The Behaviourist Human and Human Being

The Behaviourist view of what it is to be human is A view, not THE view of human ‘being’. Indeed, if you want to understand human judgment and decision making or ‘human error’ the last place to consult is a safety behaviourist. We see the problem in a recent article by Cooper.

The kind of human Cooper constructs is not THE nature of being human. I think there are more than a few Anthropologists, Neuropsychologists, Sociologists, Semioticians, Psychiatrists, Psychoanalysts, Religious Studies, Ethics, Social Psychology and Phenomenologists who would find Cooper’s projections entertaining. Indeed, the best way to construct the kind of human Safety wants is to ensure you are silent about Transdisciplinary research and thinking.

The first thing we note about this article is that it starts with a binary proposition symptom or cause. This is the kind of faux binary projection Safety loves to make a foundation as if humans, fallibility, choice, rationality and the unconscious are some kind of simple equation. Such is not the case. Any venture into the nature of human ‘being’ always leads to a ‘wicked problem’ ( or at best astounding complexity.

The idea that human ‘will’ (not mentioned), fallibility (not mentioned), unconscious (not mentioned), personhood (not mentioned), agency (not mentioned), Psychology (not mentioned), Anthropology (not mentioned) and, ‘human being’ (not mentioned) are omitted, enables Behaviourism to construct a human they want, not the human that is. A convenient construct that only functions on the denial of Transdisciplinary reality.

Humans are not machines, mechanical or the sum of inputs and outputs.

Neither are humans, the product of a system.

Of course, this statement:

‘Human error(s) can arise from the influence of systems and situations, but may also arise solely from a person’s conscious choices’.

is what the Behaviourist imagines a human to be. In reality 95% of all human decision making is unconscious. Eg. heuristical decision making enables humans to be fast and efficient without any rational choice or thinking. Habits are defined by their non-conscious enactment, without ‘thinking’.

The preoccupation and fixation by Safety on human error and the nonsense concoctions of James Reason ( enable such Safety mythology to flourish (

When we understand human decision making as:

‘By and large, we do what makes sense to us in the moment, given our level of focus and attention, the knowledge we possess, and what we are trying to achieve.’

We end up with some kind of rational being that makes decisions by weighing up options through some mythical notion of sensemaking and the myth of attention, to get the behaviourist concoction of choice.

If you want to understand the phenomenology of human ‘being’ in reality, then don’t read safety behaviourism, start reading here:

· Claxton, G., (2009) The Wayward Mind, An Intimate History of The Unconscious. Abacus. London.

· Claxton, G., (2015) Intelligence in the Flesh. Yale University Press. New York.

· Colombetti, G., The Feeling Body, Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind. MIT Press, London.

· Damasio, A., (1994) Descartes’ Error, Emotion, Reason, and The Human Brian. Penguin, New York.

· Damasio, A., (1999) The Feeling of What happens, Body and Emotions in the Making of Consciousness. Harvest Books, New York.

· Damasio, A., (2003) Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain. Harvest Books. New York.

· Damasio, A., (2010) Self Comes to Mind, Constructing the Conscious Brain. Pantheon Books. New York.

· Damasio, A., (2018) The Strange Order of Things, Life, Feeling and the Making of Cultures. Pantheon Books. New York.

· Damasio, A., (2021) Feeling and Knowing, Making Minds Conscious. Pantheon Books. New York.

· Durt, C., Fuchs, T., and Tews, C., (eds.) (1997) Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture. MIT Press. London.

· Fuchs, T., (2018) Ecology of the Brain, The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind. Oxford University Press. London.

· Fuchs, T., (2021) In Defense of the Human Being Foundational Questions of an Embodied Anthropology. Oxford University Press. London.

· Ginot, E., (2015) The Neuropsychology of the Unconscious, Integrating Brain and Mind in Psychotherapy. Nortons. New York.

· Johnson, M., (1987) The Body in Mind, The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

· Johnson, M., (2007) The Meaning of the Body, Aesthetics of Human Understanding. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

· Johnson, M., (2014) Morality for Humans, Ethical Understanding from the Perspective of Cognitive Science. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

· Johnson, M., (2017) Embodied Mind, Meaning and Reason. How Our Bodies Give Rise to Understanding. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

· Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M., (1980). Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

· Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M., (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh, The Embodied Mind and Its Challenges to Western Thought. Basic Books, New York.

· Macknik, S., and Martinez-Conde, S., (2010) Sleights of Mind, What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions. Henry Holt Co., New York.

· Meyer, C., Streeck, J., and Jordan, J. S., (2017). Intercorporeality, Emerging Socialities in Interaction. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

· Noe, A., (2009) Out of Our Heads, Why You Are Not Your Brain and Other Lessons from The Biology of Consciousness. Hill and Wang. New York.

· Norretranders, T., (1991) The User Illusion, Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. Penguin. London.

· Panksepp, J., (1998) Affective Neuroscience, The Foundations of Human Animal Emotions. Oxford University Press. London.

