construct of the human Mind as the brain is also problematic and continues to make thinking disembodied from being.
All decision making is embodied that is, we cannot separate the enactment of something from our body’s affectivity in it. As we move into action our bodies are joined to the decision. As our bodies move we perceive what we believe or as Weick once said, ‘I don’t know what I believe until I see what I do’.
The idea that the brain is some kind of disembodied computer directing the body into action is not supported by the evidence (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00508/full ; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306570122_Intercorporeality_and_Interaffectivity ). A disembodied view of decision making is an attribution loaded from a particular worldview but it is not real. Such a worldview interprets the world and attributes meaning to such a world.
This leads us to a conundrum when it comes to safety systems and paperwork. Most of the attributions in safety to the effectiveness of paperwork are anchored to a philosophical view of decision making that is never declared in orthodox literature. There is no discussion of ideologies and worldviews/foundations in the AIHS BoK that underpin its framework. Yet, orthodox belief systems that posit the brain-as-computer or the eyes-as-camera dominate the BoK. Such attributions determine one’s sense of vision (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/). How we envision risk is shaped by our worldview.
The assumptions of the BoK itself remain unquestioned and contain no discussion about how worldviews drive Safety identity, knowing and action. Most of what circulates in the safetyosphere sustains the mythology of disembodied reason as the understanding of decision making. There are other views (https://safetyrisk.net/starting-points-worldviews-and-risk/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinarity-and-worldviews-in-risk/ ).
So when it comes to paperwork and safety systems we end up with things like ‘Usability Mapping’ (https://safetyrisk.net/paperwork-and-usability-in-tackling-risk/) that supposes that efficiencies in paperwork are connected to decision making. The leaps in reasoning about human decision making and assumptions about documentation in itself remain unquestioned. Similarly, issues of emotions, feelings and unconsciousness remain disconnected as an attribution of engineering and science. When one’s anthropology is anchored to disembodied reason why would one want to consider embodied interaffectivity in decision making? Could it be that paperwork has no relation at all to enactment of decisions in the field? Could it be that all this activity about paperwork is actually a distraction from the decision making process itself? Is this why Safety is so poor at conversations about risk?
Most heuristic decision making is about ‘satisficing’ in the face of decision/time and this makes up about 95% of how we enacting decisions into being. Amazing that Safety spends most of its time focusing on the 5% that remains, that very little amount in time when decision making is rational, slow and methodical (Mind 1). Meanwhile the 95% of how humans really make decisions (Minds 2 & 3) remain a mystery to the industry that is unable to question its disembodied worldview. The 5% is what can be measured, the 95% cannot be measured and so Safety spends all of its energy and time on the 5%. Could explain why paperwork doesn’t work very well at managing decision making?
One Brain Three Minds from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.
Rob Long says
Wynand, how convenient of Reason to give a name that means nothing so that Safety thinks it knows what human decision making is. Of course if you ask for a definition of slip and lapse they can’t tell you what it means. But Safety doesn’t care because any good delusion that explains the inexplicable is perfect for the simplistic mind. Once believed and politicized Reason is then deified as guru of safety and champion of the swiss cheese metaphor of meaninglessness. But when the stars align in the compliance world of delusion then all is good, may the force be with you. Reason remains the staple diet in the OHS curriculum which is probably why Safety is out of shape.
When I saw the “eye-as-camera” comment, I thought that it comes close to the “memory-as-film” metaphor that is so prevalent in fiction, where some device can tap into the memory and recreate picture perfect images of memory. I am convinced memory is more complex, and what I remember can change (I have seen it happen) as the brain reconstructs the memory with other available facts. This means even memory is far from what the safety worldview would like us to believe. (I am only referring to recall – I am not even thinking about memory on how to execute a task, and how one can do the same thing numerous times, and once “forget” one step of the task. However, I believe James Reason has a model that explains it perfectly – at least that is what “Safety” told me. I believe he calls it a “slip” or “lapse”, and Safety told me it can be used to determine corrective actions to determine a solution that will prevent it from ever happening again.
Rob Long says
Hi Garry, thanks and agree that this model of thinking is mythological however, the way we really make decisions is not irrational but rather arational. We need to stop constructing decision making by a rationalist assumption and start thinking beyond the binary values we have constructed around rationality. 95% of our decision making is non-rational and cannot be attributed as non-sensical, despite what safety thinks. The rational/irrational construct simply creates a binary place for value judgments based upon a myth assuming the brain-in-control metaphor. The evidence for views beyond this construct are overwhelming and if taken seriously would change the whole way we tackle risk.
Gary Wong says
Great post, Rob. Regarding “most heuristic decision making is about satisficing”, we convey the autonomic receptive processing idea that the brain does “first-fit pattern matching”. We need to break the myth that humans are logical decision-makers. We are irrational, emotionally-charged, and bring up past experiences to inform.