Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 20th, 2020

Performance criteria? Are we designing for mankind?

What could be the Human Factors performance criteria?

Note: Re-edit (Human Factors in Engineering, Article #38, written in March 31, 2006)

Performance” is the magic answer offered by university students to questions like “What is the purpose of this course, of this method, of this technique, or of this design?”

Performance is what summarizes all the conscious learning in the knowledge bag, for lack of meaningful full sentences available in the language to express clear purposes.

It takes a couple of months to wean the students from the catch word “performance” and encourage them to try thinking harder for specificity.

There is a hierarchy for this abstract notion of “performance”.

The next level of abstraction is to answer: “What kind of performance?“.

The third level should answer: “How these various performances criteria correlate?  Can we sort them out between basic performances and redundant performance criteria?”.

The fourth level is: “How much for each basic performance criterionCan we measure them accurately and objectively?”

It seems that every discipline has created for itself a set of performance criteria and they are coined in stone, so that an insertion of another element into that set, is like a paradigm shift in its field of science.

If you prompt a business or engineering university student to expand on the meaning of “performance”, when supported by a specific example, it might dawn on him to spell out another piece of jewels such as: “max profit”, “minimize cost”, “improve quality”, “increase production”, “save time”, or “increase market share”.

In order to reach a finer level of specificity we need to define functionally.

For example, what “max profit” means?  A string of monosyllables rains from everywhere such as: “increase price”, “cut expenditure”, “sell more”, and again “improve quality”, “save time”, or “increase market share”. 

If we agree that profit is a function of market share, price, expenditure, added values of products, and marketing services then we can understand what could be the basic criteria and which criteria dependent on the basic ones.

How can a business improve performance?

How can it make profit or cut costs? 

Should the firm layoff redundant employees, force early retirement, dip in insurance funds, contract out product parts and administrative processes, eliminate training programs, scrap off the library or continuing learning facilities,…

Or streamline the design process, reduce advertising money, abridge break times in duration or frequency, cut overhead expenses such as control lighting and comfort of the working environment, stop investing in new facilities…

Or firing skilled workers, settling consumer plaintiffs out of court, searching for tax loopholes, or engineering financial statements?

How can a business increase its market share? How can it survive competitors and continually flourish?

How can a firm improve products for the quality minded engineers?

Should it invest on the latest technological advancements in equipment, machines, and application software, or should it select the best mind among the graduates…

Or should it establish a continuing education program with adequate learning facilities, or should it encourage its engineers to experiment and submit research papers, or should it invest on market research to know the characteristics of its customers…

Or should it built in safety in the design process, or perform an extensive analysis of the foreseeable misuses of its products or services, the type of errors generated in the functioning and operation of its products and their corresponding risks on health of the users, or manage properly employees’ turnover…

Or care about the safety and health of its skilled and dedicated workers, or ordering management to closely monitor the safety and health standards applied in the company?

At the first session of my course “Human factors in engineering” I ask my class:  “What is the purpose of an engineer?

The unanimous answer is: “performance”.

What are the criteria for an engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!

At the first session of my class I repeat several times that the purpose of the engineering discipline is to design practical products or systems that man needs and wants, that human factors engineers are trained to consider first the health and safety of end users, the customers, the operators, and the workers when designing interfaces for products or systems.

At the first session I tell my class that the body of knowledge of human factors is about finding practical design guidelines based on the capabilities and limitations of end users, body and mind, with the following performance criteria:

To eliminate errors, to foresee unsafe misuses, to foresee near-accidents, to design in safety operations, to consider the health problems in the product and its operation, to study the safety and health conditions in the workplace and the organizational procedures…

And to improve working conditions physically, socially, and psychologically, and to be aware of the latest consumer liability legal doctrines.

A month later, I am confronted with the same cycle of questions and answers, mainly: “What is the purpose of an engineer?”  The unanimous answer is: “performance”.  What are the criteria for a human factors engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!

A few students remember part of the long list of human factors performance criteria, but the end users are still hard to recognize them in their conscious knowledge.

A few students retained the concept of designing practical interfaces or what an interface could be but the pictures of end users are still blurred.

I have to emphasize frequently that the end users could be their engineering colleagues, their family members, and themselves.

I have to remind them that any product, service, or system design is ultimately designed for people to use, operate, and enjoy the benefit of its utility.

