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On Fallibility, Kindness, Humility, Courage and Science: A discussion with John Flach

July 11, 2024

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This podcast started off with reflecting on the power of embracing fallibility. Dr John Flach, my guest, then brought his own experiences and how a renowned scientist helped him and supported him when he experienced a setback in life. We then spoke about kindness and briefly touched on the importance of social resilience. The discussion then moved from kindness to humility and the importance of humility in understanding and learning from surprises. From humility we moved into courage and why courage is so important to break free from dogma and become critical thinkers. We ended this session with the importance of metaphysics, meaning making and methodology. Our discussion ended with why we need to be more kind and humble to pursue science.

 

Further information

 

SPEAKERS

John Flach, Nippin

 

Nippin  00:01

Welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me. Nippin Anand. Anand a podcast aimed at understanding and promoting transdisciplinary ways of living and thinking, meaning, assimilating different viewpoints, different subjects, different disciplines, but focused on a very simple question, how do we human beings, learn, unlearn, relearn and make decisions, and how can we tackle risks in an uncertain world today, I have with me, John flach, John, nice to have you. And would you like to give a little introduction about yourself?

 

John Flach  00:48

Yeah, so I’m My background is in psychology, and most of my career has been, I would say, in the field of applied psychology, applied cognitive psychology, human factors, social technical systems. And my primary interest is figuring out how experts are are able to do things that are beyond the capacity of mere humans. I

 

Nippin  01:23

Can you unpack that a little bit? John,

 

John Flach  01:27

yeah, so much of my work is going into domains and trying to understand how it is that people do what they do. And so my early work was actually in the aviation domain. And I was inspired a lot by Gibson’s work on optical flow fields and and I was very interested in how pilots use information, how they knew whether they were on the right glide slope. And you know, what were the things that underlie so my early work was a lot on perceptual motor skills. And, you know, one place to that was a rich place to study perceptual motor skills was in aviation, because of flight simulators. So and my, at the beginning of my career, graphical computing was just beginning to scan up but and so we, for the first time, had the opportunity to actually simulate interactive interactions between a person and flow fields that we could create in the visual displays of flight simulators. And so for the first time, we actually had the technology to actually test some of Gibson’s hypothesis about optic flow. So, so that’s sort of where I started, in

 

Nippin  02:50

Sure, and in the context, sorry, in the context of what we are discussing, which is, how do experts know what they know. How does that? How does that fit in within this discussion? John,

 

John Flach  03:09

well, I guess so. It to a certain extent. It was motivated by my own, probably inadequacies in sports and music and other things. And I always, I always felt like the experts knew something that I didn’t know. There was some secret, some trick that they had, and I wanted to figure it out. And I think, think one of the things that I’ve learned over the years this, it’s 90% practice, practice, practice. It’s, it’s not, it’s not a trick in the head, but it’s, it’s something, and I guess, in in along with the theme of your book and the the learning is not like some mental trick. It’s, it’s really embodied, and so you’ve got to engage, you know, you got to engage fully with a domain, or with, you know, with an instrument in music. But, you know, in sport, you’ve got to, you got to do the drills. You got to do the the hard work to get to be able to see the world the way the experts do.

 

Nippin  04:27

Yes, that’s so true. And you wanted to talk about fallibility, John, and you want to talk about the book. Where would you like to begin? What is it that you have in mind? Maybe we can explore some, some topics for discussion.

 

John Flach  04:45

Well, I think the things that stood out to me in the book was the you know your own story about your near miss as well as you know the the caustic Concordia captain. Francesco. And, you know, I really, I really felt that he got a bad overall deal and and had, you know, I get, just had a sense of injustice that that in in his being sent to prison for for just being, what it came down to is being a human,

 

Nippin  05:34

and that’s right, yes, yes, yes. So is there anything in particular that you would like to explore in the discussion today?

 