· Raaven, H., (2013). The Self Beyond Itself, An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences and the Myth of Free Will. The New Press. New York.

· Ramachandran, V. S., (2004) A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. PI Books, New York

· Robinson, K., (2011). Out of Our Minds, Learning to Be Creative. Capstone. London.

· Thompson, E., (2010) Mind in Life, Biology, Phenomenology, and the Science of the Mind. Belknap Press. London.

· Tversky, B., (2019) Mind in Motion, How Action Shapes Thoughts. Basic Books. New York.

· Van Der Kolk, B., (2015) The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin, New York.

· Varela, F., Thompson, E ., and Rosch, E., (1993) The Embodied Mind, Cognitive Science and Human Experience. MIT Press, London.

These are just a sample of the researchers and scientists who stand in opposition to everything projected in this article.

The place to start in understanding persons in being is NOT with:

… ‘human error is usually detected by looking at how people behave, or could behave, in certain situations.’

All behaviours are outcomes of the unconscious and in themselves tell us nothing.

Humans are not like some kind of crossword puzzle (attached semiotic) where we get things right or wrong by making something fit the boxes. James Reason is the last place to go if one wants to know about human error or human ‘being’. But this is what Safety does, accepts the assumptions of a view it likes, that explains its worldview and never declares its Methodology that hides its method. In the case of BBS the method is usually brutalism.

The article assumes there is no psychology in goal trajectory or strategy ( We even have the statement:

‘Connected to the design and use of tools, tasks, processes and the working environment, human errors are rarely random; that is, they can often be predicted, and in some situations, they are inevitable’

Really? Human error is not random and can ‘often be predicted’. On what planet is such a statement. Oh, that’s right ‘the safety planet’ where zero is adored (, mythology is the norm and, delusion abounds in its own echo chamber (

Once the undeclared assumptions of this article have been accepted we then venture on the same old tired mechanics of James Reason with a bit of tinkering to get the same outcome.

Human fallibility has nothing to do with ‘the failure of planned actions to achieve their desired ends’. ( Then what follows on from the many undeclared assumptions of human ‘being’ we get this:


‘[1] a plan or intention; [2] a sequence of actions initiated by the plan; and [3] a failure of the actions involved to achieve the plan’s goal’

Intent, action and failure. Classic behaviourist stuff. This is NOT what humans do. This is NOT how fallible human persons make decisions.

Then what follows is the lovely coloured semiotic (that behaviourism know nothing) that serves as a wonderful confirmation of the safety ‘human error myth’. Put in the meat and get out a sausage. This is then followed by a lengthy table of so called ‘error traps’, ‘factors’ and ‘error types’. None of this even closely resembles the way humans make decisions or enact into behaviour the human unconscious.

What this kind of list does is give people the delusion that human ‘being’ is mechanical, rational and controllable. Inputs and outputs, the convenient 1930s assumption of how humans make decisions. Of course, all of this is built on the unquestioned assumptions of safety mythology (Norman, Petersen, Rasmussen and Reason) to get the outcome desired not the reality as experienced. This is how safety stays within the bounds of its own echo chamber.

And the article concludes in discussion of the myth of ‘root cause’ when there is none (

There are however many other views of humans and fallibility, especially views that don’t result in judgment, blame and brutalism. There are better views that humanise persons and understand the nature of unconscious decision making in tackling risk.

You can adopt the mechanical behaviourist model if you want, that’s up to you, but it is NOT a reflection of reality. It is NOT supported by any discipline that understands the phenomenology of ‘human being’ and you will also get with this view, the by-products and trade-offs (by assumptions not mentioned), usually the brutalism of persons.

You take another path that understands human error differently ( A pathway that is not silent on its assumptions nor the anthropology of human persons. Such a view ( is based on a non-behaviourist understanding of persons and accepts many key characteristics of being human:

· Arendt, H., (1958) The Human Condition.

· Bauer, J., and Harteis, C., (2012) Human Fallibility, The Ambiguity of Errors for Work and Learning.

· Benner, D., (2016) Human Being and Becoming, Living the Adventure of Life and Love.

· Fuchs,T., (2018) Ecology of the Brain.

· Kirkwood, C., (2012) The Persons in Relation Perspective, In Counselling, Psychotherapy and Community Adult Learning.

· Lotman, Y., (1990) Universe of the Mind, A Semiotic Theory of Culture.

· Madsbjerg, C., (2017) Sensemaking, What Makes Human Intelligence Essential in the Age of the Algorithm.

· Martin, J., Sugarman, J., and Hickinbottom, S., (2010) Persons: Understanding Psychological Selfhood and Agency

· Splitter, L., (2015) Identity and Personhood, Confusions and Clarifications across Disciplines

It is from a holistic view of persons that SPoR has developed its openly declared methodology and methods ( These are methods that humanise persons in the challenge of tackling risk. You can read more about SPoR here in any number of free book downloads: ( or study free online:

Free SPoR Intro

Free Due Diligence


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