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Archive for the ‘Human Factors/Ergonomics’ Category

Process of system/mission analyses? What are the phases?

Written in April 14, 2006

Systems, missions, and products that involve human operators to run, maintain, and keep up-to-date, as societies evolve and change, need to be analyzed at intervals for its consistency with the latest technology advances, people’s expectations, government regulations, and international standards.

To that end, the latest development in the body of knowledge of human physical and cognitive capabilities, along with the latest advancement in the methods applied for analyzing and designing systems have to be revisited, tested, and evaluated for better predictive aptitude of specific human-machine performance criteria.

This article is a refresher tutorial of the necessary sequence of human factors methods offered to analyze each stages in system development.

In general, the basic milestones in system development begin with the exploration concept, demonstration of the concept, validation, full-scale engineering development, testing and debugging for errors and malfunctions, production, and finally operations and support systems for marketing.

Each one of these stages requires the contribution of human factors professionals and experts from the extensive array of methods they dispose of and are trained for, to their vast store of data on human capabilities and limitations, and to their statistical and experimental formation.

Human factors professionals can also contribute to the baseline documentation, instructions, training programs, and operations manuals.

There is a mission for each stage of development concerning the end product of the stage to the next and the sequence follows 7 steps.

The first step is constituted of four analyses requirements; mainly, operational or the projected operations that will confront operators and maintainers, then comparing similar systems in operations and functions, measuring and quantifying the activities involved in the operations, and then identifying the sources of difficulties or critical incidents that may have to be overcome among the interactions of operators and machines.

The second phase is to figure out the flow of functions and the kinds of action/decision or binary choices at each junction of two successive functions. There are no equipments in mind at this phase of analyses.

The third phase is concerned with the types of information necessary to undertake each action identified in the second phase.

The fourth phase is the study of allocating operators to sets of functions and activities and how many operators and skill levels might be needed to fulfill the mission.

The fifth phase is to construct detailed analyses of the required tasks for each activity/function and basically trying to integrate among people, software, and hardware for smooth operations.

The sixth phase might call for an assortment of methods in order to collect detailed data for the network of tasks such as faulty events, mode of failures, the effects or seriousness of the failures, timeline from beginning to ending a task/activity, how the tasks are linked and how often two tasks come to be interacted, simulation techniques whether a computer simulation of virtual real world or prototyping, and eventually conducting controlled experimentations when the previous traditional methods cannot answer specific problems of cause and effects among the variables.

The seventh and final phase in the analysis of a stage of development is to study the sequence of operations and the physical and mental workload of each operator and to finalize the number and capabilities of the crew operating as a team.

The last five phases are time consuming and it is imperative that the first two phases be well planned, analyzed and firm decisions made for the remaining phases in funding, duration of study, and level of details.

In all these phases human factors are well trained to undertake the analyses because they have the knowledge and methods to extract the capabilities and limitations of human operators interacting with the software and hardware so that the design, trade-off studies, and prediction of human performance match the requirements for achieving a mission.

The ultimate output/product of the sequence of analyses becomes inputs to specifications, reviews, and for design guidelines.

Art of thinking clear?

Non Transferable Domain Dependence:

Profession, talents, skills, book smart, street smart…

You talk to medical professionals on medical matters and they “intuitively” understand you.

Talk to them on related medical examples based on economics or business perspectives and their attention falter.

Apparently, insights do not pass well from one field to another, unless you are not a professional in any specific field

This knowledge transfer is also domain dependent such as working in the public domain or in private.

Or coming from academia and having to switch to enterprise environment and having to deal with real life problems.

Same tendency when taking a job selling services instead of products.

Or taking a CEO job coming from a marketing department: the talents and skills are not the same and you tend to adopt previous and irrelevant skills that you are familiar with.

Book smart people do not transfer to street smart individuals.

Novel published by Literary critics get the poorest reviews.

Physicians are more prone to smoke than non-medical professionals.

For example, police officers are twice as violent at home compared to other normal people.

Nobel Prize in economics Harry Markowitz for his “portfolio selection” theory and applications could not think better than investing his saving 50/50 in bonds and stocks.

Decision making mathematical theoreticians feel confounded when deciding on their own personal issues.

Many disciplines require mainly skills and talents, such as plumbers, carpenters, pilots, lawyers…

As for financial marketing, financial investors and start -up companies… luck plays the bigger role than do skills.

Actually, in over 40% of the cases, weak CEO leads strong companies.

As Warren Buffet eloquently stated: “A good management record is far more a function of what business boat you get into it, rather than of how effectively you row”

Note: Read “The art of thinking clear”. I conjecture that people with vast general knowledge do better once they are inducted into a specific field that they feel comfortable in. These people feel that many fields of disciplines can be bundled in a category of “same methods” with basically different terms for the varied specialties.


Your sense of smell controls what you spend and who you love

Does this means when you lose this sense of smell your spending and falling in love habits are thrown into chaos?

By Georgia Frances King 

Smell is the ugly stepchild of the sense family.

Sight gives us sunsets and Georgia O’Keefe.

Sound gives us Brahms and Aretha Franklin.

Touch gives us silk and hugs.

Taste gives us butter and ripe tomatoes.

But what about smell?

It doesn’t exist only to make us gag over subway scents or tempt us into a warm-breaded stupor.

Flowers emit it to make them more attractive to pollinators. Rotting food might reek of it so we don’t eat it.

And although scientists haven’t yet pinned down a human sex pheromone, many studies suggest smell influences who we want to climb in bed with. (Not a brainer. what of foul breath, sweat, soiled clothes, unclean hair…)

Olivia Jezler studies the science and psychology that underpins our olfactory system.

For the past decade, she has worked with master perfumers, developed fragrances for luxury brands, researched olfactory experience at the SCHI lab at University of Sussex, and now is the CEO of Future of Smell, which works with brands and new technologies to design smellable concepts that bridge science and art.

In this interview, Jezler reveals the secret life of smell. Some topics covered include:

  • how marketers use our noses to sell to us
  • why “new car smell” is so pervasive
  • how indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air
  • the reason why luxury perfume is so expensive
  • why babies smell so damn good
  • how Plato and Aristotle poo-pooed our sense of smell

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Quartz: On a scientific level, why is smell such an evocative sense?

Olivia Jezler: Our sense of smell is rooted in the most primal part of our brain for survival. It’s not linked through the thalamus, which is where all other sensory information is integrated: It’s directly and immediately relayed to another area, the amygdala.

