‘The primary task for any organism—the task that must be accomplished before all others—is the preservation of life and the furtherance of conditions for the organism’s growth’ Damasio (2003) Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain.
Damasio begins by observing, in Looking for Spinoza, that over our evolutionary history we humans have developed a collection of interrelated systems (many of which we share with other animals) geared toward our continued existence, growth, and flourishing. Claxton (Intelligence in the Flesh) describes how out endocrine, nervous and immune systems coordinate under their own cognition that later inform the brain of what the body is doing. Claxton captures this beautifully in the statement:
The brain doesn’t issue commands it hosts conversations.
The implications of this thinking turn popular notions of personhood on its head. The old idea that cognition is brain-centric and that feeling and emotions have nothing to do with ‘thinking’ is not supported by all the evidence in cognitive neuroscience. Just explore the reading list at the end of this blog: https://safetyrisk.net/cultural-silences-in-safety-aesthetics/ and you will see the evidence that confirms this.
Why does this matter for safety?
The engineering worldview in safety never speaks of the emotions or feelings as having any relevance for human judgment and decision making. Such a worldview supports the idea that humans are only brain-rational beings and that objectivity is possible. Such a worldview disowns and rejects the body indeed, it demonises the body and emotions in line with the traditions of Augustine, Descartes and Kant.
Human beings always ‘experience’ emotions and feelings about a situation first and then later the brain is informed by the body of it.
We learn what we ‘feel’ about a situation before we later ‘think’ about it (Damasio, 1999, The Feeling of What Happens).
Unfortunately, the safety worldview (in which many have been indoctrinated) shapes the way Safety interpret the world. For example, a Behaviourist worldview interprets the world as the sum of inputs and outputs. An Engineering worldview interprets the world mechanically that can be measured. It’s all about Qanta, never Qualia (https://www.artofwork.solutions/measurement-differently ). This is the world that people in safety have been told to ‘see’ (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ).
The trouble is, the body informs the brain of all situations qualitatively, which is why these qualities (not capacities) cannot be defined or measured. We fear first, experience ‘flight and flight’ and then later ‘think’ about what we just did. Fear (like all qualities) cannot be measured, it can only be experienced. Similarly, the quality of safety.
If your language is about ‘measuring capacities’ then the worldview is described by the need for measurement and control. This is why safety doesn’t want to talk about feelings and emotions. It is nonsense to propose one is doing something differently, when the worldview is the same (https://safetyrisk.net/the-safety-and-new-view-debate/ ).
When we see the worldview behind the infamous Bradley Curve (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-curves-and-pyramids/ ) we see DuPont telling us that the fundamental orientation of persons it to self-harm. This stands in direct opposition to every piece of evolutionary biology that tells us that the fundamental orientation of humans is to preserve life.
Unfortunately, Safety wants the DuPont worldview (Behaviourist) to be true because it helps Safety promote self-importance, heroes in safety (https://safetyrisk.net/no-gurus-no-stars-no-heroes-needed-in-safety/ ), born to save (https://safetyrisk.net/born-to-save/ ) and gives Safety meaning and purpose in what it does. This is why Safety is silent in ethics, politics and culture on care, helping and listening.
The foundation for blaming in safety is not about behaviours but about worldview (methodology, philosophy and ideology). Safety is also silent on these too.
This is why it is so easy to buy the DuPont cool aide. The last organization that should be lecturing anyone on safety should be DuPont (https://safetyrisk.net/dark-waters-the-true-story-of-dupont-and-zero/ ). Yet here we are many years after with the safety industry buried in their mantra of zero and all the religious delusions (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/ ) that go with it. Such is where this worldview take you (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-trajectories/ ).
This is also the worldview that burdens Safety with the idea that thinking, learning and cognition are about propositional and conceptual thinking focused in the brain. When safety uses the word ‘mind’ it means brain. No wonder Safety struggles to understand mental health.
We now know after 30 years of the burden of the engineering/behaviourist worldview that serotonin is not the link to depression (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/how-do-you-know/202207/serotonin-imbalance-found-not-be-linked-depression ). This research demonstrates that science is not neutral/objective (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/tract/projects/complexity-theory/kuhn-the-structure-of-scien.pdf ) and that worldview determines the world you want to see.
Unless we get with the research and understand mental health as a holistic, embodied and social issue, we will never tackle the challenges of mental health well. This is what we offer in our workshops on Holistic Ergonomics soon to be undertaken face to face in Perth (https://safetyrisk.net/due-diligence-and-holistic-ergonomics-workshops/ ).
So, the purpose of safety is not to correct and control hazards or humans who want to self-harm, it is to be helpers, carers and facilitators for others as they tackle risk in their view of the world. At the moment, there is nothing in the curriculum, Body of Knowledge or safety industry to help safety people undertake this purpose.
Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below