Visual Learning and Envisioning Risk
Understanding visual learning and visual absorption as embodied learning is critical for understanding relationships, learning theory and ‘knowing’. The separation of body-brain, body-Mind locks in notions of learning that are brain-centric and limits learning to brain activity. This binary view of knowing needs to be rejected if one wants to embrace learning.
In the risk and safety world the use of the word ‘learning’ usually mans ‘brain-cognition’ or training. Neither of these are about learning. When we discuss matters of perception (foundational to any discussion of risk and safety), we are discussing the subjectivity of visual learning. What we see is neither neutral or objective. All vision is interpreted and embodied. For example, my heart rate changes my perception just as my diet and what I drink. Just have a little bit of alcohol and you envision the world differently, your gut alters perception.
How strange in the risk and safety industry when someone doesn’t see (comprehend) something they are determined to be an idiot. This demonstrates an industry so poorly educated about persons, ethics, human being and perception.
The first place to start in understanding visual learning is by rejecting the nonsense idea that the eyes are a camera. This camera metaphor is a complete distraction from reality, just as the brain-as-computer metaphor is a distraction from developing an ethic of personhood and a holistic sense of embodied Mind.
When we speak of Mind (capitalised) we mean ‘whole person’, or collective unconscious as collective Mind. The use of the word ‘mind’ (lower case, means brain).
The human eye is nothing like a camera. The eyes are so linked and embodied that their interconnectivity extends way beyond brain processing. Take for example a flight and flight reflex. Reflex doesn’t involve any brain processing but is rather a heuristic response as knowing-stored-in-the-body.
If humans had to wait for brain processing to avoid danger, many of us would be dead. Some know this as ‘muscle memory’ or ‘body memory’ (https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/fileadmin/zpm/psychatrie/fuchs/Body_memory_Unconsious.pdf ). Body memory too is nothing like a computer, recall is not ‘stored’ like RAM in a box (the brain). Indeed, the visual and auditory cues we receive are also part of how the body reacts heuristically. The behaviourist idea that habit and heuristics is just biological is utter nonsense (https://safetyrisk.net/the-complacency-delusion/ ).
How strange this western idea that the body is simply a carriage service for a computer.
It is worth exploring how we talk about vision and ‘seeing’ (https://symbolismandmetaphor.com/eye-metaphors/ ) to escape from the naïve idea of an engineering understanding of persons. My book Envisioning Risk (free download) discusses many critical aspects of perception that Safety never discusses.
Safety will never understand the nature of human judgment and decision making as long as it holds onto a behaviourist-engineering worldview. This is why the industry has no vision.
In Envisioning Risk, Seeing, Vision and Meaning in Risk the first chapter sets out clearly the relationship between: visual perception, how the eyes work, interconnectivity to body and environment and unconscious. The book starts with an introduction title ‘Vision doesn’t start with the eyes’.
Everyone who receives the CLLR quarterly newsletter knows that there is always a visual illusion included. This is present to always remind us that all vision is fallible and subjective. The second section of the chapter in the book discusses Indigenous Vision and so it becomes clear, First Nations Peoples don’t see the world like Western Cultures do. First Nations Peoples are very much visual and auditory learners but were devalued by western cultures that prioritised text. We are only now just learning how advanced Indigenous people have been in their understanding of the ecology, environment and community ethic.
We also know that language is learned gesturally. All gesture targets visual learning as embodied communication. Children know, think and communicate gesturally from birth and do well without any spoken or written language for years. Language is acquired later by connecting text and voice to known gesture. In this way text is given meaning because its purpose has already been embodied and is connected relationally to what is important for the child (family, food, drink, love). We learn much later that shaking a head sideways is connected to the text No!
The research for this is extensive:
So much of what consumes risk and safety concerns vision, perception and cognition and yet due to behaviourist bias, the industry is simply not interested in understanding or learning about it. If Safety was even slightly interested in a Transdisciplinary approach to vision it would soon get rid of many of the Mindless nonsense that is promoted as incident investigation.
As a start, it is critical to reject behaviourist nonsense about the acquisition of language and learning. Fortunately, Chomsky smashed behaviourist theory (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Cgpfw4z8cw) about language acquisition 50 years ago. Language is not acquired simplistically by mimetics. Behaviourism can never explain the transfer of meaning to language nor how children acquire meaning in language.
So, this leads us to the importance of visual learning. If Safety knew about visual learning, just imagine how this could change so called ‘safety in design’. How fascinating to see this engineering-focused school of thought that doesn’t understand affordance, vision, semiotics and embodied perception. Similarly, in traditional ergonomics that sees problems through the lens of engineering and the human as a cog in a machine/system.