John Flach  05:50

Yeah, so, I mean, I guess you know, in reading about their stories, your story and francesco’s story, it made me more mindful of my own history and and the places where I failed. And, you know, one of, you know, one of the things that so in my career, my, you know, I was right out of graduate school, I got a very plum academic position at University of Illinois. And, you know, was somewhat full of myself. It was really one of the top programs in the in the country, and to get an, you know, faculty position there right out of graduate school was, was, you know, I was very proud of that, but it I ended up not getting tenure there, and and not getting tenure there, there was a point where I, You know, I felt like my career was over, and, and, and, you know, there was, on the one hand, you know, in your book, when you talk about your own experience and the loss of confidence and trust of your colleagues on the ship, and and how you felt judged by them. And, and I felt some of that but, but I also reflect back, and you know, first of all, it wasn’t fatal. So my career didn’t end with not getting tenure. But I think, and sometimes I think, you know, having an early failure kind of inoculates you against future failures, and it makes it easier to come but, but the more I thought about it, and kind of a new insight when I thought about it, is the inoculation, I think, is largely not due to the to the failure itself, but to the kindness of other people on the other side of the failure. So you know, for me, you know there you’re you know, you realize. You know who your friends are, for example. So some people, you know, treat you as a failure, and other people say, hey, you know you’re a good person. You know we still believe in you. And you know, there’s your family. But also, you know, for me, there were a couple people who, I think, went out of their way to be kind to me after the accident and kind of and build up my confidence and let me know that they thought that my work was valuable and things and and, you know, in particular, Jens Rasmussen, but also, you know, Chris wickens, who, who was the person who hired me to Illinois. You know, I feel both of them went out of their way to say, hey, you know, it’s not you, it’s circumstances and and also, they opened the door to other opportunities that, and you know, and and add that were an advocate for me to help other opportunities and other doors open. So, so I think, you know. I think you know. I mean, that gets back to the the learning from failure, I think, is not purely cognitive thing but but the thing that enables learning from failure is the kindness of people who can accept you and your fallibilities and and those you know you’re you’re lucky if you have those people in your life. You

 

Nippin  09:43

What a fascinating discussion. We started off with John, because what you’re discussing now is is, is is really something that I find is missing in the discourse today around resilience. This, which is the the social aspect of resilience that, you know, I think Gabor Mati And and professor I have this book, Bessel van den cock, talk about the idea of of distress and trauma that comes from failing in the society, and a lot of it, as you very rightly pointed out, is not the failure itself, but the realization through your relationships, through the social relationships, that you’re made to believe that you did something that was that was a failure. So the failure is basically something socially imposed upon you. I think that’s a very important thing to understand. And from there, if there are people, there are people who will embrace your your your fallibility, I think the recovery from that failure is remarkably different from if you’re left on your own. In fact, one of the one, one of, one of the most beautiful sentences that Professor Bessel cock uses is that, you know, we are, we have been, I’d be interested to explore what you think, given where you come from, the society, individualist kind of society where you live in, and I think I face some of that also, but we, I mean, I grew up in India, and we never had this concept of antidepressants and all sort of psychotherapy and others kind of help. Help was in the culture, when you face a difficult situation, you go and have a conversation with somebody, they will listen. They will give you advice. But I found that always missing when I first moved to this world, it’s it’s a lot, a lot of it is left to you and your own and I think this whole idea of putting on a performance show every day as we go to work more so in today’s world, and not succeeding all the time, which is very natural, falls back upon you, and you have to have that coping mechanism. So I think the whole idea of resilience is centered around the individual. Very little discussion around the idea of social resilience that we live in a society, and I think that discourse is I find somehow missing in in the resilience of literature. Also, what are your views? John,

 

John Flach  12:31

yeah, so another theme in my work is, is that the closed loop coupling, and, you know, and, and I think you’re right is that it’s, you know, our self image, our confidence, our belief in ourself, is largely, I think, constructed by the reflection that we see in the other people. That is, it’s a feedback. And again, you know, I, you know. I think my, if we call it resilience, my, my resilience in the face of of not getting tenure, I think is largely attributed, not so much, to to any internal to me internally, but, but rather to the network that I had, and the people who were able to and again, and I don’t think in terms of infallibility, but, but who were able to help me to to appreciate the value that I Still had, you know, the abilities and you know, and shifted my focus from the failure, the loss or the, you know, the inadequacies, to to the potential value that I still had to contribute. And

 

Nippin  13:57

that’s interesting, because for two things, but first I heard you using the word kindness a lot. You use the word kindness quite a lot, as you were talking just now, maybe we should explore. What was your what is your WHY would you call it kindness? Why do you see it that way? What is kindness to you?

 

John Flach  14:19

Well, you know, I, I mean, my feeling is, is that that, that, that people like Jens Rasmussen actually went out of the way to, you know, to open doors for me and, and, you know, and and to, you know, to to to validate, and you know, tell me, you know, to help me feel, you know, like I like I had something to contribute to that what I was doing was I. Was valuable. And, you know. And part of it saying, you know, they just don’t understand. You know, what you’re saying is, is, you know, it’s too far outside of the box for them to understand. But, but you’re going in the right direction. And, and, you know, and I, and I, you know, I, he didn’t have, you know, he didn’t have to, you know. And, you know, yeah, so, you know, I met him because he came to Illinois, because to see other people. But, but, but after I left Illinois, you know, he, he made trips to the new school where I was and visited there, you know, I mean, which, which wasn’t a big, you know, which, you know, which, which really was kind of enhanced my status, my in the new place. And, you know, and again, it’s kind of, he welcomed me into, within his halo. And, I, you know, I get, got a opportunity. So I wasn’t, you know, I was not defined by the experience at Illinois, but, but there, you know, the relationship with with yens and with other people just kind of compensated, you know, again, just balance things out. Oh, absolutely John, you know. And I think without that extra effort that he put in, you know, I think he’s things could have easily tipped in a in a less positive direction for me. Anyway,

 

Nippin  16:40

have you reflected on this any more deeper than than what you just described, John, that, why would somebody show that kindness to you in those in those dark moments? What is it that when, in the grand scheme of things, what does that tell you about yourself, about the other person, the relationship between you? Have you reflected upon that?

