Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Complex Projects versus Complex Mind!

I would like to offer a glimpse to the reality of the interconnectedness of projects in different sciences only because they all have in common the uniqueness of the human person. Quantum physics which I studied in my Engineering undergraduate studies further confirms new understandings of relatedness. I will mainly base my post on:
1) The article by Mizell and Malone published in Engineering Management Journal on cost estimation used at NASA (December 2007)
2) Scientific American article on the origins of the mind (September 2009 issue)
3) Quantum physics, explained in numerous works by great contemporary physicists

Marc Hauser, past professor of psychology, human evolutionary biology, and organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, proposes what he calls “humaniqueness” as properties of the distinctive mind of humans that sets it apart from the minds of other creatures. Professor Hauser shows the following characteristics of the human uniqueness (My post here has to be limited to only mentioning them in brief):
1. Generative computation: the ability to create a virtually limitless variety of “expressions,” be they arrangements of words, sequences of notes, combinations of actions, or strings of mathematical symbols
2. The capacity for the promiscuous combination of ideas. We routinely connect thoughts from different domains of knowledge, allowing our understanding of art, sex, space, causality and friendship to combine. From this mingling, new laws, social relationships and technologies can result.
3. The use of mental symbols. We can spontaneously convert any sensory experience—real or imagined— into a symbol that we can keep to ourselves or express to others through language, art, music or computer code.
4. Only humans engage in abstract thought. Unlike animal thoughts, which are largely anchored in sensory and perceptual experiences, many of ours have no clear connection to such events.
We alone ponder the likes of unicorns and aliens, nouns and verbs, infinity and God. “Indeed, mounting evidence indicates that, in contrast to Darwin’s theory of a continuity of mind between humans and other species, a profound gap separates our intellect from the animal kind. This is not to say that our mental faculties sprang fully formed out of nowhere. Researchers have found some of the building blocks of human cognition in other species. But these building blocks make up only the cement footprint of the skyscraper that is the human mind. The evolutionary origins of our cognitive abilities thus remain rather hazy. Clarity is emerging from novel insights and experimental technologies, however.”

Hauser thus establishes the basis of different mind in humans. It shows, in contrast to Darwin’s theory, a profound gap between us and animals, or as the well-known paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin put it, there is a leap from the biosphere to the noosphere which is the sphere of the human mind that can ask himself about himself. The complexity of the human mind, unmatched by that of any other creature has been confirmed by much recent research. Hauser gives this example: “One of our most basic tools, the No. 2 pencil, used by every test taker, illustrates the exceptional freedom of the human mind as compared with the limited scope of animal cognition. You hold the painted wood, write with the lead, and erase with the pink rubber held in place by a metal ring. Four different materials, each with a particular function, all wrapped up into a single tool. And although that tool was made for writing, it can also pin hair up into a bun, bookmark a page or stab an annoying insect. Animal tools, in contrast—such as the sticks chimps use to fish termites out from their mounds—are composed of a single material, designed for a single function and never used for other functions. None have the combinatorial properties of the pencil.”

Let’s now compare the above with some of the findings & conclusions proposed by Mizell & Malone for complex projects at NASA:

First: The cost estimating process becomes harder as the complexity and size of projects increase. This is particularly clear from the fact that key variables are not known at the start of large projects – for example staffing requirements are unknown with certainty at that point while client management requires a budget estimate before sign off. Moreover, software development activities are labor intensive. They are affected by and affect HUMAN PERFORMANCE. This shows that complex projects for the most complex creature require an understanding of subtle cognitive functions at least in human relationships e.g. human resources staffing and the effect human performance has on delivering a project which in turn affect human performance in next projects. Even these relationships cannot be understood in isolation – See below.

Second: Human nature prefers a single number for an estimate as opposed to a range of numbers even though a range estimate will have a much higher probability of including an accurate value (Boehm and Fairly, 2000). This is why a range is recommended.

This shows that humans have to deal with ranges of numbers rather than single numbers for their complex projects. Here is a hint about quantum physics which we ought to deal with. Quantum physics stipulates that every process-result is probable until it is measured. According to the Uncertainty Principle, only at the time of measurement is there certainty. Furthermore, John Polkinghorne, retired professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge University, wrote, in one of his latest books: Quantum Physics and Theology, about relationship as science is attempting to discover it at the subnuclear level: “Quantum theory brought to light a remarkable form of entanglement between subatomic particles that have once interacted with each other (the so-called EPR effect), which implies that they remain effectively a single system however far they may subsequently separate spatially- a counterintuitive togetherness-in-separation that has been abundantly confirmed experimentally as a property of nature. The physical world looks more and more like a universe that would be the fitting creation of the trinitarian God, the One whose deepest reality is relational”

Third: Expert judgment relies on experience of past projects and industry average which fail to tell the entire story. On the contrary, every project is unique in its environment and organization factors. This is true since we know that no one human can subsist in isolation – The environment, the tribe, society or whatever makes up a human organization is vital for human action. This has been shown also in apes. Moreover, subjective experience counts. This is what has been missing in the Newtonian world.

This is why Mizell and Malone propose a simulation model as follows:
1. Use a software development process model: A graphical representation is useful to educate decision-makers on the inherent complexity of large software projects
2. Capture uncertainty for key parameters by using probability distributions: Three are most important: a. Size of project/product; b. Productivity of project team; c. Defect rates. This will allow us to develop range estimates that consider the uncertainty that exists before the start of a project.
3. Run Model and Obtain Confidence Intervals for Effort and Schedule: Calculate confidence intervals and focus on the top half of the confidence interval to dissuade managers from accepting the lower part in order to meet the lowest possible cost and schedule.
4. Compare Model Results with Other Estimating Techniques.
5. Use model results to debate unrealistic budgets: Run it with animation so that decision-makers can visualize the process and its complexity.
6. Update Model with Actual project data as project evolves (Experience): This can be very useful in analyzing problem areas and effort based on actual project data to-date.

We can therefore safely conclude that:
1. The human mind is the most complex in all creatures on earth
2. However, this mind requires complex computer tools to realize its complex projects today.
3. Which requires this mind to use quantum physics probabilities 4.
Which then (according to the EPR Experiment) shows that this mind cannot stay in isolation of other creatures – Relationship is of the essence to cultivate – How more important would it be to cultivate it in business and social life?
5. That gets us, in my opinion, into the most fundamental of all principles: Communication, collaboration and, if possible, love. (Comment for this blog: This was a post in my Master studies of Information Systems. Christian teaching is referenced multiple times particularly in the work of John Polkinghorne, and in the final conclusion on love as the epitome of the Christian way of life.)

References: Mizell, C., Malone, L. (2007), A Project Management Approach to Using Simulation for Cost Estimation on Large, Complex Software Development Projects, Engineering Management Journal, Retrieved on September 3, 2009 from
 Hauser, M. (2009), Origin of the Mind, Scientific America, Retrieved on September 5, 2009 from
Polkinghorne, J. (2008), Quantum Physics and Theology, Oxford University Press.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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