None of our other senses have this direct and intimate connection to the areas of the brain that process emotion, associative learning, and memory. (That’s why we don’t dream “smell”)

Why? Because the structure of this part of the brain—the limbic system—grew out of tissue that was first dedicated to processing the sense of smell.

Our chemical senses were the first that emerged when we were single-cell organisms, because they would help us understand our surroundings, find food, and reproduce.

Still today, emotionally driven responses through our senses of taste and smell make an organism react appropriately to its environment, maximizing its chances for basic survival and reproduction.

Beauty products like lotions and perfumes obviously have their own smells. But what businesses use scent in their branding?

It’s common for airlines to have scents developed for them. Air travel is interesting because, as it’s high stress, you want to make people feel connected to your brand in a positive way.

For example, British Airways has diffusers in the bathrooms and a smell for their towels. That way you walk in and you can smell the “British Airways smell.”

It’s also very common in food.

You can design food so that the smell evaporates in different ways. Nespresso capsules, for instance, are designed to create a lot of odor when you’re using one, so that you feel like you’re in a coffee shop.

I’m sure a lot of those make-at-home frozen pizza brands are designed to let out certain smells while they’re in the oven to feel more authentic, too.

That’s an example of the “enhancement of authenticity.” Another example might be when fake leather is made to smell like real leather instead of plastic.

So we got used to the smell of natural things, but then as production became industrialized, we now have to fabricate the illusion of naturalness back into the chemical and unnatural things?

Yes, that’s it. People will feel more comfortable and they’ll pay more for products that smell the way we imagine them to smell.

For example: “new car smell.” When Rolls Royce became more technologically advanced, they started using plastic instead of wood for some parts of the car—and for some reason, sales started going down. They asked people what was wrong, and they said it was because the car didn’t smell the same. It repelled people from the brand. So then they had to design that smell back into the car.

New car smell is therefore a thing, but not in the way we think. It is a mix of smells that emanate from the plastics and interiors of a car.

The cheaper the car, the stronger and more artificial it smells. German automakers have entire olfactory teams that sniff every single component that goes into the interior of the car with their nose and with machines.

The problem then is if one of these suppliers changes any element of their product composition without telling the automaker, it throws off the entire indoor odor of the car, which was carefully designed for safety, quality, and branding—just another added complexity to the myriad of challenges facing automotive supply chains!

Are these artificial smells bad for us?

Designed smells are not when they fulfill all regulatory requirements. This question touches on a key concern of mine: indoor air. Everybody talks about pollution.

Like in San Francisco, a company called Aclima works with Google to map pollution levels block by block at different times of the day—but what about our workplaces? Our homes? People are much less aware of this.

We are all buying inexpensive furniture and carpets and things that are filled with chemicals, and we’re putting them in a closed environment with often no air filtration.

Then there are the old paints and varnishes that cover all the surfaces! Combine that with filters in old buildings that are rarely or never changed, and it gets awful.

When people use cleaning products in their home, it’s also putting a lot more chemicals into the house than before. (You should open your windows after you clean.)

We’re therefore inhaling all these fumes in our closed spaces. In cities like New York, we spend 90% of our time indoors and the air is three times worse than outdoors.

The World Health Organization says it’s one of the world’s greatest environmental health risks.

There are a few start-ups working on consumer home appliances that help you monitor your indoor air, but I am still waiting to see the one that can integrate air monitoring with filtering and scenting.

Manufacturing smell seems to fall into two camps. The first is fabricating a smell when you’ve taken the authenticity out of the product and other brands simply enhance an existing smell. That’s not fake, but it still doesn’t seem honest.

To me they seem like the same thing: Because they are both designed to enhance authenticity.

There’s an interesting Starbucks case related to smell experiences and profits.

In 2008 they introduced their breakfast menu, which included sandwiches that needed to be reheated. The smell of the sandwiches interfered with the coffee aroma so much that it completely altered the customer experience in store: It smelled of food rather than of coffee.

During that time, repeat customer visits declined as core coffee customers went elsewhere, and therefore sales at their stores also declined, and this impacted their stock. The sandwiches have since been redesigned to smell less when being reheated.

This is starting to feel a bit like propaganda or false advertising. Are there laws around this?

No, there aren’t laws for enhancing authenticity through smell. Maybe once people become more aware of these things, there will be. I think it’s hard at this point to quantify what is considered false advertising.

There aren’t even laws for copyrighting perfumes!

This is a reason why everything on the market usually kind of smells the same: Basically you can just take a perfume that’s on the market and analyze it in a machine that can tell you its composition. It’s easily recreated, and there’s no law to protect the original creation. Music has copyright laws, fragrance does not.

That’s crazy. That’s intellectual property.

It is. As soon as there’s a blockbuster, every brand just goes, “We want one like that!” Let’s make a fragrance that smells exactly like that, then lets put it in the shampoo. Put it in the deodorant. Put it in this. Put it in that.

If the perfume smells the same and is made with the same ingredients, why do we pay so much more for designer perfumes?

High fashion isn’t going to make [luxury brands] money—it’s the perfumes and accessories.

What differs is the full complexity of the fragrance and how long it lasts.

As for pricing, It’s very much the brand. Perfume is sold at premium for what it is—but what isn’t?

Your Starbucks coffee, Nike shoes, designer handbags… There can be a difference in the quality of the ingredients, yeah, but if it’s owned by a luxury brand and you’re paying $350, then you’re paying for the brand.

The margins are also really high: That’s why all fashion brands have a perfume as a way of making money. High fashion isn’t going to make them money—it’s the perfumes and accessories. They play a huge, huge role in the bottom line.

How do smell associations differ from culture to culture?

Because of what was culturally available—local ingredients, trade routes et cetera—countries had access to very specific ingredients that they then decided to use for specific purposes.

Because life was lived very locally, these smells and their associations remained generation after generation.

Now if we wanted to change them, it would not happen overnight; people are not being inundated with different smell associations the way they are with fashion and music.

Once a scent is developed for a product in a certain market, the cultural associations of the scent of “beauty,” “well-being,” or “clean” stick around. The fact that smells can’t yet transmit through the internet means that scent associations also keep pretty local.

For example, multinational companies want to develop specific fragrances and storylines for the Brazilian market. Brazilian people shower 3.5 times a day. If somebody showers that much, then scent becomes really important. When they get out of the shower, especially in the northeast of Brazil, they splash on a scented water—it’s often lavender water, which is also part of a holy ritual to clean a famous church, so it has positive cultural connotations.

