Adversarial Collaboration for Learning in Safety

Adversarial Collaboration for Learning in Safety

imageThis is the title of a recent video published by Daniel Kahneman.

It’s not surprising that Daniel Kahneman has found lots of fans in the safety industry. How neat and binary to fall for this fast and slow brain thing. It’s just unfortunate that it is NOT how humans make decisions, nor does it help a holistic and embodied sense of learning.

The lecture starts with a story about experiments, the scientific method and soon ventures into the illusion of reason and why people believe what they believe.

Although Kahneman is no theologian, he plays with the idea that people are not ‘converted’ by reason and evidence and, I think he’s right. Although he is way off the mark with the fast and slow brain thing.

There is plenty in this lecture by Kahneman that should be of interest to safety. Some of this could be explained by Confirmation bias or Cognitive Dissonance but there is much more about why people believe what they believe. Kahneman is also right that we believe by faith, not by rationality. Indeed, Kahneman uses the word ‘faith’ many times in this lecture. I am certainly glad he is not fearful of such language.

In all I have researched it is clear, no one knows why someone is converted (Kuhn might say shifts paradigm) but we do know that conversion has taken place. People can be converted into conspiracy theories and out of them, they can be converted to a cult and converted out of them, they can be converted into a political view and out of one, but no one knows why.

I am looking forward to a show that is on to night on SBS on Conspiracy Theory (1 March 8.30, will soon be available on SBS ON Demand). Try some of these links if you want to know more:

What is good about this lecture is that Kahneman is open to learning and, refers to Gerd Gigerenzer’s critique of him, and Gerd is not alone. Learning is NOT about data or developing content but must involve embodied movement to be learning. Otherwise it’s just ‘schooling’ or ‘banking’ (Frieire).

Kahneman advocates against what he calls ‘angry science’, a kind of mathematical and engineering type of one-up form of rational argument. Instead, Daniel argues for ‘adversarial collaboration’, a kind of Transdisciplinary activity that my colleague Dr Craig Ashhurst might call searching for ‘collective coherence

This kind of ‘adversarial collaboration’ posed by Kahneman accepts the nature of wicked problems (although he doesn’t use such language) and is founded on the idea that the activity (of adversarial collaboration) will bring no agreement or conclusive result. Kahneman states:

‘In an adversarial collaboration, the other side is pushing for experiments whose results are likely to be embarrassing to you, because your theory doesn’t rule them out. Now, you don’t have to subscribe to a view that science only advances by refuting wrong ideas to accept that exposing the weaknesses of a theory is useful. And in a world in which neither adversary is likely to concede, it may be optimal for both of them to be wrong.’

Such an idea would be quite a challenge for a safety industry that holds to binary, adversarial and deontological ideas of duty to what it knows is right.

Interestingly, Kahnemans’ faith in the myth of replication for scientific validity was tested in what he calls ‘the replication crisis’. Whilst he hasn’t shifted from his faith in Scientism, he has shifted towards an empathy for those who disagree with him and have another ‘faith’. None of this reference to ‘faith’ has this slightest essence of religious or theological meaning however, a good reading of Kierkegaard might help you understand it.

It turns out that faith in conclusions dictates reasoning and social identity, who would have thought.

A study of conversion is educational when one thinks about the changing of minds. You would think that an industry that wants to drive belief in the impossible (zero) might be interested in such research. Alas, no! You could get started on some of these if you like:

So where does this leave us with differing beliefs in safety?

Perhaps this draws us back into the need for a study of morals and ethics in the formation of an ethic of risk. Or perhaps to a conversation on Transdisciplinarity or ‘adversarial collaborations’ with those outside the narrow culture/discipline of safety? Perhaps all the fans of Kahneman might like to think about what this lecture challenges to a closed industry and the way it ‘schools’ compliance? Perhaps, all this talk of learning in safety might help some make a move.

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