Human factors performance criteria are all the above and the design of products or services should alleviating the repetitive musculo-skeletal disorders by reducing efforts, vibration…

And proper handling of tools and equipment, designing for proper postures, minimizing static positions, and especially to keep in mind that any testing and evaluation study should factor in the condition that a worker or an employee is operating 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and for many years.

I tell them that any profit or cost cutting is ultimately at the expense of workers/employees, their financial stability, safety standards, comfort, and health conditions physically, socially, and psychologically

Whereas any increase in performance should be undertaken as a value added to the safety, comfort, and health of the end users and workers.

“Have no fear searching for truth in sciences“: Averroes, Ibn Rushd

Note: Re-edit of “Averroes (1126-1198): Civilization after Ibn Rushd of Cordoba”

Truth cannot contradict truth; sciences is in accord with God’s revelations.  God has nothing to fear when you use your rational intelligence to discover the universe and the causes of phenomenon.

How unjust is the one raising obstacles between man and science:  Science is the road to perfection.  Opposing learning and applying science is contrasting with God’s purpose, since the divine project is to realize such perfection”

That is basically what Ibn Rush (known as Averroes) tried to convey to civilization through his abundant writings in medicine, sciences, astronomy, philosophy, jurisprudence, and theology.

Ibn Rush would be known as “Al hafeed” (the grandson): his grandfather Muhammad Ibn Rushd was a well-renowned judge in Cordoba.

A brief background:

Cordoba in Andalusia, southern Spain, was the main center of culture and civilization in that century:  Muslims, Christians and Jews were living in harmony and tolerance was the rule, while Europe is battling among its various Christian schisms.

Baghdad was declining and the Mogul hordes will soon sack and destroy this famous city in about 1250.

The Western Roman Empire had vanished, and the Byzantine Empire was weakening and soon will be reduced to a vassal condition to the Ottoman expanding power in Turkey.

Papal Rome is being selected by the Germanic monarchs as well as the bishops, and in many occasions, two popes are elected and backed by various monarchs.

The political and military confrontations among the many Christian religious schisms on the nature of Jesus have taken their toll on Europe.

The crusaders are loosing their grips in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, and the Turks are counter attacking and recapturing lost territories.

The Catholic Prince of Castile and Aragon (Spain) had started the “reconquista” and the Andalousia was wracked by wars among the multiple small kingdoms of Islamic monarchs; these internal wars were called “wars of Tawaif“.

In 1070, the monarch of Seville conquered the tolerant republican Cordoba.

In 1112, Ibn Tumar, a literate Berber from Algeria who spent ten years in Iran, returned to proclaim that he is the awaited “hidden” Mahdi (since 874) of the Islam sect the Shias and formed the Almohades (Al Muwayidun) or united Islam.

The Spanish Catholic monarch Alphonse 7th put siege to Cordoba in 1148.

The Caliph of Cordoba Abd Mu2min calls on the Almohades for rescue and outset the Almoravids dynasty (Al murabitun) or the ones in vigilance.  The Almoravids originated from Mauritania and were a powerful tribe of traders in the western Sahara that captured Morocco.

In 1154, Ibn Rushd is presented to the heir of the Almohades monarch Abu Yaacub Yussuf by his friend Ibn Tufayl.

Abu Yaacub Yussuf asked Ibn Rushd to condense the works of Aristotle in a clear commentary so that most literate Moslems could read and understand.  Prince Abu Yaacub Yussuf had read the translated Aristotle’s works into Arabic but needed intelligent interpretations of difficult topics.

That is how Ibn Rushd ended up producing 88 volumes in 20,000 pages of Aristotle’s’ works from philosophy to zoology.

Ibn Rushd program was to decipher the Koran, discovering the means to comprehending the universe, and thus, extracting the truth.  For that end, he had to read the works of all philosophers, and first among them Aristotle. Complex concepts generated such remarks from Ibn Rushd:

If Aristotle didn’t study this topic, it would be very difficult to comprehend it.  Aristotle is such a norm in nature, a model that nature invented to seeking human perfection

Ibn Rushd is so versed in Aristotle rational thinking that he corrected many errors in translated versions.  To Ibn Rushd, rational thinking and revealed knowledge are independent and one method cannot explain the other:  the two ways lead to the same truth.

Al Farabi, a much earlier Islamic philosopher affirmed that reason should have the first and last word in matter of faith.