Companies want to understand what role each ingredient already plays in that person’s life so that they can use it with a “caring” or “refreshing” claim, like the lavender water.

Lavender is an interesting one. In the US, lavender is more of a floral composition versus true lavender. People like the “relaxing lavender” claim, but Americans don’t actually like the smell of real lavender.

On the other hand, in Europe and Brazil, when it says “lavender” on the packaging, it will smell like the true lavender from the fields; in Brazil, lavender isn’t relaxing—it’s invigorating!

In the UK, florals are mostly used in perfumes, especially rose, which is tied to tradition.

Yet in the US, a rose perfume is considered quite old-fashioned—you rarely smell it on the subway, whereas the London Tube smells like a rose garden.

In Brazil, however, florals are used for floor and toilet cleaners; the smell of white flowers like jasmine, gardenia, and tuberose are considered extremely old-fashioned and unrelatable. However, in Europe and North America, these very expensive ingredients are a sign of femininity and luxury.

Traditional Chinese medicine influences the market in China: Their smells are a bit more herbal or medicinal because those ingredients are associated with health and well-being. You see that in India with Ayurvedic medicine as well. By comparison, in the US, the smell of health and cleanliness is the smell of Tide detergent.

Are there smells we can all agree on biologically, no matter where we’re from, that smell either good or bad?

Yes: Body fluids, disease, and rotten foods are biological no-nos.

Natural gas, which you can smell in your kitchen if you leave the gas on by mistake, is in reality odorless: A harmless chemical is added to give gas a distinctive malodor that is often described as rotten eggs—and therefore act as a warning!

The smell of babies, on the other hand? Everybody loves the smell of babies: It’s the next generation.

Do you wear perfume yourself?

I wear tons of perfume. However, if I’m working in a fragrance house or a place where I smell fragrances all the time, I don’t wear perfume, because it then becomes difficult to smell what is being created around me. There is also a necessity for “clean skin” to test fragrances on—one without any scented lotions or fragrances.

Why does perfume smell different on different people? Is it because it reacts differently with our skin, or is it because of the lotions and fabric softeners or whatever other smells we douse ourselves in?

Cancers and diabetes can be identified through body odor.

Generally, it’s our DNA. But there are different layers to how we smell. Of course, the first layer is based on the smells we put on: soaps and deodorants and whatever we use. Then there’s our diet, hydration level, and general health.

An exciting development in the medical world is in diagnostics: Depending upon if we’re sick or not, we smell different.

Cancers and diabetes can be identified through body odor, for instance. Then on the most basic level, our body odor is linked to the “major histocompatibility complex” (MHC), which is a part of the genome linked to our immune system. It is extremely unique and a better identifier than a retinal scan because it is virtually impossible to replicate.

Why don’t we care more about smell?

The position that our sense of smell holds is rooted in the foundation of Western thought, which stems from the ancient Greeks. Plato assigned the sense of sight as the foundation for philosophy, and Aristotle provided a clear hierarchy where he considered sight and hearing nobler in comparison to touch, taste, and smell.

Both philosophers placed the sense of smell at the bottom of their hierarchy; logic and reason could be seen and heard, but not smelt.

The Enlightenment philosophers and the Industrial Revolution did not help, either, as the stenches that emerged at that time due to terrible living conditions without sewage systems reminded us of where we came from, not where we were headed.

Smell was not considered something of beauty nor a discipline worth studying.

It’s also a bit too real and too closely tied to our evolutionary past. We are disconnected from this part of ourselves, so of course we don’t feel like it is something worth talking about.

As society becomes more emotionally aware, I do think smell will gain a new role in our daily lives.

This article is part of Quartz Ideas, our home for bold arguments and big thinkers.

Restructuring engineering curriculums to respond to end users demands, safety and health

In 1987, Alphonse Chapanis, a renowned Human Factors professional, urged that published Human Factors research papers target the practical design need of the various engineering disciplines so that the research data be readily used by engineers.

Dr. Chapanis was trying to send a clear message that Human Factors main discipline was to design interfaces between systems and end users and thus, research papers have to include sections directing the engineers as to the applicability of the results of the paper to design purposes.

In return, it is appropriate to send the message that all engineering disciplines should include sections in their research papers orienting the engineering practitioners to the applicability of the results of the papers to the end users and how Human Factors professionals can judiciously use the data in their interface designs.

As it was difficult for the Human Factors professional to send the right message to the engineering practitioners, and still has enormous difficulty disseminating the proper purpose and goals, it would be a steep road for the engineers to send the right message that what they design is actually targeting the needs and new trends of the end users.

As long as the engineering curriculums fail to include the Human Factors field as an integral part in their structures it would not be realistic to contemplate any shift in their designs toward the end users.

Systems would become even more complex and testing and evaluation more expensive in order to make end users accept any system and patronize it.

So why not design anything right from the first time by being initiated and exposed to human capabilities and limitations, their safety and health?

Instead of recognizing from the early phases in the design process that reducing human errors and risks to the safety and health of end users are the best marketing criteria for encouraging end users to adopt and apply a system, we see systems are still being designed by different engineers who cannot relate to the end users because their training is not explicitly directed toward them.

What is so incongruous with the engineering curriculums to include courses that target end users?

Why would not these curriculums include courses in occupational safety and health, consumer product liability, engineers as expert witnesses, the capabilities and limitations of human, marketing, psychophysics and experimental design?

Are the needs and desires of end users beneath the objectives of designing systems?

If that was true, why systems are constantly being redesigned, evaluated and tested in order to match the market demands?

Why do companies have to incur heavy expenses in order to rediscover the wheel that the basis of any successful design ultimately relies on the usefulness, acceptability and agreement with the end users desires and dreams?

Why not start from the foundation that any engineering design is meant for human and that designed objects or systems are meant to fit the human behavior and not vice versa?

What seem to be the main problems for implementing changes in the philosophy of engineering curriculums?

Is it the lack to find enough Human Factors, ergonomics and industrial psychologist professionals to teach these courses?

Is it the need to allow the thousands of psychologists, marketing and business graduates to find outlet “debouches” in the marketplace for estimating users’ needs, desires, demands and retesting and re-evaluating systems after the damages were done?

May be because the Human factors professionals failed so far to make any significant impact to pressure government to be part and parcel of the engineering practices?

