Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘physiology


 How equal can we become? Equal in what?

It would be nice to be objective in life, in many ways. The problem is that we have these color-tinted glasses as we look at all kinds of situations.

For example, think about something as simple as beer. If I gave you a few beers to taste and I asked you to rate them on intensity and bitterness, different beers would occupy different space.

But what if we tried to be objective about it? In the case of beer, it would be very simple.

What if we did a blind taste? Well, if we did the same thing, you tasted the same beer, now in the blind taste, things would look slightly different.

Most of the beers will go into one place. You will basically not be able to distinguish them, and the exception, of course, will be Guinness. (Laughter)

Similarly, we can think about physiology.

What happens when people expect something from their physiology? For example, we sold people pain medications.

Some people, we told them the medications were expensive. Some people, we told them it was cheap. And the expensive pain medication worked better. It relieved more pain from people, because expectations do change our physiology. And of course, we all know that in sports, if you are a fan of a particular team, you can’t help but see the game develop from the perspective of your team.

1:33So all of those are cases in which our preconceived notions and our expectations color our world. But what happened in more important questions?

What happened with questions that had to do with social justice?

So we wanted to think about what is the blind tasting version for thinking about inequality?

So we started looking at inequality, and we did some large-scale surveys around the U.S. and other countries. So we asked two questions:

1.  Do people know what kind of level of inequality we have? And then,

2.  what level of inequality do we want to have?

Let’s think about the first question. Imagine I took all the people in the U.S. and I sorted them from the poorest on the right to the richest on the left, and then I divided them into 5 buckets:

the poorest 20%, the next 20 percent, the next, the next, and the richest 20 percent.

And then I asked you to tell me how much wealth do you think is concentrated in each of those buckets. So to make it simpler, imagine I ask you to tell me, how much wealth do you think is concentrated in the bottom two buckets, the bottom 40 percent? Take a second. Think about it and have a number. Usually we don’t think. Think for a second, have a real number in your mind. You have it?

Okay, here’s what lots of Americans tell us.

They think that the bottom 20 percent has about 2.9 percent of the wealth, the next group has 6.4, so together it’s slightly more than nine. The next group, they say, has 12 percent, 20 percent, and the richest 20 percent, people think has 58 percent of the wealth. You can see how this relates to what you thought.

Now, what’s reality? Reality is slightly different.

The bottom 20 percent has 0.1 % of the wealth. The next 20 percent has 0.2 percent of the wealth. Together, it’s 0.3. The next group has 3.9, 11.3, and the richest group has 84% of the wealth.

So what we actually have and what we think we have are very different.

What about what we want? How do we even figure this out?

So to look at this, to look at what we really want, we thought about the philosopher John Rawls.

If you remember John Rawls, he had this notion of what’s a just society. He said a just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you would be willing to enter it in a random place.

And it’s a beautiful definition, because if you’re wealthy, you might want the wealthy to have more money, the poor to have less.

If you’re poor, you might want more equality.

But if you’re going to go into that society in every possible situation, and you don’t know, you have to consider all the aspects. It’s a little bit like blind tasting in which you don’t know what the outcome will be when you make a decision, and Rawls called this the “veil of ignorance.”

4:33So, we took another group, a large group of Americans, and we asked them the question in the veil of ignorance.

What are the characteristics of a country that would make you want to join it, knowing that you could end randomly at any place? And here is what we got.

What did people want to give to the first group, the bottom 20 percent? They wanted to give them about 10 percent of the wealth. The next group, 14 percent of the wealth, 21, 22 and 32.

5:03Now, nobody in our sample wanted full equality. Nobody thought that socialism is a fantastic idea in our sample. But what does it mean?

It means that we have this knowledge gap between what we have and what we think we have, but we have at least as big a gap between what we think is right to what we think we have.

Now, we can ask these questions, by the way, not just about wealth. We can ask it about other things as well.

So for example, we asked people from different parts of the world about this question, people who are liberals and conservatives, and they gave us basically the same answer. We asked rich and poor, they gave us the same answer, men and women, NPR listeners and Forbes readers. We asked people in England, Australia, the U.S. — very similar answers. We even asked different departments of a university.We went to Harvard and we checked almost every department, and in fact, from Harvard Business School, where a few people wanted the wealthy to have more and the rich to have less, the similarity was astonishing.

I know some of you went to Harvard Business School.

We also asked this question about something else. We asked, what about the ratio of CEO pay to unskilled workers?

