In the previous chapter, we looked at the challenge of practicing for military action in situations where soldiers are confronted by combatants with concealed weapons, dressed as civilians and mixed in with a civilian population. In such a situation, at least according to Eriksen, soldiers may never have the opportunity to practice the relevant skills before entering combat. In such a situation, he concludes, thought is important. However, there may be other cases when the inability to practice in conditions similar to performance conditions might mean that performance must be carried out automatically. What I have in mind here are cases, such as a commercial airline disaster, where one is never able to practice with the extreme adrenaline rush that one would experience in a real catastrophe. Flight attendants, for example, practice so that if a catastrophe were to occur, they can proceed automatically. But should the mind be turned off entirely?
Because this is such a critical issue, I am hesitant to make any comments. However, I can recount what one psychologist who works on training first responders told me. To begin, she said, it is important to try to do as much as possible to replicate the actual situation a first respondent might find him or herself in when disaster strikes. Minimally, for example, one can raise one’s heart rate (by running up a flight of stairs) and then practice, while experiencing an elevated heart-rate, what needs to be done. In other words, to the extent possible, one should have practice and performance line up. But because adrenaline will be so high in the contingency of an actual disaster, they will never line up perfectly. Thus, she thought all the basic routine actions need to be automatic. Nonetheless, she held, it is still important to be able to think in such a situation and, ideally, a retinue of automatic actions might create enough calmness so that one can think in action.