Note: I am Not sure if this discipline Human Factors/Ergonomics is still a separate field in Engineering or has been integrated in all engineering disciplines.

From my experience in teaching a few courses at universities, I propose that courses in Experimental Design be an integral course in all engineering disciplines: students graduate without having a serious idea how to run “sophisticated” experiments or know how to discriminate among the independent variables, the dependent variables, the control variable…and how to interpret complex graphs.

Shifting from Steady Growth to Economy of Sobriety?

Note: re-edit of “Economy of Sobriety (August 1, 2009)”

There is a growing political economics trend for substituting the traditional steady growth and productivity policies into an economy of sobriety.

The Slow Food and Slow Cities movements, along with many European communities exercising self autonomy in the economic policies of their districts, are practicing on a smaller scale the concept of “living better for less”.

The latest economic downturn (2008 crisis financial and current Covid-19 pandemics) is re-confirming that the previous policies are hindrance to global resolutions for global problems.

The middle class has increased 3 folds within less than two decades.

China and India have added over 300 millions to the 200 millions in the USA, Europe and Japan.

This quickly increasing middle class is demanding equal standards of living as in the USA ,simply because they can afford to purchase the same consumer goods for their comfort and are doing it.

World resources in minerals, rare minerals, oil, and wood .. are depleting and no longer accessible to sustain the current rate of consumption. 

Regular people are not interested in the concept of “faster is better” or “more performing is better”:

1. they would rather fly safely at more affordable fees;

2. they would rather that customs and airport regulations quicken the pace and alleviate faster the hassle.

3. The regular people would rather have moderately performing equipment that last longer and that are more robust under less than standard conditions in the developed nations.

4. Regular people cannot afford to re-invest for products considered obsolete within a couple of years.

5. Regular people would rather not to have to repaint or maintain their plumbing and electrical lines frequently.

6. Regular people would rather have potable water running on schedule;

7. Power utilities providing electricity less irregularly rather than the  increased rate for the luxury families of high consumption.

8. Regular people want public transportation arriving on schedule, accessible, and available in cities and in rural areas.

9. Regular people are not that interested in caviar and luxury items; they need flour, rice, sugar, and seasonal vegetables and fruits marketed locally and not exported overseas.

10. Regular people need a wider network of public libraries and public schools.

11. Regular people want the teachers to be paid right in order to be retained and compete with private expensive private schools.

12. Regular people need preventive health institutions.

The industrial nations have got to support sustainable economies in Africa, Latin America, and in the Middle East and desist from mass exploitation of natural resources and human miseries.

Kuwait, Qatar, and Libya (before the colonial powers decided to break it up) are already investing billions in agricultural businesses in Africa; they are renting lands for 99 years and hiring thousands of Africans in jobs they are proficient in and within their own States.

There is definitely an anthropological crisis: the traditional growth policies are uneconomical, anti-social, and anti-ecological.

Decentralized economies serving restricted regions are more sustainable and are solicited by citizens.

Institutions have to be revamped in that direction and up-down laws are no longer cherished.

In fact, less restrictive local laws are the best recourse to taming the monster of global totalitarianism in the making.

Catastrophic crisis are not teaching anything in behavioral change: they simply increase the level of fear, anxiety, and apathy.

Continuing in the same trend is tantamount of letting this monster of totalitarianism starting sniffing around for another round of human calamities (already all States are abusing of “emergency laws” during this pandemics).

Most probably, totalitarian regimes, established in order to control outbursts and uneasiness, will mushroom in industrialized States because

1) they can afford these kinds of institutions,

2) they have already the sophisticated and all encompassing control institutions, and

3) they have practiced it several times in many nations within the last decades.

Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union experienced it efficiently.  France applied it to spread its public secular system of education in order to unify its nation. The USA applied it during the two Administrations of George W. Bush.

Currently, China is the most effective totalitarian regime. 

Millions of workers are transferred and displaced by a simple order of the politburo; millions succumb to eugenic practices on simple obscure laws; millions die in mining accidents and famine; gigantic dams are disturbing millions of people without recourse or participation by the citizens.

The third world states will always enshrine dictators, state political parties, and oligarchies but they will never afford totalitarian regimes for lack of sustainable institutions.

The best you might expect of third world states is organized chaos and periodic clamping down on dissidents.  There will be time when the “industrialized citizens” will opt to immigrate to Third World States and live in sobriety just to recapture the taste of freedom and liberty.

Note: Remember this article was posted more than a decade ago. And nothing changed drastically enough to hope for a more sustainable world in economics and finance.

This “Abduction field” that steals your “Free-Will behavior”?

Note: Re-edit of “Deterministic/free-will behavior: What is priming the “Thief Program”? October 31, 2011

Do you know that a few universities have opened courses in “experimental philosophy“?

This new field of study combine neurosciences research with theoretical philosophical concepts such as finding out whether people believe that their behaviors and actions are determined (or perceived as predetermined) or if the “free-will factor” is a working concept…

This field of study wants to associate reflective and elaborate concepts with experimental studies.

Last September, the John Templeton Foundation contributed $4.4 million to a 4-year program in interdisciplinary research projects among natural scientists, philosophers, and theologians…

Apparently, Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols are working on 3 domains:

One, using neurosciences tools to study cerebral activities of subjects confronted with philosophical problems;

Two, adopting questionnaires to clarify intuitions and modalities of everyday reasoning, and

Three, conducting field experiences for observing the manners individuals behave in particular circumstances and situations.

US philosopher Daniel Dennett who published “Theory of the evolution of liberty, (2004)” claims that we have tendency to dissociate the “I” from “my brain”.  For example, is there a specific zone in the brain exclusively reserved for the “I” or the “Cartesian theater of operations“?

The neuropsychology Benjamin Libet demonstrated that we become conscious of a decision half a second after our body gets prepared to react to a decision.

For example, the disparate “I” in our constitution and brain parts contribute to the decision.  It is sort every single muscle has an “I”, our genetic constitution has an “I”, every section and network of neurons has an “I”.

All our “I” have to reach a working consensus before the body react and a decision can be carried out.

Isn’t that how a skill is described?

Neuroscientist Patrick Haggard wrote: “When we talk of free-will, we mean the richness of the act, of our capacity of acting intelligently, of not reacting in the same manner to the same stimuli…”

Scientists, neuroscientists, neuropsychologists, philosophers, theologians, and the legal profession have to agree on baseline consensus principles before any reasonable set of experiments can be carried out for the purpose of resolving this critical question.