 

John Flach  17:11

Yeah, I mean, since I’m talking about it, obviously I have, I’m not sure how to put it in words. I mean, I think that I uh, it, you know, for me, I guess it says a lot more about the the people who who are are smart enough and and kind enough to to make that extra effort. Then, then it says about me, who was more in the receiving end. I mean, I think the other thing I reflect on is, you know, are there opportunities where I could have put in more effort to help other people through their struggling times? And, you know, I mean, I I can reflect back on situations where I think I could have been more kind than I was,

 

Nippin  18:10

yes, and I think the idea of kindness actually comes from seeing the other person as a whole person. And what I mean by that is, you know, if you look at the Greek mythology, for example, the symbol of wisdom is associated with both Athena and the bird owl. And one of the reasons why owl is considered a symbol of wisdom is that the owl has the ability to turn around and see things from a wider perspective. So almost about 270 degrees or so. In the HR jargon these days, we have this whole idea of 360 degrees review. And in the Indian mythology, I’ll just show you something here.

 

Nippin  18:58

We have this. We have this demon, which is which has 10 heads, and this is called Ravana, and and the point I’m trying to make is, is this that, and these images have existed through through time immemorial, actually, this kind of archetypes, and we can talk about that. But what I’m trying to say is that in understanding John, I am not only focused on what he did or didn’t do as a result of which he failed. I also see him. I also see some of his successes. I also see approach him as as a father, as a brother, as a sibling, as a as a successful professor, as a very successful colleague, as somebody who has written or published something that interests me. So I take a more holistic view of that person. So I see that John as a whole person. And I think when you start to see another person as a whole person, and don’t reduce them. One particular behavior, I think you see the beauty in that person, and you see a connection with that person, which doesn’t happen very often when you get sucked into this narrative of behaviorism, you know, simplifying someone’s behavior to one particular trait, and particularly the one that we don’t like, and why we don’t like it is because we we see something in ourselves that we have not really accepted. So we project it onto other people. So I call somebody lazy because I am lazy, and I project it on other people without realizing that I am lazy. And I think we fail to make that 360 degree review, as we call it, in other people seeing the whole person. I find that quite a lot John in and I think it’s got something to do with this whole idea of simplifying somebody to one particular trait or behavior.

 

John Flach  20:51

Yeah, I agree,

 

Nippin  20:55

and I think so. So if we go back to the book, which is what we were discussing, and the idea of embracing fallibility, I think a lot of it comes when an accident happens, when something goes wrong, the first thing is to go into the judgmental mode and start to simplify things in order to make sense of it that somebody must have screwed it up. But if you take a step back and start to go a little bit deeper, you will find connection with people, because at the end of the day, we are all humans, and there has to be some link with between all of us at a very fundamental level. And I think once you start to realize that link in which my case it was that, you know, here’s somebody who’s involved in an accident, just like me I was involved in an accident, you start to see the parallels and start things start to make sense from there. And hence the idea of embracing fallibility. And I think what it does is it, in some ways, it helps you to forgive your own self, for, for, for all the things that you did, forgive the other person for what they did. And and I think there’s a lot of learning in forgiveness, and you use the word kindness, I think there’s a lot of learning in that, in that kindness,

 

John Flach  22:09

yeah, and I mean, you know, you’re bringing in your experiences, you Know, crossing cultures. And you know, I think that’s part of the experience that helps you to be kind or in and you know, for me, you know, when I was growing up, I my family moved around a lot, so we weren’t crossing cultures, but we’re moving around primarily in the US and and and, well, I mean, us is fairly cultural diverse, more than so than than a lot of people think. But I was born in Baltimore and and, and we moved to the Chicago area and then, and then to West Virginia, which was a very different culture than than what I experienced in Baltimore and and Chicago and and then to Dayton, but, but I think there’s kind of a skill in being the new kid in the room. And, you know there, and you know you don’t have that confidence of knowing the rules and so, so you have to, you know you have to, I don’t know, in my experience is you know you have to accept it’s being the background and observe carefully so you don’t, you don’t cross the rules that you haven’t learned yet. And so, so I think that experience of, you know, having being the new kid over and over again, and then the experience of going into people’s other people’s domains, so not being a pilot, but getting into the simulator with pilots, or going into the nuclear power plant and observing operators there, not and or in in the military, observing command and control situation stuff where you’re an outsider, I think you you learn to deal with surprise, and you learn To prepare, to deal with surprises, and pick up the surprises, which I think is really important part of I you know, I guess the other word that I think goes along very closely with kindness, is humility. But you know, the the luxury of knowing that you don’t know everything, and you still have a lot to learn. And you know, Jens used to always, you know, one of the things that he used to always say is, you know, whenever you go into a new domain, many of the behaviors will seem irrational, but they’re only irrational because there are constraints in that domain that you aren’t. Aware of. But the people in the domain are very salient to the people in the domain. And as you the more time you spend in the domain, the more sensitive you’ll become to those constraints. And you know, and I think you know, in the Concord in the you know, cost of Concordia, accident, I mean, the what struck me is the exchange between the captain when he was outside the ship and and on the radio, and the other guy, you know, telling him he’s got to get on the ship. He’s got to be on the ship and and from the perspective of the person on one side of the conversation, what the captain was doing was completely irrational. But that person did not understand the the situation. You know, at least in my interpretation, didn’t, didn’t, wasn’t sensitive to the constraints that were salient to the captain, immediate to the captain. And so from, you know, from the perspective of one side of the conversation, what the captain was doing was irrational, but, but if you take a if you step back and assess you realize that, or again, my interpretation is that the captain was responding appropriately to the constraints that he was immersed within.