As Ibn Rushd commented: “Theologians distort sacred texts and interpose between the common people and men of knowledge to control the people. They are the kind of teachers who don’t teach art but the results of arts.  They don’t teach how to fabricate shoes but rather offer varieties of shoes to select from.”  They are our modern salesmen who ejaculate technical words but have no idea what they are talking about.

Dialectical and rhetorical reasoning cannot compensate for demonstrative reasoning.

Ibn Rushd wrote: “generally, common people confuse inferences with conclusions that are drawn from several premises.

For example:  common people say “this person is a thief because he was seen wandering at night” and do not evaluate all the other factors that determine a thieving behavior.  

Common people conclude that they will see God as we see the sun when they are told that God is light.  

Learned people comprehend that beatitude and grace increase knowledge.  

Truth is not intuitive and we have to accumulate knowledge; we cannot become astronomer without learning and assimilating geometry and mathematics.”

Ibn Rushd is not professing the existence of two truths:  The Koran is a guide toward acceding to truth, which is necessarily scientific.

What conforms to truth, which we receive from the Aristotelian scholars, we accept with joy and recognition. What does not conform to truth we will signal it so that to be on our guard and we excuse them for the untruth.

He stated that what counts in a method in satisfying the conditions of validity and that is sufficient in scientific methods, which he calls “sacrifice”:  Reason has the job of eliminating errors in order to re-establishing order in society.

Forbidding people from applying scientific methods on the ground that they lead to errors, abuse, and blasphemy is like forbidding someone from drinking lest he dies of thirst on the excuse that some people die from drowning.  

Scientific methods of reasoning is not meant to define God or the operations that lead to the creation of the universe:  It attests to its existence.  We cannot apply to God the categories and human concepts

Ibn Rushd believed in a collective soul “the abstract intellect” after death but not on individual basis; thus, after death individual memories and imagination power are lost for ever

Ibn Rushd dared reflect and answer all the corny questions that civilization was dealing with in order to finding order, coherence, and harmony between religious dogmas and rational thinking.

Reading, interpreting and commenting Aristotle’s works were back in fashion in Cordoba at the instigation of a new Sultan Abu Yaakub Yusuf, with Capital in Fez (Morocco).

Ibn Rushd wrote: “The future is dependent on the education of women and equality between genders.

Nations where the capabilities of women are ignored, where women are considered just good for procreation and maintaining the upkeep of the family are cancelling the other important activities of women.

As a female are not recognized human virtues they are reduced to vegetative status.  One of the main reasons that these nations are in poor economic situations is that women are terrible burden to development of the society.”

The successor of Sultan Yusuf came under heavy pressures from the salafist, very conservative Muslims to crack down on Ibn Rushd liberty of expression.

Ibn Rushd was banned from publishing books or communicating what he wrote for his own pleasure.  The pressures resulted to initiating public bonfires burning the scholars manuscripts.

Luckily, copies reached Cairo and southern France where they were read and translated in Hebrew, Latin, and local languages.

Moise ibn Maimuna (Maimonides), 12 years younger than Ibn Rushd and originally from Cordoba, was at the period settled in Cairo and was the official physician of the Caliph.  Maimonides relied on Ibn Rushd’s works to perpetuate the rational and scientific trend.  He wrote:

We may dispense of Plato’s works:  Aristotle’s works suffice since they are the foundations and roots of scientific rational methods.  Aristotle’s works cannot be comprehended without the commentaries of Ibn Rushd.”

In 1497, Papal Rome encouraged the institution of a university in Padoua (Italy) to teach Aristotle’s works and be translated directly from ancient Greek.  It was a strategy of ignoring the influence of Islamic culture that was spreading in Catholic Europe.

The Renaissance scholars dared not communicate the sources of their knowledge and learning. Since then, European scholars have continued this custom of deliberately ignoring seven centuries of Islamic civilizations when accounting for western Europe civilization.

Ibn Rushd medical textbook “Kulliyat” known as Collegiate was taught in Europe for many centuries.

Another famous scholar, Ibn Sina, known as Avicenne, wrote in the 10th century, 300 manuscripts, of which 50 are in scientific fields and 40 in medicine. His “Canon of medicine” was taught in Europe till the 18th century as a fundamental textbook.

Note:  I refused to approach the theological questions and Ibn Rushd’s responses because I am not interested in abstract concepts that lack demonstrative methods for confirming or denying veracity.




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