Firstoperational definitions of “what is free-will decision” and “what is understood by deterministic behavior” we are measuring?

For example, how can these concepts be measured and quantified in any experiment?

So far, neuroscientists consider an excitation of neurons in the brain as indication of a decision to act.  Their preferred measuring sticks are time of onset of the excitation and its duration…

Second, what kinds of excitations and their intensity level can be indicators of a particular decision? Sort of we need to agree on a taxonomy of decisions (weak decision, temporary one, routine decision, sub-decision...)

For example, pushing a button, decisions for submitting to a test, an exam…considering an opportunity, running for election, committing a crime…

Third, the legal institutions must be involved in the definition and operational decisions. For example, will the court accept the definition and findings of the neuroscientists as valid in court under the principle of “individual responsibility”? Otherwise, how pragmatic any results can contribute to better mankind existence?

Four, how to separate community moral and ethical standards (idiosyncrasies) from how the real world functions and how people actually have tendency to behave?

For example, experiments demonstrated that group of subjects who were induced to believe in a deterministic world tended to cheat significantly (statistically) more often than the compared groups… Does cheating an indicator of community culture or an individual moral value…?

In Jan. 23, 2010, I published an article titled “Abduction field” or a priori “stealing” program” behavior.

I coined the term “abduction field” to describe and explain how people manage to function in their daily routine. People move and act as if executing an “a priory program” a “primed program“:  They seem to mentally “pick up” objects and event as they go about. People seem to know in advance what they want to do.

Hazards can be categorized as just obstacles that the “abduction field” in the brain failed to adjust to, in a timely manner, to redesign the plan.

It might be a good idea to explain what abductive reasoning means before I venture into this topic, and I urge you to read note#1, before you resume reading.

People use the abduction reasoning technique as routine behavior to decide, move, or act. People have implicitly a priori (idea, plan, concept, hypothesis, path, or line of actions) before they get moving.

People move as if they already know what will happen next; they adjust their plan as frequently as obstacles occur. Thus, abductive reasoning is the rule instead of the exception in most commonly used strategies:  We either start our “conscious day” with a priming thief program or we opt for the default “Habit thief program” to carry on our daily decisions and activities.

The abduction field explains the contradictory feeling we have that our actions are frequently determined or occasionally following a free-will course of action.

For example, if we consciously start with a thief program that is pre-programmed to suit what we want today, we tend to steal objects, events, opportunities on our way.  Otherwise, the default value is the “habit thief program”, and we feel that the day is pretty much determined.

The individual “I” is spread all over our organism, physical, genetics, and mental (brain). Decisions are delayed until all the different varieties of “I” reach a working consensus, or a particular “I” or a set of “I” override the other I, depending on which thief program we launched at the start of the day, rejump it (re-edit it) during the day according to our circadian cycles.

For a set of “I” to be able to override the many other “I” it requires a conscious effort of training and awareness for a long time. That is why, we have the feeling that our behavior is pretty much determined because we allow the “conventional wisdom”, habit of convenience, comfort, and “common sense” attitude to take over our decision processes.

A good way to explaining the abduction field theory is by observing someone who is familiar with a particular supermarket.  The customer moves around and pick up items in a determined manner.

A few times, the customer stops and study particular varieties of the “same” items for prices, weight and chemical contents.  The supermarket guide the customer to pose and attend to special new items displayed on shelves. The customer might look as if he just woke up or is disoriented, but his action is kind of planned: he behaves pretty “sober” in his decisions.

People move and act within abduction fields of reasoning, otherwise, how can we imagine extending a step forward without advanced planning?

The initial schemas of abduction fields are Not that well oiled, and many errors and pitfalls occur during the abduction plans.  By the by, the human brain gets adjusted and trained to secure better fit in forecasting next steps and moves.

Highly intelligent people differ from normal intelligence in that, more frequently than not, they consciously apply deductive and inductive reasoning on their initiated abduction fields.  The implicit purpose is to optimize the “abductive field” performance by supporting it with better formal or coded laws among the working laws.

With conscious training and application of the other two reasoning methods, the individual acquire higher intelligence reasoning choices or diversified perspectives to view and resolve a problem.

Brainwashing is an application phenomenon of abduction field distortion.

Brainwashing is Not so much a process of feeding misinformation or disinformation as in ideologically and dogmatic State-controlled government.

Brainwashing is the process of altering the abduction field so that an individual lacks the objective flexibility to pick up the appropriate objects, tools, or events to place on his “abduction path”.

For example,  the individual is picking what is available on his path, including ready-made terminology and definitions, and not what his brain was more likely to select in normal conditions.  The more institutions restrict the freedom of choices, the more the citizen is expected to select what is available to him.

The citizen starts emulating the “ideology” or the opinions of what have been displayed to him (The Silent Majority).  Most State institutions control people in restricting the availability of choices and opportunities, regardless what names are given to them (communist, socialist, democratic, capitalist, theocratic…)

When we say “this guy is a one track-mind or one-dimensional mind”, we basically means that his abduction field has been restricted by habit: His brain ended up lacking the potential flexibility and versatility to train and develop his abduction field reasoning.

Note 1: It might be a good idea to explain what abduction reasoning means before I venture into this topic.  Human mind uses many reasoning methods such as deduction, induction, and abduction.

Deductive reasoning is a process that starts from a set of basic propositions (proved or considered the kind of non provable truths) and then prove the next propositions based on the previous set.  In general, a law, natural or social, or a theorem in mathematics guides the demonstration.  Practically, it is like using a function to find the appropriate pieces of data or information that are available on a well drawn path or trend.

Inductive reasoning is a process of selecting samples from a phenomenon or a basket of items and then studying the samples.  If the items are the “same” in each sample then the individual is prone to recognize that a law is guiding that phenomenon. The sample taker is ready to form a law, though he knows that logically, if in the future one sample is wrong, then the law is logically invalid. In the mean time, the sample taker can resume his life as if the law is valid, as long as it is working (more frequently than not).

We call a “paradigm shift” the period when accumulated samples or observations are showing to be “false” and that the law has to be dropped for a better performing law.  The process needs time before the scientific community reaches a consensus for a change in venue, simply because it was comfortable using well-known mental structures.  The paradigm shift period is shortened if a valid alternative is demonstrated to work far better, not just slightly better, than the previous theory.

Abduction reasoning is an “intuitive” process such as having a few facts or data and we manage to find a connection among these facts.  In a way, we got an idea that the facts follow a definite trend.