 

Nippin  26:15

You touched upon something very powerful, John, I was going to ask you, why do you consider surprises as so important, and coping with surprises so important, as you described as the early part of your life journey for learning, and then you went into answering that question such an eloquent way. I think you are absolutely right, John. I think the whole idea of human subjectivity, which is your and my world, can never be the same because of the the you know, there are some, there’s some very, very intense neurological studies done in this, in this, in this area, my people, like Antonio Damasio, one of the leading neuroscientists in the world, and it is so fascinating to see that we can never, never look at the world in the same way, and the myth and the beliefs that gave us meaning are never the same as the other person. And I think you’re absolutely right when you talk about humility, because a large part of humility, I would say a large part, and I consciously use the word large, a large part of humility is actually trying to see the world from another person’s perspective. And I know it’s a very simple statement lot of people have made this there’s nothing new in it, but actually experiencing something of this kind is very unique, very unique, even in this very, very so called modern scientific world. And I think as a researcher is especially if you have a researcher and or you are a change agent in an organization where you have to to understand things before you know, because the golden rule of any changes to first understand where you are. I think it’s hard for many people to see things from another person’s point of view, almost impossible. And I’ve always struggled with this idea, and I think that is that has a lot to do with what you just touched upon, humility. Yes.

 

John Flach  28:19

Yeah. So you know, an important influence on me, and in terms of how you see the world, is purses idea of abduction and and, and when he talks about abduction, so he, you know, he talks about surprise, and that surprise is a creates a state of uncomfort. So when, when things don’t conform to our expectations, our theories of the world, our hypothesis about the world, we get uncomfortable. But and, and I think it’s important to realize there’s two ways of resolving that uncomfortable feeling. One is to retain your hypothesis and dismiss the observation as anomalous. Or, you know, blame the captain so, you know, but, but you you attribute it to an anomalous or to to something that’s exceptional in the world. Or you revise your hypothesis I’d better understand the world and you know, and I think it’s just a natural I don’t think it’s special, but I think if you live long enough, you know, you you get you experience enough anomalies where that build up in a where enough so that you always you understand that you’re all your hypothesis and all your beliefs about the world are guesses and tentative and and I think that’s the key of abduction. And, you know, in contrast to the other logics, you know, the formal logics assume there is something like an absolute truth. It. But the key difference between abduction and the others is, abduction is always tentative. It’s, it’s, you know, we’re always guessing based on our experiences, but, but the only test of those guesses is it is pragmatic. It’s, it’s in the consequences of acting on those hypotheses. And and again, you know, ideally, the the abductive system, over time, moves toward reducing surprises. But I but again, if you’re humble, you reduce surprise by reconsidering your hypothesis and and and changing your views of the world. But if, if you’re not humble, it’s easy for you to dismiss the anomalies as exceptions, to be ignored, or to get past and and and you know, and retain your at all costs, retain your view as as the truth,

 

Nippin  31:00

absolutely. Retain your view, return, retain your worldview, retain your your homeostasis, which is all the governing of the life, life processes. It’s biological, and

 

John Flach  31:11

that’s ego, yeah, and that that, I think that’s connects the idea of the term homeostasis, I think connects dimaggios work and purses in the sense that surprise is an emotional experience. It’s discomfort. And that discomfort is, you know, I think is a psychological sign of instability, the psychological symptom of instability. And when we’re uncomfortable, when we’re experiencing discomfort, our energies are toward our put toward resolving that discomfort. And again, we can do that by becoming more mindful of who we are and how we look at the world. Or we can mindlessly, you know, throw away observations as anomalies or or cast blame on externalize.