So you can see what people think is the ratio, and then we can ask the question, what do they think should be the ratio?

And then we can ask, what is reality? What is reality? And you could say, well, it’s not that bad, right? The red and the yellow are not that different. But the fact is, it’s because I didn’t draw them on the same scale. It’s hard to see, there’s yellow and blue in there.

So what about other outcomes of wealth? Wealth is not just about wealth.

We asked, what about things like health? What about availability of prescription medication? What about life expectancy? What about life expectancy of infants?

How do we want this to be distributed? What about education for young people? And for older people?

And across all of those things, what we learned was that people don’t like inequality of wealth, but there’s other things where inequality, which is an outcome of wealth, is even more aversive to them:

For example, inequality in health or education. We also learned that people are particularly open to changes in equality when it comes to people who have less agency — basically, young kids and babies, because we don’t think of them as responsible for their situation.

So what are some lessons from this? We have two gaps:

We have a knowledge gap and we have a desirability gap.  

1. The knowledge gap is something that we think about, how do we educate people? How do we get people to think differently about inequality and the consequences of inequality in terms of health, education, jealousy, crime rate, and so on?

2. Then we have the desirability gap. How do we get people to think differently about what we really want?

You see, the Rawls definition, the Rawls way of looking at the world, the blind tasting approach, takes our selfish motivation out of the picture. How do we implement that to a higher degree on a more extensive scale?

3. And finally, we also have an action gap. How do we take these things and actually do something about it?

I think part of the answer is to think about people like young kids and babies that don’t have much agency, because people seem to be more willing to do this.

To summarize, I would say, next time you go to drink beer or wine, first of all, think about, what is it in your experience that is real, and what is it in your experience that is a placebo effect coming from expectations? And then think about what it also means for other decisions in your life, and hopefully also for policy questions that affect all of us.

Note: The basic concept of wealth in all times was: The privileges of buying services and not just goods.

For example: Having better opportunities to meet with powerful decision makers, buying better equipped prison cells and services, buying better education systems and health systems….

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
The news of society’s growing inequality makes all of us uneasy. But why? Dan Ariely reveals some new, surprising research on what we think is fair, as far as…

“So, you want systems to fit people?” February 21, 2005

 “So far, it sounds that Human Factors in engineering is a vast field of knowledge and it could have many applications.”  You are absolutely right, the profession is multidisciplinary.

Let us consider the problems that an excellent human factors designer has to cope with when he has to incorporate the human dimensions into his design and the body of knowledge he has to learn and incorporate in his practice:

First, there are no design drawings for people as traditional engineers are familiar with because the structure of human organisms is approximately delineated and the mechanisms are imperfectly understood.

Second, people vastly differ in anthropometric dimensions, cognitive abilities, sensory capabilities, motor abilities, personalities, and attitudes; thus the challenge of variability is different from physics where phenomena behave in countable fashions and can be accounted for in design.

Third, people change with time; they change in dimensions, abilities and skills as well as from moment to moment attributable to boredom, fatigue, lapse of attention, interactions among people and with the environment.

Fourth, the world is constantly changing and systems are changing accordingly; thus interfaces for designing jobs, operations and environment have to be revisited frequently.

Fifth, contrary to the perception of people regarding the other traditional engineering fields, when we deal with human capabilities, limitations and behavior everyone feels is an expert on the basis of common sense acquired from living and specific experiences and we tend to generalize our feelings to all kinds of human behaviors. For examples, we think that we have convictions concerning the effects of sleep, dreams, age, and fatigue; we believe that we are rather good judges of people’s motives, we have explanations for people’s good memories and abilities, and we have strong positions on the relative influence of nature and nurture in shaping people’s behavior.  Consequently, the expertise of human factors professionals are not viewed as based on science.

To be a competent ergonomics expert you need to take courses in many departments like Psychology, Physiology, Neurology, Marketing, Economy, Business, Management, and of course engineering.

You need to learn applied statistics, system’s modeling (mathematical and prototyping), the design of experiments, writing and validating questionnaires, collecting data on human performance, analyzing and interpreting data on the interactions of human with systems.

You need updating you knowledge continuously with all kinds of systems’ deficiencies that often hurt people in their daily lives, and learn the newer laws that govern the safety and health of the employees in their workplace. 