For example, the astronomer and mathematician Kepler started with the notion that planets move in circles around the sun; his observations of Mars detected two positions that didn’t coincide with any circle. Kepler selected another trajectory among those mathematically described in geometry that might be appropriate.  The elliptical shape accounted for the two observed positions of Mars.

Kepler got convinced that planet trajectories are elliptical, but he needed to convince the “scientific community”. Thus, Kepler worked for many years waiting for Mars to cross different positions that he knew would inevitably be on the ellipse anyway.

Note 2: I am under the impression that Spinoza had the same philosophical theory when he wrote: “The movements of our investigative spirit obey real laws”.  If we think well, we are bound to think according to rules that link things one to another.  Kant adopted this reasoning and offered the “a priori” dispositions of the mind.

Note 3: You may access

Note 4: I stumbled on this topic reading a piece in the French weekly “The International Courrier” #1095.

Even before Covid-19, 80 years ago, : It was a good time to die

Note: Re-edit of “A good time to die (October 16, 2008)”

We know by now that decisions for resuming experiments on atomic explosions, in open air or underground, are bad news.

We know that decisions to leave man out of the loop of programmed launching of guided ballistic missiles are wrong decisions.

We are learning that the ozone layer is good and protects the living organisms from lethal doses of ultraviolet radiations; that the depletion of ozone over the Antarctic is very bad news.

We recognize that the increased concentration of CO2 may be causing the “Greenhouse Effect”, melting the North Pole and increasing the Oceans water level.

We have this gut feeling that the deforestation of the virgin forests in the Equator is degrading the quality of air and increasing the numbers of tsunamis or cyclones or tidal waves or hurricanes.

We blame those who still insist on residing around the targeted sea shores (increase water level) as if these cataclysms would disappear any time soon.

We are less sure how the high electrical tension pylons amidst towns alter the health of children, but active citizens must have learned the lesson to No longer wait for the results of research and experiments when health and safety are of concern.

We know that our intelligence is intrinsically malignant but the most malignant are those vicious, lengthy and recurring cycles of the decision processes to settle on remedial plans of actions.

We frequently don’t know the mechanisms to resolve what we initiated and much less these processes that takes decades to recognize the problems and reach agreements to act and persevere in our programs.

Earth has mechanisms to stabilize harms done to it, but it requires man to leave it alone for hundreds and thousands of years.

Every time man creates a problem to earth’s quality and stability we have to wait for a valiant scientist to sound the alarm.

Then we have to wait for this scientist to affiliate with a recognized international figure to give credit and weight for his discovery.

Then we have to wait for the convinced scientists (paradigm shift) and professionals to sign up a manifest and present it to the UN so that the UN might receives a wake up call to take on its responsibilities to preserving human rights for clean air, clean potable water, clean environment and human rights for health and safety and security. 

Then we have to wait for one superpower to admit that what is happening is bad, that the level of tolerance, invariably set by unprofessional specialists in the field, is no longer acceptable.

Then we have to wait for one superpower to unilaterally agree to distance itself from the pack of wolves and actively remediate.

Then we have to hear the complaints of economic infeasibility of regulations to remedial actions and then we have to set a period that lengthens to decades in order to start an effective program that agrees to everyone concerned.

Albert Schweitzer in his book of selected 3 calls to action “Peace or atomic war” describes the fundamental process that was initiated to put a halt on atomic explosion live experimentations.

You discover that physicists and not medical specialists volunteer to set levels of tolerances to radioactive emissions.

You hear Edward Teller, the “eminent” physicist and “father” of the hydrogen bomb say “We have got for our national security to keep testing for a harmless hydrogen bomb”; as if States at war intend not to inflict harms!

The UN had to wait for 9235 scientists and headed by Linus Pauling to sign a manifest in January 1958 explaining the lethal harm to the next generations of radioactive emissions.

Then the US Administration gradually stopped financing apologetics in Newspapers that the experiments constitute No tangible harms.

After the US, Britain and the Soviet Union were forced to agree on a moratorium to open air explosions they resumed their nuclear explosions in “controlled, secure, and safe” underground testing fields.

I never stumbled on a manuscript describing the consequences for underground nuclear testing.

Usually the consequences are of long term nature and time-line researches are too expensive to follow up.

My gut feeling is that these underground testing are directly linked to the current drastic increase in large scale seism, volcano eruptions and tidal wave catastrophes.  

Earth may sustain one major destructive factor, but it requires more than one main factor to destabilize earth and its environment.

Note: If “La joie de vivre” est liée a un sentiment d’avoir réussi. Si on pouvait abaisser la barre de ce qu’on considère “Avoir Réussi”. I think Covid-19 gave humanity a chance to lower the level of “hussel and bussel” of what they consider “Having been successful” in order to discover happiness in life.

A few chaotic glitches in sciences and philosophy?

Note: Re-edit of “Ironing out a few chaotic glitches; (Dec. 5, 2009)”

This Covid-19 pandemics has forced upon me to repost this old article.

Philosophers have been babbling for many thousand years whether the universe is chaotic or very structured so that rational and logical thinking can untangle its laws and comprehend nature’s behaviors and phenomena.

Plato wrote that the world is comprehensible.  The world looked like a structured work of art built on mathematical logical precision. Why?

Plato was fond of symmetry, geometry, numbers, and he was impressed by the ordered tonality of musical cord instruments.

Leibnitz in the 18th century explained “In what manner God created the universe it must be in the most regular and ordered structure”.

Leibnitz claimed that “God selected the simplest in hypotheses that generated the richest varieties of phenomena.

A strong impetus that the universe is comprehensible started with the “positivist philosophers and scientists” of the 20th century who were convinced that the laws of nature can be discovered by rational mind.

Einstein followed suit and wrote “God does not play dice.  To rationally comprehend a phenomenon we must reduce, by a logical process, the propositions (or axioms) to apparently known evidence that reason cannot touch.”

The pronouncement of Einstein “The eternally incomprehensible universe is its comprehensibility” can be interpreted in many ways.

The first interpretation is “what is most incomprehensible in the universe is that it can be comprehensible but we must refrain from revoking its sacral complexity and uncertainty”.

The second interpretation is “If we are still thinking that the universe is not comprehensible then may be it is so, as much as we want to think that we may understand it; thus, the universe will remain incomprehensible (and we should not prematurely declare the “end of science”).

