The neuroscience behind screwing up

“Aluwings,” the blogger behind the Wings Stayed On blog along with guest blogger Rob Close on Plastic Pilot, have both mentioned a very interesting article that recently appeared in entitled: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up. While the article itself deals with how our minds work and how our minds go about processing data, its lessons apply to anyone involved in aviation.

In fact, Rob Close’s post on Plastic Pilot does a great job of explaining just how these lessons apply to aviation and he does this by first mentioning the Air Transat Flight 236 incident where the pilots inadvertently pumped out their fuel through a leak because their hypothesis was wrong and then he repeats the following four step process for scientists to learn from failure that was mentioned in the article:

  1. Check your assumptions: Is the hypothesis wrong not the experiment?
  2. Seek out the ignorant: explain your hypothesis in simple terms to see it in a new light
  3. Encourage diversity: If everyone is the same, everyone has the same assumptions
  4. Beware of failure blindness: It’s normal to filter out information that contradicts our preconceptions

Rob then mentions his own four step process for pilots who are flying without a crew to learn from and act in order to prevent failure:

  1. Train the brain to be aware.
  2. Be able to quickly diagnose a failure and act upon it in flight.
  3. Be open to a change in hypothesis.
  4. Conduct a thorough analysis once on the ground.

He believes the most important part of the article is to recognize that knowledge can actually lead to blindness. In other words, what you are taught may actually be wrong in a real world incident – a very interesting point indeed. Both the article and Rob’s post are well worth reading.


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