 

Nippin  32:04

You know, it reminds me of a conversation that Gary Klein, actually, I had some time ago, where we’re talking about the difference between experience and expertise. And he said 30 years of experience is 30 years of experience and but 30 years of experience lived as new day every day is 30 years of expertise. And I think that novel novelty, and how you deal with novelty and surprises, it actually enriches the images in your world, which is basically the ability to cope with any anything new. And that’s a fascinating thing to think about. And I think, but I think, John, there is a tension between how much more you want to be open to surprises, because you know, on the one hand, you want to you confirm with the society and everyone else around you, so you can be a revolutionary and reach a completely different level in life through learning and open mindedness. And I think that’s quite possible. The trouble is that, which group do you belong to then, because you might find yourself completely out of sync with the rest of the world. And this is where I find that people who travel a lot and see the world through different sets of I travel a lot. Sometimes have difficulties associating with any particular group because they go so far away from from what everyone considers as normal, even though they seem things that other people don’t. I think there is that innate sense to come back and belong to somewhere, and I think that always puts attention then how much, how authentically Can I live and declare my beliefs, and how much of that will be accepted in the world? Are the groups that I belong to? So I think there’s always a tension between the two.

 

John Flach  33:58

Yeah, well, if bring up another word, I mean, I think courage is important, because, you know, again, on the long run, one way to protect your beliefs about the world and is, is to make your world smaller. That is retreat and and to stay in familiar territories. And I think, you know relative care client is to do the same thing every day, and then, you know, you can get into a routine. And you can, you can be, you know, you can, for example, as a musician. You can be an expert at one song, if the only play one song over and over again for the whole whole life. But you don’t become a very skilled musician that way, an expert musician that way, and and it, it takes courage to go in, to cross boundaries. You know it. You know you know, quite frankly, you know to be a human factors person and to go in. Into other people’s domain and and interact with them, and, you know, even try to help them takes a bit of courage, because, you know, you go in that domain and you’re immediately an outsider, and the and the, you know, the the thing that you’re going to face in the beginning is, is a healthy skepticism on the part of the people you know what? How is this guy gonna come in here who’s never flown an airplane and and tell me something valuable that will help me learn to be a more effective pilot, or why did how’s this person who doesn’t have any degrees in physics is going to help me understand and be more effective in a nuclear power plant and so, and, you know? And so it’s easy. It would be easy. And it easy, you know, in my profession, it’s easy for and this gets back to Gary Klein too. It’s easy. It would be easy for a psychologist to retreat to the laboratory and spend their whole life studying puzzles and visual illusions and and logical puzzles. And you know, you can find a puzzle that a lot of people get wrong, but that you can explain to why they’re wrong, and do 50 million permutations of that puzzle and and get a publication from every permutation, but never learn anything about how experts perform and how, you know, how ship captains make decisions and, and how emergency responders do what they do in the real world and, and, you know, and so, you know, I think that’s one of the, you know, The things that Gary Klein demonstrates is the importance of your science going out into the world and getting outside the laboratory, where and which means that you’re no longer in control of everything and all the stimuli and stuff And and, you know, I think it reflects both curiosity, the desire to know that but but also the the courage to take the risk of of being wrong and being, you know, facing the skepticism and being the outsider, being the new kid in a situation And and and again, growing up, I didn’t have any choice. I, you know, I was dragged around by my father’s career to different places and things, but, but I, I, I got the benefit of that experience and those exercises, and I think they have been useful to me throughout my career, that those experiences

 

Nippin  37:43

wonderful, John, you know, I was just thinking about, as you were talking, that we started off with fallibility, and then we talked about kindness, and then we moved into humility, and then we talked about courage. And I want to now throw one more word into it, which I think you also talked about, by the way, you also talk about curiosity. But I think the other thing that I want to throw in is the whole idea of meaning, that we seek meaning in life, I think, and you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of these things ultimately end up into whether this particular experience gives me meaning in life or not. And I think a lot of people today feel very vacant, despite being in very powerful positions, earning a lot of money, some do having a lot of accumulated a lot of wealth and so on. But something is missing in life, and I think that’s precisely what it is. I think when you find meaning in life, you feel a lot more satisfied. In some ways. I think that quest for learning and meaning in life is is one of the things that makes us human beings, seeking, yeah,

 

John Flach  39:06

and, and, and, I think, you know, and I think this is consistent with your interest in semiotics and stuff, but, but if I were to cast science, it’s not the pursuit of truth, which I think is a is a fool’s errand. It’s the pursuit of meaning. And again, and and, you know, I, I like the word sense making. So, so I think meaning is not something that’s fixed and absolute out there, but meaning is something that emerges, that that that it that meaning emerges from my experiences. So, so I think we have a role in you know, it’s not just meanings out there to be discovered, but it’s meaning is constantly being created. You.