The mathematician Hermann Weyl developed the notion: “The assertion that nature is regulated by strict laws is void, unless we affirm that it is related by simple mathematical laws.  The more we delve in the reduction process to the bare fundamental propositions the more facts are explained with exactitude.”

It is this philosophy of an ordered and symmetrical world that drove Mendeleyev to classifying the chemical elements; Murray Gell-Mann used “group theory” to predict the existence of quarks.

A few scientists went even further; they claimed that the universe evolved in such a way to permit the emergence of the rational thinking man.

Scientists enunciated many principles such as:

“The principle of least time” that Fermat used to deduce the laws of refraction and reflection of light;

Richard Feynman discoursed on the “principle of least actions”;

We have the “principle of least energy consumed”, the “principle of computational equivalence”, the “principle of entropy” or the level of uncertainty in a chaotic environment.

Stephen Hawking popularized the idea of the “Theory of Everything TOE” a theory based on a few simple and non redundant rules that govern the universe.

Stephen Wolfram thinks that the TOE can be found by a thorough systematic computer search: The universe complexity is finite and the most seemingly complex phenomena (for example cognitive functions) emerge from simple rules.

Before we offer the opposite view that universe is intrinsically chaotic let us define what is a theory.

Gregory Chaitin explained that “a theory is a computer program designed to account for observed facts by computation”.  (Warning to all mathematicians!  If you want your theory to be published by peer reviewers then you might have to attach an “elegant” or the shortest computer program in bits that describes your theory)

Kurt Gödel and Alain Turing demonstrated what is called “incompletude” in mathematics or the ultimate uncertainty of mathematical foundations.  There are innumerable “true” propositions or conjectures that can never be demonstrated.

For example, it is impossible to account for the results of elementary arithmetic such as addition or multiplication by the deductive processes of its basic axioms.  Thus, many more axioms and unresolved conjectures have to be added in order to explain correctly many mathematical results.

Turing demonstrated mathematically that there is no algorithm that can “know” if a program will ever stop or not.  The consequence in mathematics is this: No set of axioms will ever permit to deduce if a program will ever stop or not. Actually, there exist many numbers that cannot be computed.  There are mathematical facts that are logically irreducible and incomprehensive.

Quantum mechanics proclaimed that, on the micro level, the universe is chaotic: there is impossibility of simultaneously locating a particle, its direction, and determining its velocity.  We are computing probabilities of occurrences.

John von Neumann wrote: “Theoretical physics does not explain natural phenomena: it classifies phenomena and tries to link or relate the classes.”

Acquiring knowledge was intuitively understood as a tool to improving human dignity by increasing quality of life. Thus, erasing as many dangerous superstitions that bogged down spiritual and moral life of man.

Ironically, the trend captured a negative life of its own in the last century.  The subconscious goal for learning was  meant to frustrate fanatic religiosity that proclaimed that God is the sole creator and controller of our life, its quality, and its destiny.

With our gained power in knowledge we may thus destroy our survival by our own volition: We can commit earth suicide regardless of what God wishes.

So far, we have been extremely successful beyond all expectations.  We can destroy all living creatures and plants by activating a single H-Bomb or whether we act now or desist from finding resolution to the predicaments of climate changes.

I have impressions.

First, what the mathematicians and scientists are doing is not discovering the truth or the real processes but to condense complexity into simple propositions so that an individual may think that he is able to comprehend the complexities of the world.

Second, nature is complex; man is more complex; social interactions are far more complex.

No mathematical equations or simple laws will ever help an individual to comprehend the thousands of interactions among the thousands of variability.

Third, we need to focus on the rare events. It has been proven that the rare events (for example, occurrences at the tails of probability functions) are the most catastrophic simply because very few are the researchers interested in investigating them: scientists are cozy with those well structured behaviors that answer collective behaviors.

Fourth impression is that I am a genius without realizing it.  Unfortunately, Kurt Gödel is the prime killjoy; he would have mock me on the ground that he mathematically demonstrated that any sentence I write is a lie.  How would I dare write anything?

Cognitive mechanisms? How my brain works

Note: Re-edit of “How my brain works: Cognitive mechanisms; (Jan. 9, 2010)”

Before venturing into this uncharted territory, let me state that there is a “real universe”, which each person perceives differently: If this real world didn’t exist, there would be nothing to perceive.

The real world cares less about the notions of time and space.

No matter how we understand the real world, our system of comprehension is strictly linked to our brain/senses systems of perceptions.

The way animals perceive the universe is different from our perception.

All we can offer are bundles of hypotheses that can never be demonstrated or confirmed, even empirically, except in few cases in the processes.

The best we can do is to extend the hypothesis that our perceived universe correlates (qualitative coherent resemblance) with a de-facto real universe of the moment.

The notions of time, space, and causality are within our perceived universe.

Each individual has his own “coherent universe” that is as valid as any other perception.

What rational logic and empirical experiments have discovered in “laws of nature” apply only to our perceived universe. Mainly, to what is conveniently labeled the category of grown up “normal people” who do not suffer major brain disturbances or defects.

How newborn and toddlers perceive the universe is very challenging, and could be the dawn of a breakthrough cognitive scientific era.

Man uses symbols such as language, alphabets, mathematical forms, and musical symbols to record their cognitive performances.

Brain uses “binary code” of impressions and intervals of non impressions to register a codified impression.  Most probably, the brain creates all kinds of cells and chemicals to categorize, store, classify, and retrieve various impressions.

The rationale is that, since no matter how fast an impression is, it stands to reason that the trillions and trillions of impressions would saturate the intervals between sensations in no time.

We are born with 25% of the total number of synapses that grown up will form.

Neurons have mechanisms of transferring from one section of the brain to other parts when frequent focused cognitive processes are needed.

A child can perceive one event following another one but he has no further meaning, but simple observations.  A child is Not surprised with magic outcomes; what is out of the normal for a grown up is as valid a phenomenon as another to the child (elephant can fly).

We know that vision and auditory sensations pass through several filters (processed data) before being perceived by the brain.

The senses of smell and taste circumvent filters and are sensed by the limbic (primeval brain) before passing this data to cognition.

The brain attached markers or attributes to impressions that it receives.

A marker represents a special network form of synapses.

Four markers that I call exogenous markers attach to impressions as they are “registered” or perceived in the brain coming from the outside world through our senses.

At least four other markers, I label “endogenous markers” are attached to internal cognitive processing and are linked to information during the  re-structuring or re-configuring of events are performed during the dream periods: massive computations are needed to stored data before they are transformed to ready useful data before endogenous markers are attributed to them for registering in other memory banks.