All the above courses and disciplines that you are urged to take or to be conversant with have the well being of targeted end users in mind.  To be an expert well qualified designer you need to assimilate the physical and cognitive abilities of end users and what they are capable of doing best; you need to discover their limitations as well so that you may reduce errors and foreseeable misuses of any product or interface that you have the responsibility to design. 

You need to fit the product or interface to the users and avoid lengthy training or useless stretching of the human body in order to permit the users to efficiently manipulate your design.  An excellent designer has to know the advantages and limitations of the five senses and how to facilitate the interaction with systems under minimal stress, errors committed, and health complications generated from prolonged usage and repetitive movements of parts of the body.

I am glad, my newly found friend, that you are attentively listening to my lucubration.

I would like it better if you ask me questions that prove to me that you are enthusiastic.

Could you enumerate a few incidents in your life that validate the importance of this field of study?

“Well, suppose that I enroll in that all encompassing specialty, are there any esoteric and malignant courses that are impressed upon me?”

Unfortunately, as any university major and engineering included, many of the courses are discovered to be utterly useless once you find a job.

However, you have to bear the cross for 4 years in order to be awarded a miserly diploma. This diploma, strong with a string of grade of “A’s” will open the horizon for a new life, a life of a different set of worries and unhappiness.

I can tell you for sure that it is not how interesting are the courses but the discipline that you acquired in the process. 

You need to start enjoying reading, every day for at least 5 hours, taking good care for the details in collecting data or measuring anything, learning to write everyday, meticulously and stubbornly, not missing a single course or session, giving your full concentration during class, taking notes and then reading your notes afterwards, coordinating the activities of your study groups, being a leader and a catalyst for all your class associates.

You need to waking up full of zest and partying hard after a good week of work and study, staying away, like the plague, from those exorbitantly expensive restaurants and dancing bars because they are the haven of all those boring, mindless and useless people who are dependent completely on their parents.

Well, you will hear, frequently, that securing a University diploma is a testing ground for your endurance to accepting all kinds of nonsense.  It is.

Most importantly, it is testing the endurance of your folks who are paying dearly for that nonsense.

Article #35 (Started March 4, 2006)

 “Efficiency of the human body structure”

This article is an on going project to summarize a few capabilities and limitations of man. While the most sophisticated intelligent machines invented by man may contain up to ten thousand elements, the human machine is constituted of up to a million trillion of cells, up to a thousand trillions of neurons in the central nervous system, about a couple hundred bones, and as many organs, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

In the previous article #33 we discussed a graph in a story style and discovered that a human barefoot in texture, shape, and toes has a higher coefficient of friction than many man-made shoes that allow easier traction to move forward for less energy expenditure. We also expanded our story to observe that the structure of the bones and major muscles attached to limbs for movements as lever systems provide higher speed and range of movements at the expense of exorbitant muscular efforts.

A most important knowledge for designing interfaces is a thorough recognition of the capabilities and limitations of the five senses.  One of the assignment involves comparing the various senses within two dozens categories such as: anatomy, physiology, receptor organs, stimulus, sources of energy, wave forms, reaction time, detectable wavelengths and frequencies, practical detection thresholds of signals, muscles, physical pressure, infections and inflammations, disorders and dysfunctions, assessment, diagnostic procedures, corrective measures, effects of age, and safety and risk.

Human dynamic efforts for doing mechanical work is at best 30% efficient because most of the efforts are converted to maintaining static positions in order to preserve stability and equilibrium for all the other concomitant stabilizing joints, bones and muscles.  For example, the stooping position consumes 60% of the efforts for having a work done, in addition to the extremely high moment effected on the edges of the lower back intervertebrae discs.  Static postures constrict the blood vessels and fresh blood is no longer carrying the necessary nutrients to sustain any effort for long duration and heart rate increases dramatically; lactic acid accumulates in the cells and fatigue ensues until the body rests in order to break down that acid.

Human energy efficiency is even worse because most of the energy expended is converted into heat.  Not only physical exercises generate heat but, except for glucose or sugar, most of the nutrients have to undergo chemical transformations to break down the compounds into useful and ready sources of energy, thus generating more heat.  Consequently, heat is produced even when sleeping when the body cells are regenerated. Internal heat could be a blessing in cold environments but a worst case scenario in a hot atmosphere because the cooling mechanism in human is solely confined to sweating off the heat accumulated in the blood stream.  Heat is a source of blessing when we are sick with microbes and bacteria because the latter is killed when the internal body temperature rises above normal.




December 2020

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