From Our Perspective: Using 'Nous' To Make Sense Of Our Sense

EP Editorial Staff | August 8, 2012

ken bannister thumb thumb thumbSpeaking with my father recently, I extended a long-overdue thank you: for the moment that I’ve only now come to realize had the most influence on who I am and how I see and communicate. 

Insatiably curious, as I child I bombarded my father with questions on anything and everything. I clearly remember the life-changing day (for him) when he finally began responding to me with the directive to “use your nous”—pronounced “nowse.” “Figure it out,” he would admonish, “then ask me what you don’t know.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but my life changed that day as well. 

My father was forcing me to employ my primary senses to draw my own conclusions and discuss them with him in a meaningful way. In England of the 1950s and 60s, “nous” was a popular term for “common sense.” (Much later, I learned that what sounded like slang was a Greek word that really DID mean “intellect or common sense.”) My father had made the connection that common sense is derived from how we make reasonable conclusions and decisions about things through perception, evaluation and communication—with the help of our primary senses. 

As maintainers and lubrication technicians, we must hone and trust our primary senses to successfully understand failure; to troubleshoot, analyze, repair, prevent, predict and communicate our thoughts and actions in the most effective manner. 

1. Visual (what we see): We should not only see, but consciously observe and take note of lubricant levels, leaks, line breaks, gauge readings, contaminative dirt, out-of-normal visual indications, etc.

2. Auditory (what we hear): Consciously listen for out-of-normal bearing noises, knocks, line vibrations, etc. 

3. Kinesthetic (what we feel, touch): Feel bearings for abnormal heat and vibration. 

4. Gustatory (what we taste): If glycol is leak-ing, the air will taste sweet (like donuts). If oil mist is set incorrectly, the air will taste metallic (I describe it as a “blue” taste).

5. Olfactory (what we smell): We might smell burnt oil on friction plates, leaking oil, over-heated bearings, etc.  

Let’s not forget “intuition,” (our sixth sense). It’s our “gut feel” that situations do—or don’t—feel right. Experienced sensory-input gatherers let their instincts help  them focus their “filtering” and make effective decisions faster. For example, the best troubleshooters know operators often can tell well in advance of equipment failure that machines are no longer operating in their “sweet spots.” Linking a troubleshooter’s sensory-related observations to those of operating personnel—via non-judgmental questioning and listening—about what was seen, heard, felt, tasted or smelled prior to failure (and when), a suitable response can be quickly determined. 

We employ all our senses on a continual basis. How we choose to react to them is contingent on our attentiveness and how our brains filter and process inputs based on our training (i.e., knowledge); experience (i.e., knowledge); prejudice (i.e., no operator is going to tell me what to do); values (i.e., do I care/does my boss care); and beliefs (i.e., the more lubricant, the better).

It’s often said that “common sense is not very common,” especially when easily preventable failures regularly occur. Making sense of our senses is a matter of gaining knowledge, consciously observing, using our “nous,” figuring things out to best of our abilities and then asking the right questions. Good Luck! LMT





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