There are markers that I call “reverse-exogenous” and are attached to information meant to be exported from the brain to the outside world. They are mainly of 2 kinds: body language information (such as head, hand, shoulder, or eye movements) and the recorded types on external means, such as writing, painting, sculpting, singing, playing instruments, or performing art work.

The first exogenous marker directs impressions from the senses in their order of successions.

The child recognizes that this event followed the other one within a short period of occurrence. His brain can “implicitly” store the two events as following in succession in a qualitative order (for example the duration of the succession is shorter or longer than the other succession). I label this marker as “Time recognizer” in the qualitative meaning of sensations.

The second marker registers and then stores an impression as a spatial configuration. At this stage, the child is able to recognize the concept of space but in a qualitative order. For example, this object is closer or further from the other object. I call this marker “space recognizer”.

The third marker is the ability to delimit a space when focusing on a collection of objects. Without this ability to first limit the range of observation (or sensing in general) it would be hard to register parts and bits of impressions within a first cut of a “coherent universe”. I label this marker “spatial delimiter

The fourth marker links “strength” or “weight” of occurrence as the impression is recognized in the database.  The child cannot count but the brain is already using this marker for incoming information. In a sense, the brain is assembling events and objects in special “frequency of occurrence” database during dream periods and the information are retrieved in qualitative order of strength of sensations in frequency.  I call this attribute “count marker”.

The fifth marker is an endogenous attributes: this marker is attached within the internal export/import of information in the brain. This attribute is a kind of “correlation” quantity that indicates same/different trends of behavior of events or objects.  In a sense, this marker will internally sort out data as “analogous” or contrary collections along a time scale.

People have tendency to associate correlation with cause and effect relation but it is Not. A correlation quantity can be positive (two variables have the same behavioral trend in a system) or negative quantity (diverging trends). With the emergence of the 5th marker the brain has grown a quantitative threshold in synapses and neurons to start massive computations on impressions stored in the large original database or what is called “long-term memory”.

The sixth marker is kind of  gross “probability quantity” that permits the brain to order objects according to “plausible” invariant properties in space (for example objects or figures are similar according to a particular property, including symmetrical transformations). I label this the “invariant marker” and it re-structures collections of objects and shapes in structures such as hereditary, hierarchical, network, or circular.

The seventh marker I call the “association attribute”. Methods of deduction, inductions, and other logical manipulations are within these kinds of data types.  They are mostly generated from rhetorical associations such as analogies, metaphors, antonyms, and other categories of associations.

No intuition or creative ideas are outside the boundary of prior recognition of the brain.

Constant focus and work on a concept generate complex processing during the dream stage. The conscious mind recaptures sequences from the dream state ,and most of the time unconsciously.

What knowledge does is decoding in formal systems the basic processes of the brain and then re-ordering what seems as chaotic firing in brain cells.  Symbols were created to facilitate rules writing for precise rationalization.

The eighth marker I call the “design marker”.

It recognizes interactions among variables and interacts with reverse exogenous markers since a flow with outside perceptions is required for comprehension.

Simple perceived relationships between two events or variables are usually trivial and mostly wrong. For example, thunder follows lightning and thus, wrongly interpreted as lightning generates thunder.  Simple interactions are of the existential kind as in the Pavlov reactions where existential rewards, such as food, are involved in order to generate the desired reactions. The Pavlov reaction laws apply to man too.

Interactions among more than two variables are complex for interpretations in the mind and require plenty of training and exercises.

Designing experiments is a very complex cognitive task and not amenable to intuition: it requires learning and training to appreciating the various cause and effects among the variables.

The first kinds of “reverse exogenous” markers can be readily witnessed in animals such as in body language of head, hand, shoulder, or eye movements. Otherwise, Pavlov experiments could not be conducted if animals didn’t react with any external signs.

In general, rational thinking retrieves data from specialized databases “cognitive working memory” of already processed data and saved for pragmatic utility.

Working memories are developed once data find outlets to the external world for recording; thus, pure thinking without attempting to record ideas degrades the cognitive processes with sterile internal transfer without new empirical information to compute in.

An important reverse-exogenous marker is sitting still, concentrating, emptying our mind of external sensations, and relaxing the mind of conscious efforts of perceiving the knowledge “matter” in order to experience the “cosmic universe”.

I presume that a few particular markers of the same kind can handle the flow of impressions, but the brain tends to construct many duplicates of redundant markers for emergency occurrences and for the regeneration processes.

The most used markers such as “count” are distributed in many strategic nodes and chemicals are attached to incoming impressions so that any “count” node may recognize the alterations.

Talented individuals have more specialized markers for the skills they acquired and thus, the denser and more varied are the synapses networks that correspond to the more intelligence kinds we developed.

Note: This article was not meant to analyze emotions or value moral systems.  It is very probable that the previously described markers are valid for the moral value systems with less computation applied to the data transferred to the “moral working memory”.

I believe that more other sophisticated computations are performed than done to emotional data since a system is constructed for frequent “refreshing” with age and experiences.

I conjecture that emotions are generated from the vast original database; and the endogenous correlation marker is the main computation method: the reason is that emotions are related to complex and almost infinite interactions with people and community.

Thus, the brain prefers not to consume time and resources on complex computations that involve many thousands of variables interacting simultaneously.

An emotional reaction in the waking period is not necessarily “rational” but of the quick and dirty resolutions kinds.

In the dream sessions, emotionally loaded impressions are barely processed because they are hidden deep in the vast original database structure and are not refreshed frequently to be exposed to the waking conscious cognitive processes; thus, they flare up within the emotional reaction packages.

Note 2: The brain is a flexible organic matter that can be trained and developed by frequent “refreshing” of interactions with the outside world of sensations. Maybe animals lack the reverse exogenous markers to record their cognitive capabilities.

More likely, it is because their cognitive working memory is shriveled that animals didn’t grow the appropriate limbs for recording sensations:  Evolution (or lack of it) didn’t endow them with external performing limbs for writing, sculpting, painting, or doing music.

The fact that chimps were trained to externalize cognitive capabilities that are as valid as a 5 years old mankind child, suggest that attaching artificial limbs to chimps, cats, or dogs that are compatible with human tools will demonstrate that chimps can give far better cognitive performance than expected.

This is a first draft to get the project going. I appreciate developed comments and references.

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.




September 2020

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