 

Nippin  40:01

Yes. And I think the beauty of it is that if you look at one experience today and come back to it in a few weeks, months or years, it’ll give you a completely different meaning. And it has to, because if it doesn’t, that means you haven’t moved in your life much. I think that’s that’s a really good point, and a lot of learning is about movement and seeking new meanings in life. Yes, John, I’m just conscious of the time. Is there anything else you wanted to bring up about the book, or anything in general?

 

John Flach  40:35

Well, just to Capstone the idea of meaning, another book that’s that’s really influenced me, as is PERS Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And he, he, I think the way he uses quality, I think, is analogous to meaning, yeah. And, and that that, I think, one of the implications of his psych, his metaphysics of quality, is that meaning is the raw material of perception cognition of his it’s not derivative, and that’s the classical view, is that the world of physics and the descriptions of the physicists, which are designed specifically to take the observer out, that is to make to describe the world independent of the observers, is reality, and that our perceptions are derivative from that reality. And I think one of the implications of parasigs work, and something that I strongly believe from my in terms of my own metaphysics, is that meaning is a raw material for cognitive systems, and that the things of physics, like length and size and the those are derivatives from experience, those are Not the raw materials. We don’t build meaning from the physical or the objective world of physics. We we create physics from the world of meaning, the the raw material of meaning in our lives as experience but, but we experience the world as in terms of meaning, and not in terms of size or color, as as defined by the physicists.

 

Nippin  42:29

No and John, you know, you touched upon something powerful. Once again, I met somebody in Australia. His name is Graham long, and one of the powerful lessons from that little conversation was I actually read some of his books, and I listened to his speeches, and I said, Graham, something you said has changed my life completely after listening to you. And he turned around to me in a very, very calm way and said, nobody changes anyone’s life. Nobody does. No book can change your life, no quotation can change your life. It’s what gives you meaning, you know. And I could be saying 100 things, but I have no idea what you will take away from it. And I think that goes back to what you’re saying that it’s, it’s very, very individual. It’s very subjective. Even in writing that book, I have no idea what, what meaning you took away or others will take away from it, and it’s fascinating to think along those lines, yes.

 

John Flach  43:35

Yeah. Well, one other theme that that brings up and and again, in my reaction to your book is the things that really, I think that we do take away is not the not the algorithms or not the inferences, but the stories. And it’s really your story and the story of of the Costa Concordia, that that’s what I’ll take away from your book, and, and, and, you know, actually. So just to balance out my praise, you know, the the method that you kind of introduced near the end, I kind of was a letdown for me. And, it, you know, as is any method, you know, it’s kind of, it’s kind of reductive, and I’m always skeptical about it, but, but what impacted me, you know, at a, you know, at a very deep level, where the stories, and that’s one of the things, again, the bring up Gary Klein again, is that’s one of the powerful things of Gary kind’s work is his, he’s an incredible storyteller. And, you know, and, and, you know, many of the things that that I’ve come to learn kind of as a scientist in a and, and just. As a person, you know, I found huge validation in in Gary’s stories of my own intuitions about the world and and, and, you know, I’ve known Gary for a long time personally. So he was in Dayton. I’m in Dayton, and so, so I consider him a friend and a colleague. But we have, I think we, we’re always, we’ve come, you know, we argue about the interpretations of his stories, so I take different things away from his stories, and I think Gary even intends with his stories, but, but that doesn’t reduce the fact that that his work and his stories have had a huge, huge impact in how I view the world. Oh, yeah, all meaning, just as your stories have now.

 

Nippin  45:49

Thank you. And someday, we should talk about the method, because I think maybe there is a need to, you know, it was the final chapter of the book. I didn’t have the space to expand on it. We should talk about the method. It’s interesting you see it as reductive because it’s a semiotic method, and it’s meant to generate abductive meanings, and it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on it once. We’ll talk about that at some say it’s anything but reductive, but we should discuss that in another discussion. No.

 

John Flach  46:22

I mean, I understand the intentions behind it, but, but I think, you know, I any to me, there’s no recipes, no recipes,

 

46:33

right? And that’s the beauty of it, yes. And

 

John Flach  46:37

that’s, you know. I mean, I think what you talk about the I thou, that’s the key. And it doesn’t matter what method you use if, if you go in with that attitude, you’re going to walk away with something valuable.

 

Nippin  46:52

And you know that that’s very powerful to have an ethic. But the the most important thing is your disposition in life. And you could use any method, it doesn’t really matter. But the point, the point really is that I have firmly always believed that a methodology and a method should be very consistent with each other. If you don’t have a method that flows along with the methodology, then you have a problem, because then it creates all sort of incoherence. Yeah, it’s a valid point, yes, but, but I think the most important thing is a methodology is what’s your methodology? If you see another person as an object, yeah, you will never get to the richness of the story. No matter what method you use, it doesn’t matter. And I think that’s something we don’t discuss. We don’t articulate enough in risk and safety, what is your methodology in human factors? We don’t meditate on this issue. What is what is the methodology? And what do you believe in?

