You Can’t Will Attentiveness

You Can’t Will Attentiveness

The idea that humans have an individual power (will) to override: the world around us, cultural heritage, history, social influence, technique design and emotions is a construct of an Augustinian/Cartesian worldview. All of the latest research in neuroscience, cognition and social psychology makes it clear that the idea of an individual will is nonsense. All of the safety programs arguing that people can become attentive through will power is based on this Cartesian construct but it’s not real.

Unless one has an holistic view of work and humans, one will not come close to helping fallible people tackle risk. Indeed, the will power focused programs are just more likely to bring disappointment, frustration and negativity because ‘safety is a choice you make’.

The idea that humans can overcome anything with ‘will power’ ignores all of the influences that exists in the human body and social world. All of the latest research demonstrates that humans have an ‘embodied mind’. That is, the brain and all of the body is integrated so much so, that the whole body is our mind. The idea that a human/brain is similar to a computer is just plain nonsense. The history of detesting the body and focusing on the human as a brain/machine is a construct of Augustinian/Behaviourist ideology. This is not how humans work.

The evidence is overwhelming that the human nervous system, endocrine system and immune system ‘think’ on their own without strong direction from the brain. The evidence also shows that emotions cannot be ‘controlled’. All of this has huge implications for how we think people tackle risk.


The model of brain as computer is typical of how people think of will power

Humans are so integrated and affected by the world around them that the environment also has a mind that by its design affects the thinking of humans.

Scholars like: Damasio (The Feeling of What happens; Descartes Error), Varela (The Embodied Mind), Claxton (Intelligence in the Flesh, The Wayward Mind), Ginot (The Neuropsychology of the Uncosncious), Robinson (Out of Our Minds), Norrtranders (The User Ilusion), Paley (unthank), Alter (Drunk, Tank, Pink), Watts Everything is ObviousHow Common Sense Fails), Sloman (The Knowledge illusion), Wilson (Strangers to Ourselves) and Ramachandran (A Brief Tour of the Unconscious) demonstrate that human thinking is embodied. I discuss this as the foundation for all my training in the concept of One Brain Three Minds (;

One Brain Three Minds from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

The way humans react emotionally, reflex and are stimulated by external influences shows that we are not always in control. Indeed, we live so much heuristically and automatically that the idea of turning control on and off or attention on and off, is just a projection from the Cartesian worldview. We may ‘feel’ like this is what happens but the evidence demonstrates otherwise.

Rather than concentrating on the individual will much more of risk and safety should be focusing on social context, worldview and the collective unconscious. This is where the real power of influence is situated.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

5 Replies to “You Can’t Will Attentiveness”

  1. This is a great article and counters much of what is put out to workers these days on being mindful and taking smart risks. As a human factors/ergonomics practitioner I see all this talk about risk taking that does not make sense. The Mindfulness trend is not helping matters – as this is now the latest “solution” for motivating “dumb workers”. Thanks for providing this science-based countervailing article.

  2. Thanks Suzanne. The problem in safety exists at a deep philosophical level. The sector is saturated in individualist behaviourist claptrap and not much else gets much air time. You are right, it’s all about ‘dumb workers’ and ‘safety is a choice you make’. Unfortunately, you won’t be find much vision for anything new or different from the sector. Any difference will be demonised and branded as non-compliant.

  3. Dear Rob,

    Please excuse the Euclidean or Pythagoras overtones One brain, 3.14159 recurring minds and seven senses. After all positivism relentlessly tries to square the circle.

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