It is no surprise that the WHS curriculum does not address visual or spacial literacy, or the psychology of perception. So in a visual sense, the safety industry is visually and spacially illiterate when it comes to visual learning. But wow, is it good at policing regulation and checklists.
One of the first transformations we undertake in the Introduction to the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) (https://cllr.com.au/product/an-introduction-to-the-social-psychology-of-risk-unit-1-free-online-module/ ) is to visual ways of comprehension and expression. The first step in understanding risk is to ‘envision’ relationships, connectedness and causation visually. I have discussed this previously:
The goal of moving to visual learning in SPoR is to move away from the behaviourist-engineering worldview and begin to see the world relationally/socially. When we embrace visual learning we learn to give greater power to the nature of the unconscious, embodied learning and to ‘see’ the world differently. We do this by introducing learners to iconic thinking, metaphoric consciousness, concept mapping, semiotics and symbolic meaning in the iCue method. The iCue method (https://safetyrisk.net/conversational-icue/) teaches people to be better listeners and observers. Skill development in both visual and auditory senses are essential for envisioning perception in risk. You can see what iCue mapping looks like here: https://safetyrisk.net/concept-mapping-risk-icue/
It is also unfortunate that the education system has been captivated historically by brain-centrism and behaviourism. Learning too has been overly focused on the actions of the teacher as the repository for learning. Paulo Freire dismantled this ontology 50 years ago (https://envs.ucsc.edu/internships/internship-readings/freire-pedagogy-of-the-oppressed.pdf), just as other free-schoolers and de-schoolers demonstrated the problems with the institutionalisation of learning. You can read some of these here:
- Illich – Deschooling Society (https://monoskop.org/images/1/17/Illich_Ivan_Deschooling_Society.pdf ) Interestingly COVID 19 has played a huge role in de-schooling and evidence shows that many families have started home schooling as a result.
- Goodman – Compulsory Miseducation (https://arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/goodman.pdf )
- Postman & Weingarten – Teaching a Subversive Activity (https://kairosschool.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Teaching-as-a-Subversive-Activity.pdf )
- 4. Reimer – School is Dead (https://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/dead.pdf )
There are many others. One thing for sure in Safety, you can be sure that any spruiking of ‘learning’ comes from sources with little expertise in learning, teaching or education. Most of the time when I read Safety talk about ‘learning’ it is simply code for ‘schooling’.
Just as worldviews shape perceptions of risk and safety, so too does worldview define education and learning. Similarly, theories of perception define how one understands vision.
Amazing this industry that would rather police regulation and checklists than understand how all this works and yet spruik the propaganda of ‘professional’ and learning! Just imagine if safety wanted to know about perception and learning what would happen to the nonsense paraded as ‘incident investigation’. Just imagine if we brought into an investigation Artists not Engineers.
Perhaps start reading some of the following:
- Proffitt, D., and Baer, D., (2020) Perception, How Our Bodies Shape of minds.
- Berger, J., (1990) Ways of Seeing.
- Barrett, L., (2011) Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds.
- Shapiro, L., (2014) The Routledge Handbook of Embodied Cognition.
- Lakhoff & Johnson (1999) Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought.
Varela, Thompson and Rosch (2017) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience.
Maiese, M., (2011) Embodiment, Emotion and Cognition.
Claxton, G., (2015) Intelligence in the Flesh.
Giving Focus to Visual Learning
- When we give equal weight to visual learning we move away from checklisting, tables and spreadsheets.
- Through visual thinking we give greater power to visualising, imagination and discovery through observation.
- Visual learning helps us move to understanding semiotics, signs, symbols and how graphics and iconics communicate to the unconscious.
- When we prioritize visual learning we think more about the nature of perception and better understand how perception ‘works’.
- Visual learning enables much better understanding of relationships, between persons and concepts. This can be done though mapping and visualising listening. We do this in iCue Listening.
- When we give balance to visual learning we bring in the importance of embodied learning through all the senses. We move away from brain-centrism and text to felt knowing and tune into emotional and heuristic knowing.
- A focus on visual learning brings into focus the power of gesture as embodied communication and how gestural expression is embodied in ritual.
- When we think and observe through semiotics we see clearly how perception is informed unconsciously. We also understand the world as a semiosphere and become conscious of how semiotics informs knowing.
- Visual learning enables vision, it enables a different way of envisioning risk and brings balance back into safety that is consumed with hazards and objects, measurement and control. Visual learning cannot be measured.
- When we give balance to visual thinking we also see culture differently and when we dispose of the retardant of behaviourism we ‘see’ the world socially.
If you would like to think more visually and envision risk you can register for the free SPoR introduction module being delivered in April. Registrations will close soon as we are up to the limit of 50.
Registration for the Free modules in Semiotics and SEEK are closed as they are oversubscribed. These will not be offered for free again until 2023.