 

John Flach  47:58

Well, see that I I wouldn’t put it in those words. I mean, so I see the methodology as as kind of a formalism, and, and, but, but to me, what’s important, what I would say is not the methodology, but the metaphysics. It was a big word, but it’s but. But in in more common terms, I say it’s the attitude you go into and if your attitude is dominated by curiosity and respect, and you’re going in there to listen and learn from the people you’re observing, you get a lot more. It doesn’t matter what technique. So I, you know, I think about method is technique but, but I think it’s attitude you go in with. It determines whether the technique is useful or not, and and, quite frankly, you know, when I I find myself, I often go in, you know, I’ve been influenced by Gary Klein, and I’ve often tried to utilize his techniques, and I’ve often gone into interviews with the intention of using some of his techniques. But quite frankly, once I start engaging with the person, the techniques fall by the wayside, and I just get caught up in the stories and the relationship with the person, not with the technique. And so I just think that techniques are useful, but they’re not. You have to hold them loosely, but your your metaphysics, your your attitude is, you know who you are in the i thou connection is the most important thing.

 

Nippin  49:31

I think you, you said something very powerful there, which is metaphysics. And I always thought of, I mean, it’s a very big word, actually, for for the listeners, but I think you’re absolutely right. What is the nature of existence? What is the how do you see reality? And I think that’s what I meant when I used the word methodology. You probably went one step ahead. And I think that’s a wonderful word. One doesn’t hear that word very often in outside of the research world. But I think, yeah, I mean, just keeping that in mind is very powerful, yes, yeah,

 

John Flach  50:05

yeah. I associate methodology with techniques, not with, not with, you know, larger beliefs, you know, with your, your more global,

 

Nippin  50:16

yeah, when, when we, when we finish this podcast, I will send you an article that I recently wrote, and it’s, it’s precisely on that topic. You know why methodology matters. And to me, methods, as you very rightly use the word, is technique, but a methodology is the deepest level of beliefs, as you said, how do you how do you approach the world? How do you see the world? To me, that is your methodology. What is it that drives you to understand the world? And, you know, some people call it ontology, some people call it methodology, but that’s to me, it’s the same thing. How do you and from the methodology, from from the way you see the world should flow the methods and techniques. And to be honest with you, if you come to that level of articulating your belief, which even doesn’t happen in PhDs today, you know, yesterday was very interesting. I was interviewed by a girl, and she is doing a PhD. And she I asked her, What is your PhD about? And she is exploring differences between between Aberdeen, which is where I live, and another city in Norway, to see to understand social inequalities. And I kept questioning her, why is all this important to you? And she kept responding back by seeing the problems in the outside world, ie income problems and poverty and everything else. But she could not make the connection between herself. Why is that issue important to her at a very existential level? I think if, if, because we are all motivated by something, and if we are not able to articulate that enough, then it’s very, very easy to get lost in the bushes as we go out to do the to do the work. And But once your methodology, once your ontology is is articulated well to your own self, then everything else becomes method doesn’t matter.

 

John Flach  52:08

Yeah, no, I agree 100% and I think that’s one of the the failures of scientific education today in engineering education, is they. They’re taught as a collection of techniques and and they’re almost framed sciences, framed in opposition to philosophy. That is, it’s, it’s, it’s the idea of, well, you know, philosophy is just endless debate, but, but science actually holds, you know, we’re empirical, and we can, we actually have a method to resolve these philosophical debates and so and again, I think this theme runs through your book is, is whether scientists are mindful or not, everything they do is based on a philosophy. They have an ontological view, and they have an epistemological view about the world. And they either, in a sense, carry their their cultural standards mindlessly and do what they do, or they or they’re mindful about it, and and, but there’s nothing in most scientific training to help new scientists or or student scientists to think about their philosophy and to think about their their metaphysics that are shaping every you know, their assumptions and and and again. And it’s, it’s almost to the point you know, I, you know, for me, science is an extension of philosophy, and that it’s built on the foundation of philosophy, but, but I feel like it’s often taught and and framed as an opposition to philosophy and as an alternative to Philosophy.

 

Nippin  53:58

Fascinating because in Hinduism, which I never realized what my my underlying belief until I finished this book, there is no there’s no real distinction between philosophy, religion and science, or there wasn’t philosophy and religion and science was seen as the same thing for years and years. It’s only once you come to the western science, you see a distinction between science and religion. Science says one thing, and religion says another thing, and the other thing is the distinction between different philosophers. And this philosopher said this and that philosopher said that, which is very egocentric. Whereas if you go to the Hindu or the Indian philosophies, there is very little mention of who coined a philosophy this. It’s, it’s immaterial. What is important is what is the grand idea, and everything else is secondary. Everything else is subsumed by that. And I think so in some ways. And it’s, it’s fascinating because only after I wrote this book. Everything surfaced, and everything started to make sense. Why do I believe what I believe? And I think that question is really addressed in many books that why do people believe what they believe, even, and very often we are not able to articulate that

 

John Flach  55:17

we struggle. And you know, I think that’s, again, one of the things that I take out of persons work and and by the way, I mean, lots of people have read Zen in The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I think he his second book, Lila, is even more important to help clarify what he intended in in Zen and yard motorcycle maintenance. But, but the point that he makes is, is that, you know, the split between science and religion means that that science abdicates any sense of of value. So science tells us what we can do, you know, and explain global warming, but, but scientists doesn’t tell us what we should do. They abandon responsibility for saying what’s good to do. They leave that to the politicians and religion. But, but you know, these things are in you know, intimately coupled and and that you know the, I think PERS uses the word quality to show that those two things are, what we see is the quality of the world and that. And that also resonates with Gibson’s idea of affordances and stuff. And, you know, we look at the world in terms of what we can do with it, what’s good for and what are the consequences? And those are, those are reality. Those are part of understanding the experience which and to me, I think the basis of reality is experience, not, you know, again, not this objective, independent world that exists independent from our experiences. The experience is the the basis. It’s so we don’t, you know, I again, it’s this dualism between subjective and objective, that that separates the should on the subjective side from the what can be done on the on the objective side, what’s possible. And, yeah, but I think in life, you can’t separate those two things and and in reality, I don’t think you can separate those things,

 

Nippin  57:20

of course not. Of course not, you know, and this whole idea of rule of law binds the society, as against some of the Eastern philosophies where it’s not the rule of law, it’s the morality that binds the society, is such a contrasting way of looking at the world, because if you, if you try to separate science from religion, you know, where do people turn to when they want to do the right thing? You know, nature said God is dead. Okay, fine, but God is dead, but where do you turn to? So, science is the modern, modern religion now, and that’s, that’s fascinating,

 

John Flach  58:02

but, but I think it’s, I think it’s worse than that. I think, you know, the sciences abandoned responsibility. So many scientists won’t tell you what you should do, so I’m just going to give you the facts, I’ll give you the data, but then you’re left to your own you know, again, you’re left to the church or the politicians to tell you what to do. The scientists say, Well, you know, I’m just decided, you know, I’m data, I’m just, I’m, I got to be objective about this. And they think a value judgment is subjective and is is not their responsibility. And I think that’s, yeah,

 

Nippin  58:45

I think that

 

John Flach  58:46

it’s like a doctor who doesn’t take responsibility for his patients. I’ll just give you the treatments. But no,

 

Nippin  58:55

well, this, this could be another discussion, John. I’m thinking, because what you’re talking about, it actually opens up room for a completely different discussion, which is what? And I think it starts off from the old idea of methodology, or what you call metaphysics. I think, how should we live life? What should the guiding, guiding principles of life? And I think that’s a fascinating discussion in its own I’m just conscious of the time, John, but how would you like to end this discussion?

 

John Flach  59:27

Well, I would just say that I think the discussion has come full circle, and now we’re talking about how scientists can be kind to the world.

 

Nippin  59:35

Wow, isn’t that nice? Yes, that’s a wonderful way to bring it back. Is, how can scientists speak kind to the world? What is kindness? We talked a lot about? Yeah, I think that’s a wonderful topic for discussion, for title for the podcast, yes.

 

John Flach  59:56

So thank you. I appreciate your time. I appreciate the opportunity. To talk with you and and you know, if you had reached out, I probably wouldn’t have gotten your book, and I got a lot of value out of the book, so I learned a lot. So thank you very much.

 

Nippin  1:00:11

Thank you, John. We should continue this conversation. I’d be interested to explore a little bit more in metaphysics with you. Maybe in another podcast. We will do something after the summer break, if that’s okay with you,

 

John Flach  1:00:21

yeah, if you get a chance to look at our book, meaning processing, or, or, or what matters, I it was the the title we use when we self published it originally. But the first three or four chapters of that book are all my position in metaphysics and and, you know, my ontology, my epistemology and my semiotics, I kind of lay those out. So I would really be interested in your reaction to that, whether, whether what I say makes sense to you.

 

Nippin  1:00:54

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Let’s do that, John, and continue this discussion after the summer break. Great. Thank you, John, if you have enjoyed listening to this podcast, many more podcasts are available on our website, novellas, dot solutions, forward stroke, knowledge space, the podcast embracing differences is available on Spotify, podbean, Apple podcasts and anchor. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel, Team novellus, that way, every time we publish a new podcast, you will get to know you want to find out more about our work, visit us at novellus.solutions, or simply write to us at support@novellus. solutions, thank you for wanting to learn more than you knew yesterday and until we meet again. Goodbye and have fun.